The best part about doing a doctoral degree in English is easily the primary texts you have to read–provided you choose your field wisely. Though I’m specializing in 20th century British/American literature, I’ve also been engaging in some 19th century texts for my research–don’t worry, I won’t bog you down with details. But that’s why I read The Rise of Silas Lapham, and I’m super glad I did.
Silas Lapham is a self-made man, who has survived the Civil War (and actually been named a Colonel) and acquired wealth through his father’s discovery of a mineral that yields a rich paint that turns him into a millionaire. With this premise, the novel explores the questions of how he will spend his wealth, and how he plans to be integrated into the elite Boston society, that would ultimately bring better marriage prospects to his daughters Penelope and Irene. But his trust in his former business partner could lead to his social and financial downfall…
I thought this was an insightful (and often hilarious) glimpse at the culture of acquired wealth through someone who has not quite the same polish or education that a “gentleman” or upper-class family might have. In fact, if you’ve ever seen Duck Dynasty, it’s a pretty good analogy. There’s a particularly humorous moment where Silas agonizes over whether or not he’s supposed to wear dressy gloves to a dinner party. It’s exactly the sort of thing you could see Uncle Si agonizing over:
I really enjoyed Silas Lapham, and I am definitely planning to teach this to a future Intro to Fiction or American Lit survey in the future.