The Group of women in Mad Men who define an era… all eras

Betty Draper reclines in the tub with a book in S3E10 (The Color Blue). The book is Mary McCarthy’s best-seller The Group, a novel that was banned in Australia, sent a whole ton of critics (I’m looking at you Norman Mailer) into a self-righteous tailspin and stood firm as a best seller in 1963

It was the book everyone read and didn’t want to admit it.

The Guardian’s Elizabeth Day has a great recounting of its reception and importance both then and now.

The Group, about eight Vassar girls navigating New Deal America in 1933, sits alongside The Best of Everything (also a Betty book), Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Valley of the Dolls (coming soon) and others that pop up on the Mad Men Reading List which explore the female world.

It is no surprise that Betty is reading the book though any character in the show has likely read it or will read it at some point in the decade.

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Layne Price, Tom Sawyer and the polarity of Mad Men and nostalgia

Standing in a hospital waiting room, Lane Pryce is talking with Don Draper after learning that he is staying in America because his replacement had his foot run over by a riding lawn mower.

It is S3E06, and the perfectly titled “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency.”

Ha. Classic.

Guy Mackendrick (Jamie Thomas King) is the ad man from London who gets aforementioned foot mangled and has his career ended. No golf, no sales. So it goes.

Back to the books.

Lane says to Don that he’s been reading a lot of American literature and that he is thinking of Tom Sawyer.

“I feel like I just attended my own funeral. I didn’t like the eulogy.”

Lane Pryce, S3E06 (Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency)

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is an established American Lit classic, and tells the story of young rapscallion Tom and his adventures, sometimes with his buddy Huckleberry Finn. I won’t go into the whole plot, but, they live in the south, Tom cons a bunch of kids to paint a fence, there’s a murder, tons of racism and at one point the boys watch their own funeral as everyone is convinced they drowned in the river.

Oh, and, yes I am very proud that I got to use the word rapscallion. Simple pleasures.

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The decline and fall of empire, mad men and the hollow men

We are in season three, and after looking at Rand-esque super heroes, destruction of such hollow creations and a deep dive into the soul of the catastrophe of personality and its beauty, we come to the decline of Britain, the Vietnam war, patriarchy’s end and a whole shwack of things we can pull out of Mad Men because, well, why not?

It is S3E03 (My Old Kentucky Home), and Sally is reading The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume I to her grandpa Gene.

The section is about the licentiousness of the Greeks.

“Just wait. All hell’s going to break loose,” says Gene.

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Quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again

It is season two. Peggy is skinny again (post baby), Harry Crane’s wife is pregnant, Trudy Campbell is not, Betty is taking horseback riding lessons and giving them in flirtation, Don’s blood pressure is up, and there is a photocopier in the office.

It is the future.

The president (JFK) is young and hot, the agency needs to match, and a hipster is reading Frank O’Hara in a bar at lunch.

“I don’t think you’d like it,”

Hipster to Don Draper
PLOTTIFY - Don Draper in an Emergency Starts a Meditation in Mad Men

It is S2E01 (For Those Who Think Young), and the collection is Meditations in an Emergency.

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Compson, Whitman, Draper: A name’s sound and fury

What’s in a name? What’s in a family? What is history? What is time?

I may or may not have just finished reading a certain author from the south and everything is up for grabs.

There are those books on the Mad Men reading list I’m curious to read (The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, The Last Picture Show) those I may not have wanted to read at all (Atlas Shrugged), and those I’m completely stoked to read.

Woman of Rome, Crying of Lot 49, and (even though I’ve read it before) the Sound and the Fury are among the latter.

Let’s set the scene and find out how one of the 20th century’s finest novels wound up in one of the 21st century’s finest shows.

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Agency of fools, the madness of Madison Avenue

Don’s been kicked out and is living in a hotel, Marilyn Monroe is dead, and there are tears everywhere.

Betty, alone at home choring away in S2E09 (Six Month Leave), sits down with a glass of wine and reads Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools.

Sometimes, the Mad Men reading list gives you a title that is so on the nose, the discussion about the book writes itself.

Ship of fools… Hmmmm. I wonder how that could relate to the series, characters, themes and plot?

You could really take the title of this book and say it’s a direct allegory of those that inhabit Sterling Cooper’s halls. They are fools wandering about trying to navigate their Madison Avenue ship amid storms and calm waters.

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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.

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The diamond Betty Draper and the sadness inside

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!

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

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.

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Ayn Rand and Dick Whitman’s dropped Zippo

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.

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