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I didn't like the one book where Lily figured more prominently than in most others -- was it NOT QUITE DEAD ENOUGH? It's the one where a lovely young thing is sent to Archie for help, by Lily, I think (so far that describes at least three of the stories, I know) and there's something about making her boyfriend (and possibly Lily) jealous. The details are blurred, but Lily becomes furiously angry and bollixes up the whole investigation by lying to Archie in the first place.
I just didn't like seeing Lily in that light -- though she's definitely portrayed as a man-eater from her first appearance in Some Buried Caesar. I think that one of the things I liked best about Lily was her gradual growth in the series -- from a spoiled little rich girl to a woman who is comfortable with the fairly open relationship she and Archie have. He spends time with other women, particularly on the dance floor, and she spends time with other men, particularly the arty and intellectual types Archie has no time for. But certainly by the end of the series the reader is well aware that they are deeply committed, on some level, to each other.
I love how she plays the role of the concubine in the first. And her raving about being the only woman in N.Y.C. that has made out with Nero Wolfe. Classic.
And in "Death of a Dude" I love how she comes to the rescue, both with a lawyer and with the care package of food for Archie while he is in jail.
Lily is always there when she's needed. That's a great "friend" for any man to have.
The moment when she crows over Wolfe has to be one of my all-time favorites! I think of it rarely enough, but my, how unbeatable!
It was sad, coming to the end of unread Wolfe stories, knowing no more unexpected shades would fold out of a burgeoning plot. Yet it's been almost long enough, now. I think I can re-read without loss of pleasurable freshness, for all the memory that remains.
I suppose, my overriding sentiment is, I like her. She doesn't really need Archie, but she likes him. Same for him. They are convenient for each other. I see them both marrying someone else as they age and remaining friends. Perhaps I like the way it is because it leaves Archie as a possibility! I hate to admit that to myself. ;)
What I find really interesting is to compare Lily to Harriet Vane in the Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy Sayers. Harriet too struggles to define herself outside the accepted social boundaries of the 1920s and 30s. There are times she really wants Peter to just ride roughshod over her, and force her into a more "usual" feminine role -- but to Sayers' enormous credit, this he refuses to do. When I was younger, I hated the book in which their courtship culminates, Gaudy Night, but now I love watching them both struggle with their love for each other and their deep desire to preserve their individuality. Frankly, these are issues that still plague many, many women today.
That's just my point of view as a "mature" single woman.
Harriet annoyed me at times, I felt she was too obsessed with herself. But as I mature, I too see that struggle to define who one is, as a female as compared to who one is as a human. I'm not sure any real person could come to as neat a conclusion as Lily and Harriet did, but it is inspiring and hopeful to read about them.
I rather agree with you about Lily in Some Buried Caesar. Archie simply isn't going to be taken in with any of the tricks she's used before, so she has to wake up and think about things. I too enjoy her growth, and I've known a couple of women very like her, so I don't think she is an unrealistic character, the author just doesn't want to bore us with the bumps.
said 'enry 'iggins
For one thing, I've had to fight against the almost overwhelming cultural expectation in our society that a woman without a man is like a fish on a bicycle -- what DOES she think she's doing out there?
Maybe it's just the circles I move in, but no matter the age of my colleagues and acquaintances, the search for a man to be with or the never-ending struggle to accept the man they're with seems to be the dominant factor in many women's lives. At least in the world I inhabit (high school teachers).
So, having made a decision to eschew the frantically frenzied mating dances of our culture, I find myself much more sympathetic now to both Lily and Harriet. In Gaudy Night Harriet really struggles to convince both herself and others that her life choices were valid ones. What I find interesting is her interior monologues -- she knows darned well she doesn't really want to live without Peter in her life, but it takes a friend and mentor to bring her face to face with her own hypocrisy in not making the ultimate commitment to him. And I especially love that Sayers, for all her later disdain for her fictional creations, does NOT have marriage and motherhood drastically alter the essential Harriet. The growth that Harriet displays is simply the natural evolution of any human's move from unhappiness and insecurity to love and stability. Beautifully perceptive on Sayers' part, especially considering the chaos and unhappiness of her own life (self-inflicted, yes, but miserable nonetheless).
