Character Study: Dumbledore’s Cruel Intentions

Dumbledore-Portrait-albus-dumbledore-2477491-593-582People have turned on Dumbledore, you guys. Since books six and seven of the Harry Potter series were released, articles and comments have gone from describing him as a lovable kook with serious skills, to an evil mastermind raising Harry for the slaughter like veal. I was recently reading the comments section on an article in which people were tearing apart every move he made, from sending Harry to the Dursleys to taking him horcrux hunting. These same commenters described Dumbledore as an irredeemable plotter even while calling him an author’s pet.

This got me thinking, what would Harry’s life have been like if Dumbledore had never become involved? I’m going to do a little inferring, and it’s bound to be riddled with spoilers. You have been warned.

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Character Study: Merits of a Maligned Mermaid

Lately I have been watching Disney movies while baby-sitting a ten-month-old and, because he can’t talk yet, I get plenty of time to think about them while stacking block towers and blowing raspberries on his feet. I’ve decided to start a series of Character Study entries based on these thoughts, and my first musing is:

Belle is not a cooler, better, or stronger princess/female character than Ariel.

Hashtag drop the mic.

Hashtag pick it back up. I have to explain why.

Stuff People Say About Ariel 

1. She’s selfish

Uh, she’s a sixteen-year-old girl. They’re all selfish. Even a not-so-selfish one is selfish by non-teenage human standards. Ariel failed to show up for an extracurricular activity organized by her father because she was immersed in her hobby.

For comparison: Belle refused to eat until the middle of the night, then only took a fingerful of gray stuff from the feast the entire castle staff prepared for her while performing a musical number! Merida pestered her mother about whether or not she’d have to get married while her mother writhed in pain, possibly poisoned by Merida herself. Snow White broke into someone else’s house and slept in ALL their beds at once!

2. She left her loving father to make a deal with a witch in hopes of snagging a boy she’d just met

First, she’s still a sixteen-year-old girl. A lot of sixteen-year-old girls do dumb stuff for boys. Even without considering that factor, what Ariel did is still pretty understandable:

Fact 1: From the first scenes of the movie, long before she spots Prince Eric, we know that Ariel is an explorer at heart who desperately wants to check out the world of landlubbers. She sings a whole song about it.

ariel_dream

Fact 2: Her father comes into her room and, in a rage, destroys all of the possessions she’s spent years collecting (and takes great pride in)

Up until then, Ariel was just fantasizing about her crush.

Fact 3: Ariel runs away and accepts the only help offered.

That “help” happens to come from a sea witch. Ariel’s a teenage girl fresh off a fight with her father and having her prized possessions destroyed in front of her, meaning she’s not in the clearest state of mind, and she’s being offered the fulfillment of her greatest dream. Maybe her choice isn’t the smartest or most logical, but it just makes her more real as a character. To her credit, she does worry about never seeing her father or sisters again but has confidence in her ability to get a smooch from Eric.

Belle offers herself as a prisoner to secure her father’s freedom, but in doing so she gets to leave a town she hates and fulfill her literary fantasies while wearing fabulous gowns and singing with the furniture.

3. She’s a hipster

ariel

Okay, maybe this is a meme and people don’t really mean it about movie-Ariel, but can I just point out that Belle’s whole first song is about how her town is full of friendly assholes baking bread and saying hello every morning and she’s so over it?

hipsterbelle

Seriously. She calls them “little people.” Condescending much? She escapes that “provincial life” to live in an isolated castle with a temperamental prince and a bunch of servants, which doesn’t seem like an improvement unless one is a snob.

Stuff People Don’t Say About Ariel (But Should)

1. She’s brave

As mentioned before, Ariel is an explorer with a streak of the adrenaline-junkie. She snatches treasure out from under sharks, she leaves behind the comfort and familiarity of everything she’s known for a shot at her dreams, and she’s a daredevil at the reins of a carriage. Belle might read, but Ariel gets out into the world to see and experience things for herself much like a popular princess in recent years, Rapunzel.

carriage

2. Ariel has friends

Belle doesn’t. At the beginning of Ariel’s movie, she has Flounder and Scuttle (Sebastian is more of a handler than a friend.) Even when she can’t speak, she charms everyone she meets with her enthusiasm and curiosity. Belle is admired for her beauty but thought to be strange, and she probably doesn’t help matters by being so judgey about the townsfolk. The servants at the castle are anxious to hook Belle up with the prince for their own salvation, so I wouldn’t count any of them as friends with perhaps the exception of Chip.

3. Ariel actually has a lot in common with the guy she marries

Eric and Ariel are both brave, friendly, adventurous, musical, love the sea, and will risk their lives to save someone they care about. Compare that to Belle and Prince Adam, who are both…good dancers? Adam has a lot of books in his library, but I’m guessing by the way it was closed up until he gave it to Belle that he wasn’t reading too many of them himself. Prince Adam was tasked with getting someone to love him because he was a jerk to an old woman, and with a lot of assists from animate objects he manages to marry the most beautiful girl around. What will he act like when she gets old?

