Hornblower the hero and broken men without honour

Peggy is visiting her sister, Anita, in S2E08 (A Night to Remember) and drops off C.S. Forester’s Hornblower in the West Indies for Anita’s husband, Gerry Respola, who’s laid up with a “bad back” and “hates his job.”

Gerry isn’t in the episode and no one’s seen reading the book, but it’s on screen, so I read it.

Basic summary: Horatio Hornblower is Commander-in-chief of His Majesty’s ships and vessels in the West Indies and trying to keep order in the post-Napoleonic War world. He fights pirates, revolutionaries, a hurricane and all the things you’d expect in a swashbuckling, sea-faring, tall ship adventure.

He is full of honour, does the right thing, and is loyal to his doting wife and son.

Here’s a preview.

Imagine Don Draper at the helm of one of these ships.

To state the blindingly obvious: this is a different kind of hero than the ones in Mad Men.

There are no honourable men in Mad Men. Of course there were likely no honourable men in the Hornblower saga as well if the writer chose to highlight the highly questionable colonial era of ship faring Britons and French and Spanish, but that’s not how those types of stories were written at the time.

Mad Men is square in the antihero camp while Hornblower is the honourable hero. It’s interesting to think about this dichotomy in storytelling. Which are you drawn to? Are you okay with a hero’s faults and interior contradictions being exposed or do you want to root for him? The answers to those questions will likely illuminate what series you’re into.

Don Draper along with Walter White, Tony Soprano, Jackie Peyton, Marty Byrde are all emblematic of the modern antihero.

We don’t cheer for Don Draper, and we definitely don’t in this season and even more so in this episode. He’s in the super gross zone in season two. Betty is humiliated at a dinner party in E08 after being humiliated at a fundraiser in E07 and spirals to the point of telling Don to not come home.

Don Draper, Roger Sterling, Pete Campbell and the rest are all liars, cheaters, and manipulators without honour. We watch them do awful things to people around them but sympathise because we know we’re also capable of erring I suppose.

That, or we’re naively hoping they do something honourable.

I found it harder to connect with Hornblower (as I generally do with the shiny heroes) because their decisions and actions are just so predictable. Antiheroes throw you off because you don’t know what they’ll do. There is more intrigue because there is less certainty.

Mad Men and Hornblower are at separate ends of the storytelling spectrum. The Hornblower tales look back nostalgically at the post-Napoleonic era where the question of right and wrong is always easy to see because the characters are so clearly arrogant, false or evil versus good, true and honourable.

Mad Men looks back on a highly questionable age and shines a light on inequality, racism, sexism, substance abuse, and on and on.

One can easily picture Don Draper at the helm of a ship and Hornblower in an advertising agency physically. All other aspects of their characters, however, would need to be rewritten for them to fit in either series.

The diamond Betty Draper and the sadness inside

Daniel J. Rowe

It took us a season and change, but ladies and gents, it’s time to dig into some Fitzgerald.

Feels like Gatzby should have made its way into the plot by now, but I’ll take a short story. Let’s do it.

In S2E03 (The Benefactors) Arthur Chase (the hunky young horse rider Betty flirts with played by Gabriel Mann) says to Betty after a day of riding:

“You know the Scott Fitzgerald story “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz?” Her house is a slightly smaller version of my high school, and I realized why she was so happy all the time and she was so angry when she didn’t get what she wanted.”

(Arthur’s talking about his fiancee).

“All girls are like that,” Betty responds.

Classic Betty.

Arthur is sure, as all men are in these situations, he knows what Betty is thinking, and that Better must want him. Betty, Arthur “knows,” is not like that.

Betty snaps back, “You don’t know me.”

Arthur says she’s “so profoundly sad.”

“You’re wrong. I’m grateful.”

LIAR!

Continue reading “The diamond Betty Draper and the sadness inside”

It’s taking forever, the agony and ecstasy of it all

Daniel J. Rowe

Two episodes into the second season of Mad Men and Peggy is visiting her mom and sister in Brooklyn. After an awkward meal full of undertones, nagging, guilt and jabs (you know mother-daughter-sister stuff), Peggy asks her mom (Katherine played by Myra Turley) if she has anything to drop off or pick up at the library.

“I have to renew the Agony and the Ecstasy. It’s taking forever,” says her mom.

And there it is, another book for the list.

Pages: 1 2

Ayn Rand and Dick Whitman’s dropped Zippo

Daniel J. Rowe

This one almost ended the reading list before it got out of the gates.

