Lillly Rowan

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Lillly Rowan

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Jul 14, 2008, 9:25 pm

First of all, have I spelled her name correctly? Second, do we wish Stout built even more plots around her than he did? Georges Simenon devoted a whole novel to Maigret's wife--Madame Maigret's Friend, and he pulled it off well. Lilly figures significantly in some tales, but I think even more would have been enjoyable. Since the Archie/Lilly friendship, based partly on dancing, lasted over several decades, I assume the steps they danced varied widely from jitterbug and waltz to . . . what? The twist?!

Jul 14, 2008, 11:34 pm

It's Lily Rowan -- you got the last name right! I personally think that Lily and Archie were purists and danced the tango, the rumba, and other types of traditional ballroom dances. I just can't see Archie doing the twist or the Watusi, somehow. When Archie dances, he admits he likes the feel of the girl in his arms.

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.

Jul 15, 2008, 4:21 pm

My two favorites regarding Lily (that sounds like a book title, doesn't it?) are "All in the Family" and "Death of a Dude" although in the latter she isn't as prominant as one might expect.

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.

Jul 16, 2008, 4:56 am

Moovyz, I thoroughly agree. Both are great. And in the latter, doesn't Archie commend her, a great deal, for her sanity and sense? She has, for all the frivolity, some maturity and strength.

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.

Jul 17, 2008, 3:58 am

I thought Lily weakened as a character, after Some Buried Caesar - I know where Stout was going with his 'development', but I thought it too obvious. She is too much an 'Everywoman' figure, or, at worst, a literary device, in the later books. In SBC, she is a spoiled little rich girl, but her strength and spirit are bubbling just underneath the surface - in Death of a Dude, which I loathe, Stout almost has her parading around in a sandwich board, proclaiming, 'Hey, I'm all that Archie needs, but I'll never get in his way, how liberal am I?' Far too obvious. I even prefer her in Not Quite Dead Enough, which most fans resent, because she is still human, with flaws - yes, she is jealous of Archie spending time with another woman, why shouldn't she be? Does that make her any less of a woman? She is not a proto-feminist man-eater, she is used to getting exactly what she wants - and she wants Archie. They meet their match in each other. When they both decide on the boundaries of their relationship, it gets dull, I find.

Jul 18, 2008, 3:29 pm

I'm not sure how to respond to this. I see points I agree with in all of the above comments. It's been too long since I've read the series to remember many specifics.

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. ;)

Editado: Jul 18, 2008, 9:28 pm

And I love their relationship because I don't see either of them marrying. . .anyone, not even each other. Lily doesn't need to marry for money or security or self-image. She is, in my opinion, particularly as a long-time single woman, a fully fledged woman in her own right, with her very own tastes and friends and causes. Archie, like most male protagonists, has his own circle of friends and preferred entertainments. What I love about their relationship is that I feel it does evolve into a partnership of equals -- they are, in a sense, by the end of the series, committed to each other, but in an unconventional way. Both know that if either needs anything, the other will come through. But neither wanted the 3 bedroom house with the white picket fence and 2.5 kids -- so for each of them, this relationship works. I hate to disagree with AG, but in Some Buried Caesar Lily is in many ways a stereotypical flapper type -- the spoiled rich girl who has nothing better to do than ensnare men and drop them. I almost feel that when Archie "bests" her, it spurs her growth as a woman/character. In the first few books in which she appears it seems to me that she is struggling to find a role for herself -- she can't subjugate Archie, and her normal sex-kitten power plays just don't work. As the series progresses, I see both Lily and Archie maturing, and growing. They are not dependent on each other, but their connection is very real.

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.

Jul 19, 2008, 7:44 pm

#7 - I had never thought of comparing Lily to Harriet Vane! This will take some thinking, I like the issues you brought up. *Putting my thinking cap on now.*

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.

Jul 20, 2008, 4:41 am

Perhaps this is my trouble - I can't stand Harriet Vane! I love Lord Peter, but she bores me - too obviously a soapbox for the author. Feminism tends to drag heroines down, in my opinion - why can't a lead female character just be human, like the men? Why should she be blazing a trail for womenkind, refusing to be tied down by marriage and sleeping her way through the phone book? If equality means lowering ourselves to that level, I think I would rather read about Victorian heroines. I enjoy Lily in Some Buried Caesar because she's witty and enigmatic - the other women tell Archie how they perceive her (as a threat), but he sees more. Her behaviour isn't terribly original, true - Gloria in Dos Passos' Manhattan Transfer is just as lively - but it's entertaining. I think Stout almost switches characters on the readers by Death of a Dude - I don't see it as growth, more suffocation. She isn't complex enough to stand up to a comparison with Harriet in the later books - she is purely a device, there to provide Archie with information (opera, art, cosmetics) and connections that Wolfe cannot supply. I would have liked more of the 'bumps' along the way, I think, MrsLee!

Jul 20, 2008, 10:01 am

"why can't a lead female character just be human, like the men?"

said 'enry 'iggins

Jul 20, 2008, 11:24 am

AG - I suppose I'm not bothered by Lily (Harriet bothers me much more, for some of the same reasons you mentioned, AG) because whatever the author doesn't provide, my imagination does! I have a habit of rewriting the unwritten details to suit me when it's a character I care about.

Jul 20, 2008, 1:58 pm

Perhaps it's the vantage point of age (or approaching senility?) but as I creep up to the half-century mark at the end of August, I have discovered that my views on some of the characters that I almost had an anaphylactic (sp?) reaction to when I was a mere lass in my 30s have radically changed.

