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KxBurns
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PART TWO: The Dinner

The main action in this chapter is of course the dinner, and you get the feeling that it represents another turning point for the family. But this crucial meal is buffered on both ends of the chapter by plight of Alfred.

When Grace attempts to talk to Alfred about dropping the tray, his response is so harsh and bitter that she concludes, "I had perceived a closeness where none existed" (p. 212). This is a telling comment; do you think it's true?

Later in the evening, after a champagne uncorking sends Alfred into a momentary flashback (we assume), Grace manages to offer him comfort, if briefly. However, on page 209, Grace says that after this evening, when she and the rest of the staff had no choice but to confront Alfred's changed emotional state, they "picked up the slack and remained complicit in an unspoken pact not to notice things had changed." What do you make of such a statement? Does it apply to more than the Alfred situation? Does complicity imply guilt?

The entire evening between the Hartfords and Luxtons seems to be a tug of war between change versus preservation of the established ways. And yet the lines are not as clear-cut as they seem. In social matters, it is Hannah who espouses progressive attitudes, while Simion Luxton represents the old guard. He apparently does not recognize the contradiction between these views and his business philosophy (which is in stark contrast to Frederick's) of progress and efficiency at any cost, or his humble origins.

What are some of the small details that distinguish the Luxtons from the Hartfords? What did you think of Teddy?

And, lastly, why are most of the servants so reluctant to embrace the "modern notions" that would surely improve their lot?

Karen
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bookhunter
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner

On page 210 Grace describes the table being set to dine "en famille (rather than in the formal a la Russe style to which we were accustomed)."

If anyone has more information on the distinction between the two, I would be interested. I gather that Mr Frederick has chosen a less formal style--better suited to him and to his American guests.

Ann, bookhunter
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bookhunter
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner



KxBurns wrote:
...The entire evening between the Hartfords and Luxtons seems to be a tug of war between change versus preservation of the established ways. And yet the lines are not as clear-cut as they seem. In social matters, it is Hannah who espouses progressive attitudes, while Simion Luxton represents the old guard. He apparently does not recognize the contradiction between these views and his business philosophy (which is in stark contrast to Frederick's) of progress and efficiency at any cost, or his humble origins.

What are some of the small details that distinguish the Luxtons from the Hartfords? What did you think of Teddy?

And, lastly, why are most of the servants so reluctant to embrace the "modern notions" that would surely improve their lot?

Karen




I loved how Hannah makes her little "digs" of social commentary without Mr Luxton knowing!

"Imagine, a working man who expects more from life than the stench of other men's feet...One would think they'd realize that only the fortunate have a right to concern themselves with ambition," says Hannah on p 216!
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GMorrison
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner

[ Edited ]

KxBurns wrote:
The main action in this chapter is of course the dinner, and you get the feeling that it represents another turning point for the family. But this crucial meal is buffered on both ends of the chapter by plight of Alfred.

When Grace attempts to talk to Alfred about dropping the tray, his response is so harsh and bitter that she concludes, "I had perceived a closeness where none existed" (p. 212). This is a telling comment; do you think it's true?




I'm not sure it is; or at least, I'm not sure that Grace was the one who misperceived anything. I have the sneaking suspicion that Alfred might have created an idealized Grace in his head to help him get through the war, or at least an idealized idea of what life would be like for him/them once he returned. And reality rarely lives up to the way it looks inside one's head. Furthermore, he may also be realizing, after all he's seen, that he wants more out of life than settling down to start a family while in service at Riverton.

Now, we know that Grace has presumably married (she has a daughter), but given the amount of foreshadowing in Riverton, I really, really doubt that she married Alfred. Or if she did, she discovered far too late that marriage doesn't create by itself closeness where none actually exists.


Later in the evening, after a champagne uncorking sends Alfred into a momentary flashback (we assume), Grace manages to offer him comfort, if briefly. However, on page 209, Grace says that after this evening, when she and the rest of the staff had no choice but to confront Alfred's changed emotional state, they "picked up the slack and remained complicit in an unspoken pact not to notice things had changed." What do you make of such a statement? Does it apply to more than the Alfred situation? Does complicity imply guilt?


I think it applies to the very nature of the world they live in, and how that complicity ultimately acted to bring about its end. I get the sense from the flashbacks we've already witnessed of Hannah and Emmeline later in life, that they grew up to be rather scandalous and wild, and even Grace herself seems to be living with a lot of unspoken regrets, which have evidently impacted her daughter and quite possibly grandson. Indeed, the entire narrative seems to be heading toward a cataclysmic "point of no return"; I wonder if this is Grace foreshadowing that they could have headed it off, had they only stopped pretending earlier that nothing was wrong.