I see a bit of the same in Lily. I don't see her as purely a "device" as AG does. After all, I think we can agree that Stout was surely inventive enough to have provided Archie with other avenues of information -- even Wolfe himself could have hectored Archie a bit on his lack of "culture". No, what I see in Lily is a bit of what I see in La Vane -- a woman who does not need to conform to anyone's expectations, and who has to then create her own self -- a self she is happy with. Lily likes high culture, and the personages who inhabit that world. She also likes Archie. The two are often but not always incompatible -- so she compartmentalizes.
Maybe I'm extrapolating a bit here -- one of my professors said that the only criticism he had of my work/literary analysis skills was that I tended to make very personal connections with fictional characters -- a kind of Rachelpromorphism, as it were. Be that as it may, I see in both women an echo of my own struggles to be taken seriously in my own right.
Do you remember what Tolkien wrote in The Hobbit: "Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale. . ."
I find it much the same with character growth. The struggle to grow into a realized self can make a great story -- but the peace and often placidity that comes with maturity as a result of that struggle does not offer the reader much to chew on. I'm mixing my metaphors here, but you get my point.
Sorry to ramble on like this, but it is an issue I've thought on long and deeply, as most of the books I love are character driven.
How else are we supposed to connect with a character other than personally? I have no other frame of reference to understand people or characters than my own experience, growth, views, etc. Maybe this is why I didn't last long in college. :) Always disagreeing with the professors.
Anyway, somewhat off-topic, but I find it interesting that in the Daphne du Maurier group I mentioned, we were having a discussion about whether those who loved her books were more character driven or plot driven. We really didn't answer that question, but in our small group, it seemed the men were more plot driven, and the women were character driven. Perhaps that question would be worth a thread here? If anyone agrees, start one, O.K.?
's funny -- but until I read your comment I hadn't realized how much my loving the Wolfe series, which is so dependent on the characters, is out of sync with most of my other tastes in mysteries. I generally only stick with series books if the main character shows some signs of personal growth. No one can claim that Wolfe is anything but a static character, and according to the literary definition, Archie, for all his energy, is pretty static as well. That is, both characters seem to stay the same, internally at least.
And that's the main reason I stopped buying any new books about Stephanie Plum, Doc Ford, Kay Scarpetta, and Kinsey Milhone. Those characters are the same people in their latest literary incarnation as they were in their first appearance. Odd how I have made an exception for Nero Wolfe -- but the writing is just so darned great! And though Wolfe and Archie have sprung full-blown out of Stout's psyche, like Athena from the head of Zeus, I still find them so fully realized, so three-dimensional, that I feel certain that in some other dimension they're as real as I am.
About college -- it took me two tries to master the art of keeping my tongue between my teeth in order to get through -- and I have a few war stories about those days!
I'm not sure ANY professors in the education school at the University of Buffalo (aka as BRIET) had ever met and worked with real, live, actual high school students. I was actually asked to leave that school of education -- I was flat out told that my vocabulary was inappropriate for teaching and writing about teaching -- I kid you not, but I was told (in front of two witnesses!) that my polysyllabic tendencies were a definite sign that I would never make it as a teacher. And that my professors in that school felt that I was deliberately using words they were unfamiliar with to flout my erudition (well, the dean didn't use the words "flout" or "erudition" -- I'm not sure she knew them). Seems I had used the word "jocular" in one of my papers (this in an upper-level education course) and that was just one unfamiliar word too many for my instructors.
I did, however, still graduate Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude from the school's parent university, and last year I was named Teacher of the Year by the Sarasota chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I have thought, now and then, of mailing a copy of that certificate to my former professors. But I'm too lazy to go to the post office and too frugal to waste a stamp that way.
Besides, as my dear old dad often says, "living well is the best revenge."
edited to correct an awkward phrase.
Most academe departments/schools/colleges of education only require 3-5 years of public school teaching experience from their instructors. That experience often precedes a master's and certainly a doctoral degree. If the instructor has been teaching at the university level for a few years (and especially if they're a researcher) they can be quite out of touch with the students and the school culture.