Bertram Cooper calls Don into his office in S01E08 (The Hobo Code), tells him to take his shoes off and then offers him a huge bonus ($2,500).

Then he says the following:

“Have you read her? Rand. Atlas Shrugged. That’s the one… When you hit 40 you realize you’ve met or seen every kind of person there is, and I know what kind you are because I believe we are alike. By that I mean you are a productive and reasonable man and completely self-interested. It’s strength. We are different; unsentimental about all the people that depend on our hard work.”

-Bertram Cooper

Well great.

I had no interest in picking up another Ayn Rand book after ploughing through The Fountainhead (because a friend insisted I “had to” read it), and I certainly didn’t have a tonne of appetite for Rand’s final novel: the “dramatization of her unique vision of existence and of man’s highest potential,” her 12-year project, her longest book (1,168 pages), the tome of tomes: Atlas Shrugged.

Continue reading “Ayn Rand and Dick Whitman’s dropped Zippo”

Misogyny, mavens, misconceptions and the typing pool

Daniel J. Rowe

Throughout Mad Men, books appear that are a direct reflection of characters or the period they live in. There are books characters are reading in which, in a real meta moment, characters feature that are the templates of themselves.

Mad Men is, in essence, a period piece, and props in any period piece are essential. Viewers will turn on a show if a character glances at a digital wristwatch, is leafing through a copy of Game of Thrones or a is wearing a pair of Jordan VIs.

Just check out the list of goofs people spotted if you’re unsure. Gotta respect the how much people care. Heck, I’m one of them, so I ain’t complaining.

Continue reading “Misogyny, mavens, misconceptions and the typing pool”

Israel, community, utopia and the other

Daniel J. Rowe

There are two books in this episode, and I am starting with the one that comes second in the episode: Exodus. Am I the only one that cares enough to mention that? Probably.

Anyway…

Exodus, by Leon Uris is the book that started the Mad Men reading project for me. The book was, as I’ve written before, sitting on my bookshelf when I was watching the episode (S01E06, Babylon) for the second time, and because it played such a prominent role in the episode, and I hadn’t read the book, I stopped watching, read it and continued on. Continue reading “Israel, community, utopia and the other”

Bedtime stories, Betty the princess and an error

Daniel J. Rowe

After delving and diving into D.H. Lawrence in episode three of the first season, we get a quaint bedtime story in episode four read by Betty Draper (January Jones) in her sultry and soothing voice I dare anyone not to drift off into a lovely dream after hearing.

We have, ladies and gents, our first fairytale in Mad Men.

“Church bells rang out and the air was full of flying birds.

What a joyous parade it was back at the palace.

No king could command anything finer.”

– Betty (S01E04, New Amsterdam)

Bobby is crashed out and Sally is wrapped in attention as Betty reads the final lines of a story in Nursery Friends From France (translated by Olive Beaupre) in S01E04 (New Amsterdam). One thing, I read the entire book and never found those lines. If anyone knows what nursery rhyme this comes from, I’d love to hear where it came from. I never found those specific lines in the version I read. Continue reading “Bedtime stories, Betty the princess and an error”

Introducing the Mad Men Reading List

This is the book I’m currently reading:
The Goodbye Look

Before looking the book up at the library and taking it out, I had not heard of the author or title, and had never before thought of reading it.

So why am I reading it?

It is the final book on the Mad Men Reading list and appears in the final episode of the series (S07E14). I have not finished the episode or series because I have not finished the book.

The whole thing started when I was re-watching the series before the final season came out. In S01E06 (Babylon), the character Lily Meyer (Irene Roseen) hands Don Draper (John Hamm) a copy of Exodus, by Leon Uris, and told him he needed to read it. I looked at my bookshelf and noticed I had a copy of that book and I’d never read it.

I stopped the show, started reading and then finished the book. I went back to the episode and was blown away by what reading the book did for the episode and greater understanding of the particular story arc that was progressing.

I decided then to continue the process. Thankfully, the New York Public Library had compiled a list, so I could anticipate books and verify titles.

The Mad Men Reading list project works like such:

  • Watch the series Mad Men
  • Wait until a book is spoken about or seen on screen
  • Stop watching
  • Read book
  • Continue

Simple right?

It has taken me a long time to get through the series.

Here is where I’ll talk about it. I welcome your thoughts as always, and thank you for joining.

DJR.

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