What are some of the small details that distinguish the Luxtons from the Hartfords?



I think the one that stood out most strongly for me was the inherent differences in attitudes between the two families, who are, on the surface at least, quite similar. While both lead lives of material and social privilege, one gets the feelings that the Riverton family feels that they deserve privilege by the very nature of who they are (indeed, they've been born into it for generations), where the Luxton's are much more earthy and crass about the fact that money is responsible for their position, and that that's why they need more of it.

(Edited to fix formatting.)

Message Edited by GMorrison on 01-08-2008 11:28 PM
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psujulie
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner



KxBurns wrote:
The main action in this chapter is of course the dinner, and you get the feeling that it represents another turning point for the family. But this crucial meal is buffered on both ends of the chapter by plight of Alfred.

When Grace attempts to talk to Alfred about dropping the tray, his response is so harsh and bitter that she concludes, "I had perceived a closeness where none existed" (p. 212). This is a telling comment; do you think it's true?


I believe that this might be another example of the "guilt" theme that runs throughout the novel. I understand that Alfred saw some horrific things while serving his country, but he keeps mentioning that he is a coward. I wonder if something happened in a battle, where he saw many of his friends (maybe even David) killed. It's possible that he felt that he should have done more to help them. In addition, if he is living with survivor's guilt, that would explain pushing away Grace. I believe that he is extremely fond of Grace, but maybe doesn't feel that he deserves her or can even be close to anyone. You have to love yourself before you can love someone else in a relationship.

I also thought Ms. Morton's description of Estella's hair on pg. 214 was hilarious -- once again a vivid description of hair! "Hers, the colour of pewter, was wound into a sleek and impressive chignon, curiously American in its construction. It reminded me of a photograph Mr. Hamilton had pinned on the noticeboard downstairs, a New York skyscraper covered in scaffolding: complex and impressive without ever being properly attractive. I think the latter part of this statement kind of sums up what the English thought of America at the time -- bigger, better, modern, etc. without the beauty of days of old.

I LOVE Grace's comment at the end of the chapter on pg. 229, "I understood somehow that certain images, certain sounds, could not be shared and could not be lost." I have to think that Grace is referring to more than just Alfred's experiences during the war!
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dhaupt
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner

Both Families in the house go through transformations in this chapter, the owners and the servants.
1) Hannah is put as the hostess where before she was only a child in her grandparents home. She is expected not only to arrange seating for her guests but also to parlay in witty conversation which with these particular guests seem to grate on her.
2) The family is trying to impress it's guests not because of their station but because they need money.
3) The servants try to pick up the slack left by Alfred's "accidents".
I think Alfred made that comment to Grace because he didn't understand his problem and also I think he's embarrassed by it especially that everyone knows about it.
I think the statement about not noticing things was made to save Alfred feelings and I don't think it implies guilt.
The difference between the two families, I get the impression that even though Simion is English he saw no problem marrying money from abroad to further himself. He has a daughter that not only talks about modern ideas but lives them, and he's not afraid to try new ideas (assembly lines) in business.
Frederick is sticking to his antiquated ideas even at the obvious cost to himself and his family, and even though Hannah is heard making noises about moving in a more modern way he's oblivious to it. I thought it telling that he referred to David as a boy.
I certainly didn't like the way Simion brushed against Grace while his wife was making the comment that he liked English ways.
I liked Teddy and I like that he genuinely cares for his family even though they hold different ideas from him.
I think the servants are afraid of modern ideas one because we are all creatures of habit and no change is good but also because they feel that their employers need them.
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Pammy
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner

I felt so uneasy with this whole dinner chapter. It was so uncomfortable for everyone and such an omen about the merger of these two families. You know no good is going to come of it. I was so afraid the author would fall back on the tired old plot of Simion pursuing Grace and leaving her pregnant. Thank you Kate Morton for not going there.

Mostly I am struck by the wit, spirit and humor that Hannah shows throughout the meal. She could use some of that later in the novel but we never see it.
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Tarri
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner

Talk about the ugly Americans.

The Luxton parents are obnoxious and really paint a great picture of new money versus old money. Simion leering at Grace and having the audacity to touch her thigh(she's only 18 or possibly 19) in a room with her employers and his wife present. Estella criticizing the meal, with her nose up in the air. Teddy seems like a nice enough person, although that remains to be seen.