I remember having an education professor during my undergraduate years that I was sure hadn't seen the inside of a school classroom in twenty years.
A few years ago I had the thought ‘these two (Archie & Wolfe) bicker like an old married couple’. When I considered Lily’s change in attitude about Archie, going from pursuit to dancing partner and confidant, a thought popped into my head, one that would possibly upset homicide detective of the time no matter how much he respected Wolfe’s ability. I quickly decided not to ask because it had no affect on the stories.
Of course Wolfe and Archie bicker like an old married couple. Until my kids moved out this year, so did we. I think that's a natural result of living and working so closely together. We categorize this kind of relationship as similar to a marriage because in many ways it is -- but w/o the sexual or romantic component. And I have to disagree with your assessment that Lily and Archie's relationship has moved into the purely platonic realm -- I believe she no longer needs to chase him b/c she knows full well that on a very important level he's hers -- as much as he can be anybody's. So she puts up with what others might see as half a loaf -- she can't have him all the time, and she knows she'll always take a backseat to his job. But I definitely get a sense of heat when they're together -- remember when he pours champagne into her shoe, drinks it, and then says something like, "This is how I like to think of you"? I think that for Archie, Lily is the icing on his cake. He can't make a diet of just icing -- but it's obvious throughout the series that she's very, very important to him.
Of course, I'm really spouting off here -- this is just my opinion. But neither Archie nor Wolfe exhibit any of the typical gay cultural behaviors -- and my daughter's research indicates that those behaviors have been associated with gay culture for many centuries. In much the same way I can attest that neither Archie nor Wolfe are Jewish!
Re #16 saxhorn: Oddly enough, once I started teaching in the real world, my students seemed to have little difficulty with my vocabulary. In fact, they've often told me I'm the only teacher they know who really uses the words in their vocabulary books. And I make a game out of learning new words (they can earn extra credit if they use a new word correctly three to five times in a week in class), plus I speak in appositive phrases. In other words, even when speaking aloud, I will define a new word in the same sentence I've used it. For example, I might (and do) say to kids who've exclaimed at the hundreds of books of my own that crowd my classroom, "I believe one can never have a plethora, or too many, books. I have a plethora of bills, and a plethora of lesson plans to turn in, but never too many books."
We work in the educational field, and, to quote President Jeb Bartlett of THE WEST WING, "If I call myself the "education President" isn't about time I stopped pretending I have one?" But DON'T get me started on the aliteracy of all too many of my colleagues! I'll end up hijacking the thread and venting for days!
I also think that Archie and Lily have a lot of sexual tension when they get together. I think they enjoy the heat and that it is the cement of their relationship. Both Lily and Archie value their independence, and intuitively know that they would kill the heat if they would formalize their relationship.
Archie certainly is a man's man. Look at his relationship with Saul and Fred, who are also mens men. It's not just bravado; they like and respect each other.
Wolfe has had quite a personality change since his European youth. Then he was full of passion and spontaneity. Now he calculates, and tries (often unsuccessfully) to keep his emotions under control.
A note on vocabulary, my children are homeschooled. Their friends are always giving them a hard time about their vocabulary, though it is just regular talk to my kids. It's not as if we have drilled them to speak well, they just read a lot. I do think my youngest son likes to learn obscure words to keep his friends off balance though. :)
Just finished reading "A Family Affair;" Stout's last. Lily plays a minor role in this story. But, one can see the maturation of Archie's and Lily's relationship. They show real acceptance of their relationship and of each other, and they show enjoyment in their roles.
My wife just earned her Masters in Education last year, she is an administrator in continuing education at the university here, and I am currently in (back in) college hoping to one day teach a history class or two, but I am staying out of the education discussion. She deals only with adults and I can’t go near a high school without having nightmares.
On cursing I have some knowledge. I learned a lot about it from my paternal grandfather, not only did he have a colorful and varied vocabulary of four letter words he also had a well-developed hierarchy of usage that has served me well. You have to limit the use of some words so they maintain their power. ‘!@# I chipped a nail’, should not carry the same emotional content as ‘!@# I just ripped my finger off’.
And when Lewis Black uses them, we find their use is perfected. That is one very funny man!