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.

Jul 20, 2008, 9:02 pm

Rachel - " 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...

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.?

Jul 21, 2008, 12:58 am

Thanks for the great posts. I like Rachel's and Mrs. Lee's interpretations of/responses to Harriet Vane and Lily, although the Harriet/Lord Peter relationship is of course central to Sayers' books. I think Harriet's feminism is part of her character, a good part, but more importantly a complicated part that she and Lord Peter have to negotiate as their relationship develops. It also adds a bit of heft to the basic comic tenor of the books, just as Lord Peter's being traumatized by the Great War does. Archie's and Lily's relationship is interestingly chaste. For all practical purposes, Archie's wedded to Wolfe. Anyway, thanks for the great discussion, all. Incidentally, the now rather old BBC adaptations of Sayers's books are quite good, and they handle the feminist angle well. The production quality is not good, but the writing and acting are.

Editado: Jul 21, 2008, 6:16 am

Re #13 MrsLee -- sounds like a great idea, but maybe this new thread should be under the umbrella group Mysteries? I might post it on there.

'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.

Jul 21, 2008, 8:38 am

#15 Rachel - I, too, am an educator, with some of my own struggles with education faculty and fitting into the requisite mold. I'm curious about what level/subject you teach, and if your polysyllabic ways have any affects on your students.

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.

Jul 21, 2008, 10:49 am

# 14 “For all practical purposes, Archie's wedded to Wolfe”

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.

Jul 21, 2008, 11:12 pm

Re #14 to TLCrawford -- nope, they're not gay! Though I never had the joy of meeting Rex Stout, my youngest daughter is a gay rights' activist and through her I've gotten to know quite a lot about "gay culture." I have NO doubts whatsoever that both Archie and Wolfe are heterosexually oriented. Remember that Wolfe manages to seat women with great legs in such a way that he can gaze at their gams!

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!

Jul 22, 2008, 8:18 am

#18 Rachel I agree with you on education. Education's worst enemy is often inside the field. To quote Pogo: "We have met the enemy, and they is us."

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.

Jul 22, 2008, 7:41 pm

Though my puritan, pure and clean mind would like to think that Archie and Lily just talk and dance when he stays at her place until the early morning hours, somehow the practical side of me doubts it. I do like that it is left to the reader's imagination. Most of us can fill in the spaces for ourselves. ;)

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. :)

Jul 22, 2008, 11:01 pm

I frequently chide my students on their very limited vocabulary -- I've heard all those four-letter profanities way too many times, I tell them. I've asked them why they need to repeat them so often -- are they afraid they'll forget them? Then we do a mini-lesson on what I call CREATIVE CURSING, which grabs their attention (though it's really more like creative invective, b/c no actual "curses" are involved). We use Shakespearean insults and create our own. It's always a lot of fun, and for a week or so the flow of four letter crudities are a little diminished.

Jul 23, 2008, 9:58 am

I am frequently amazed at this generation's use of profanity in the presence of adults and authority figures. I think they use profanity so much that they don't even think about their speech. Applause to Rachel for her creativity in attempting to curb cursing.

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.

Jul 23, 2008, 2:08 pm

Al’right, you convinced me with the ongoing battle to seat the ladies for the most advantageous view. Considering that the series was started in the 1930’s and that Stout was writing for a ‘higher class’ magazine than Black Mask and Smith & Street that was likely as much lust as he could fit into the stories.

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’.

Jul 23, 2008, 2:22 pm

TLCrawford: I am pretty sure you and your wife would enjoy visiting SMA. If you ever make a trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida, let me know. I have a tiny house, and almost no amenities (a cranky toilet, no swimming pool, and four animals!), so I can't offer you hospitality, but our students and our campus are very different from most of the high schools down here -- and not because we regiment the joy out of being a teenager, either! I've seen more kids hug teachers here than anywhere else I've taught.

Jul 23, 2008, 8:20 pm

I'm an English prof., so kudos to all of you who teach high school; you are overworked and underpaid. I'm of two minds on the cursing issue. I grew up around it, so it wasn't considered shocking. It was part of the linguistic currency. At the same time, I learned that, as with all rhetoric, there's a time, a place, and an audience, so I agree that young folks need to learn when not to curse. I also tend to agree with comedian Lewis Black, who asserts that cursing often takes the place of physical violence--although in some situations, it can trigger violence. In novels, I really have no preference one way or the other with regard to cursing. If it's appropriate to the story and characters, then it should be there. As TLCrawford notes, Stout was writing for a middle-brow audience, but I think he was also representing a middle- and upper-middle class segment of society in NYC in which cursing, especially in mixed company, was not polite. It's rather charming that Wolfe's favorite "curse" word is "Pfui." Good luck with the teaching and the preparing to teach!

Jul 25, 2008, 9:46 am

I agree completelt with Ostram, there is a time and a place for most anything. The words in question are very powerful, as we can see it causes a kneejerk reaction in most. But that power makes their use, in the right setting, useful tools. Kids should be taight when their se is appropriate.

And when Lewis Black uses them, we find their use is perfected. That is one very funny man!

Editado: Jul 25, 2008, 10:50 am

These last posts remind me of the movie Star Trek IV where Spock curses completely out of "correct" usage. Might be a good teaching tool, no?

Jul 25, 2008, 11:32 pm

Bill O'Reilly interviewed George Carlin in 2001, and I just saw the interview right after George died. O'Reilly: "Why do you have to use the F word?" Carlin:"I don't have to. I choose to. It's one of the spices in my stew."