I like Hannah even more after this chapter. She holds her own and even bests Simion (although he is to obtuse to know) and then retains her youthful spirit by sticking out her tongue at Grace.
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nhawkinsII
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner

"The Dinner" is actually a reflection of the social change occurring after the end of WW I. New wealth was being created by "mechanization...the way of the future...assembly lines" described by Simion Luxton. Access to wealth and the ability to acquire money were no longer privileges of the "old moneyed" families. The nouveau wealthy were not interested in the welfare of the worker nor the quality of the finished product as evidenced by the conversation between Simion and Mr. Frederick pg 224-225. Luxton states "'the more you produce, the more you can afford to produce'" with a target market of "'aspirational middle-class consumers'"...the bottom line in this scenario would acquire more wealth and profits from an untapped consumer. There were new technologies and new opportunity to make money. In my opinion Luxton views Riverton and its way of life worthy of a museum with items of value to be auctioned as evidenced by his examination and discussion of the porcelain vase "worthy of a pretty penny, old boy". (pg. 213-214)

As the head of Riverton, Mr. Frederick seems to be focused on business "his way" at the factory and immune to the changes around him. He is eager to make a good impression with a fine dinner and extra heating...to show his lifestyle at its best. However, the Luxtons are interested only in the trappings of wealth and its acquisition. Even when Mr. Frederick speaks about the death of his son David, Simion Luxton provides the "socially correct" lip service.
"'We're in their debt...Young men like your David make the ultimate sacrifice...to prove they didn't die in vain. To thrive in business and return this land to her rightful standing'". (pg 223) (of course, David died fighting a much larger cause...a right to way of life, duty, honor,etc.).

Hannah's intent to discuss her desire for an outside job as well as the discussion of Deborah Luxton's job in New York were all examples of the changes occurring at the conclusion of WW I. Simion Luxton's inappropriate behavior (oogling and touching) toward Grace as she served him was also an insight into the cultural upheaval occurring...

Surrounding "The Dinner" with the story of Alfred also highlighted the individual changes that had occurred as a result of the war. Individuals who had fought and returned home were seeing their lives and roles in a totally different light...the old important routines and ideas of duty were not as defined..."'You all think I'm the same Alfred as left for France...I must look close enough to the same, but I am a different fellow, Grace'". (pg. 228) Grace describes Alfred's changes as a yawning gulf between his experiences and hers...certain experiences could not be shared and were never lost...And I think with this understanding Grace knew her own life had changed...the pre-war versus post war culture.
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crazyasitsounds
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner

This was the funniest chapter of the book. Simion's firm belief that his backwards attitudes are signs of progress & his obliviousness to Hannah's barbs were great. It's too bad it's the last time in the book that we see Hannah's anti-establishment humor.
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LucNesbitt
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner


KxBurns wrote:
But this crucial meal is buffered on both ends of the chapter by plight of Alfred.

When Grace attempts to talk to Alfred about dropping the tray, his response is so harsh and bitter that she concludes, "I had perceived a closeness where none existed" (p. 212). This is a telling comment; do you think it's true?

Later in the evening, after a champagne uncorking sends Alfred into a momentary flashback (we assume), Grace manages to offer him comfort, if briefly. However, on page 209, Grace says that after this evening, when she and the rest of the staff had no choice but to confront Alfred's changed emotional state, they "picked up the slack and remained complicit in an unspoken pact not to notice things had changed." What do you make of such a statement? Does it apply to more than the Alfred situation? Does complicity imply guilt?
Karen


I don't recall the page, but in an earlier chapter, I remember the household being confused as to why Alfred was in a hospital but not injured. Is it possible he was in some form of mental or psychological hospital due to stress induced by the war and fighting? If so, its likely that not only has his opinion of the world and his place in it has changed, but his mental state of mind as well. During this time, I don't believe much was known about post-traumatic stress, therefore, the staff at Riverton likely didn't know how to deal with Alfred's changed state.

I don't think complicity implies guilt here, but that it does imply a sense of unity between those downstairs towards those upstairs. Any mishap by one of the staff would be a reflection on them all so covering for Alfred would be a form of self-protection. If the family were to feel the staff were becoming complacent or lazy, all would suffer, not just Alfred.
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darma51
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner

I think the difference between the families is the difference between "old" money and "new" money.
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bookhunter
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner



darma51 wrote:
I think the difference between the families is the difference between "old" money and "new" money.




That is a good distinction. Except in this case, the "old" money doesn't HAVE any money. I think this becomes a problem somewhere a long the lines for many of these large estates in Europe, especially England. They cost so much to maintain (think of having to pay all those servants to dust the books in the library) and there is no income. Frederick is trying to create income with his factory, but isn't succeeding!

Ann, bookhunter
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kiakar
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner

Karen


I don't recall the page, but in an earlier chapter, I remember the household being confused as to why Alfred was in a hospital but not injured. Is it possible he was in some form of mental or psychological hospital due to stress induced by the war and fighting? If so, its likely that not only has his opinion of the world and his place in it has changed, but his mental state of mind as well. During this time, I don't believe much was known about post-traumatic stress, therefore, the staff at Riverton likely didn't know how to deal with Alfred's changed state.

I don't think complicity implies guilt here, but that it does imply a sense of unity between those downstairs towards those upstairs. Any mishap by one of the staff would be a reflection on them all so covering for Alfred would be a form of self-protection. If the family were to feel the staff were becoming complacent or lazy, all would suffer, not just Alfred.





yES, I think Alfred had a head injury, probably a serious one, when he dropped the tray, by the way it was described, he had a seizure which is caused by trauma of the head. I really think it was great that all the staff stuck together to save Alfred . That is what employees have to do and to help themselves also. You have to maintain loyality as the decent thing to do.
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EbonyAngel
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner

I don't recall the page, but in an earlier chapter, I remember the household being confused as to why Alfred was in a hospital but not injured. Is it possible he was in some form of mental or psychological hospital due to stress induced by the war and fighting? If so, its likely that not only has his opinion of the world and his place in it has changed, but his mental state of mind as well. During this time, I don't believe much was known about post-traumatic stress, therefore, the staff at Riverton likely didn't know how to deal with Alfred's changed state.

I don't think complicity implies guilt here, but that it does imply a sense of unity between those downstairs towards those upstairs. Any mishap by one of the staff would be a reflection on them all so covering for Alfred would be a form of self-protection. If the family were to feel the staff were becoming complacent or lazy, all would suffer, not just Alfred.




I got the feeling also that Alfred was in the hospital because of mental stress. On page 228 he says he sees and hears them. He also mentions that the Doctors told him to keep busy.
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bookhunter
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner



nhawkinsII wrote:
"The Dinner" is actually a reflection of the social change occurring after the end of WW I. New wealth was being created by "mechanization...the way of the future...assembly lines" described by Simion Luxton. Access to wealth and the ability to acquire money were no longer privileges of the "old moneyed" families. ...




What is ironic is that Mr Luxton admires and desires the prestige and attitudes of the "old moneyed" English families. Even though he gained his wealth through ambition and work, he shows contempt for other people attempting to do the same. And he perfectly illustrates that no amount of money can buy good manners!

Ann, bookhunter
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bookhunter
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner



nhawkinsII wrote:
...Hannah's intent to discuss her desire for an outside job as well as the discussion of Deborah Luxton's job in New York were all examples of the changes occurring at the conclusion of WW I. Simion Luxton's inappropriate behavior (oogling and touching) toward Grace as she served him was also an insight into the cultural upheaval occurring...




Why did Hannah decide not to announce she was going to look for a job? I thought maybe it was because it would seem to put her in the same category as Deborah Luxton and the entire Luxton family!

Ann, bookhunter
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KxBurns
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner

[ Edited ]
You have all pointed out lots of great distinctions between the two families! I also liked the small detail of their sparkly white American teeth.

Someone mentioned the humor of this chapter, which is a welcome interjection amidst the awkwardness.

One of the parts I found hilarious was when Estella very inappropriately commented on the meal and, in an effort to smooth over her gaffe, Frederick "launched into an uneasy oratory on Mrs. Townsend's unparalleled skill as a ration cook." Well, a paragraph later, we read that this monologue, "became a desolate conversational island from which there seemed no escape" (p. 220-221). It made me laugh to picture Frederick rambling on incoherently about cooking and the staff...

Hasn't everyone been there, either as a listener or as the speaker? :smileyhappy:

Message Edited by KxBurns on 01-10-2008 04:24 PM
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lamorgan
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner

I really liked this chapter. It truly demonstrated Hannah's personality, as well as her loyalties.
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nhawkinsII
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Re: PART TWO: The Dinner

[ Edited ]
I think Hannah's intent to search for a job became less focused after she announced her intent to Emmeline in "The Bankers" and Emmeline's reaction..."' I don't want you to leave me....Please..' And then she began to cry." (pg 205) Grace tells us she noticed Hannah's stubborn expression but underneath something else "and then I realized. [Hannah] was the eldest now and had inherited the vague, relentless, unsolicited responsibility such familial rank demanded."

Although Hannah had the perfect opportunity to discuss her job desires at "the Dinner", I think Emmeline took her lead away by saying " 'Working is hardly respectable, is it, Pa' ". Mr. Frederick's matter-of-fact "I'd rather tear out my own heart than see either of my daughters working" left no doubt a confrontation was sure to occur. And let's face it, Hannah was trying to be the hostess... Simion Luxton had already aligned himself with her father.......I think Hannah would have assessed the current environment and realized it was a "no win"...a battle better undertaken another day...

Message Edited by nhawkinsII on 01-10-2008 03:39 PM
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