4. Ariel has agency

At every turn, Ariel is the engine that drives her story. She discovers her dream guy while out exploring, she saves his life, she makes the deal with Ursula, she tracks down said dream guy and does a darn good job of wooing him without being able to speak. When her dream guy falls victim to a spell himself, she doesn’t give up. She swims all the way out to his wedding ship, even though she doesn’t know how to swim with legs, on the off-chance that she can save him from marrying an evil witch. When the witch turns her father into seaweed and steals his throne, she urges Eric to save himself and distracts Ursula while Eric takes her down. Ariel is not passive or reactive.

In conclusion: you call Ariel selfish, I answer

bitches-get-stuff-done

Character Study: Don Draper and Walter White

I’ve heard a lot of bellyaching (and accusations) that America has no culture. Sure we do! We’ve got Disney and Pixar, the American Revolution, the Gettysburg Address, McDonalds and Wal-Mart, and absolutely everyone no matter from whence they are extracted has

The American Dream

American_dream2

 

What is it? Well you’re gonna pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get a job sweeping floors or frying potatoes and in a decade or so that hard work will pay off and you’ll move up and up into middle management where you can afford to buy your own house and keep your own spouse. There will be kids. There might even be a dog.

If you’re a real success, you just might get rich. You might become a legend. You’d be the best American Dreamer of all.

Let’s put aside all of the ways this dream might not be as attainable for some as for others, and look at the tall tales of two white men with more privilege than they can bear who are suffering at the hands of their American Dreams.

Don Draper and Walter White.

proto_drapers

Don Draper, main character of Mad Men, was lacking privilege in only one way. He was a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant with good looks to spare, but he was also a dirt-poor orphan. To erase this blemish, this class-based scar that could prevent his attainment of the dream, he stole someone’s identity. Like you do. No big deal. Then he worked pretty darn hard, for awhile. Schemed his way into a flashy job with serious possibilities for upward mobility. He had learned of the dream and all its trappings at the altar of American advertising, so he scooped up the Cola-ad-wife and had two children with names approved by committee. He became Creative Director, he bought a Cadillac. He had everything, and so much of it.

And yet.

picnic

The poster boy for American Dreamers spent most of his time trying to run away from the picture-perfect life he’d created. Mistresses in the city, a drinking problem, flirting with the idea of becoming a kept man for a eurotrash princess years after having his offer to escape together spurned by Rachel Mencken. He lit match after match and watched his carefully crafted Dream incinerate until he lost the wife and the kids, burned through a second wife, became an embarrassment to his company, and began to see even his physical appeal fade. Don Draper thought he was too big to fail, but he was his own undoing.

walter2

As Don Draper‘s fulfilled but unfulfilling dreams crumbled to wreckage there rose another, the Baby Boomer Walter White. The white, middle-class man had a promising start, his first shot at glory in the form of a start-up in which he was partial owner. He had the benefit of starting halfway up the ladder, higher than Draper by far. While the start-up grew to fulfill all its potential, Walter opted out in a fit of pique on the ground floor. Instead he became a Chemistry teacher, growing bitter and small over the years nursing the feeling that he had been cheated. Until cancer hit and he was galvanized into action of his own behalf, taking another stab at the American Dream as a drug dealer, rationalized by his need for treatment and his family’s need for support should he pass.

heisenbergWalter White didn’t seem to see, or maybe value, that he had already attained the 1950s version of the dream: he had a comfortable house in the suburbs, a wife and son and a daughter on the way, a stable career, and the love and respect of his friends and family. He had it all, even if many would say he could have had more. He wanted more, like Don Draper, wanted it all. To be a legend. As America grew more hyperbolic and loud, Xtreme with exhortations to follow your passion and Just Do It, so had the Dream grown from stability to excess. So he went from drug dealer to drug lord, crafting a new identity much as Draper stole one from a dead engineer in a ditch. He killed, manipulated, poisoned, he called upon people to kill for him whom he did not fully understand.  Everyone he met suffered for their willingness to believe him, to show him compassion, to show him mercy. He had none.

The American Dream has turned ugly for these men, who found it within such easy reach. It is no longer the squeaky-clean promise of a chicken in every pot in exchange for a life of work and dedication. It is now the monkey on their backs, driving them to accumulate and advance. Do better than the other guy, no matter the cost. Have more. Be more. Crush all who would stand in your way and use their fallen bodies to lift yourself higher. King of the mountain. Top of the heap.

Thing is, as Walter and Don could tell you, it gets pretty lonely up there.

On Knowing What Victory Looks Like

Just as some infinities are larger than others, victories are not one-size fits all.

Earlier this week I was reading this hilarious and bittersweet account of the history of the television show Freaks and Geeks, published by Vanity Fair in a special one-off comedy issue. For the uninitiated, Freaks and Geeks was a high-school “dramedy” that aired from 1999-2000, which put it in competition with melodramatic pretty-people teen fare like Dawson’s Creek. The show had HBO-quality writing, with painfully real characters and long-term arcs.

They looked like real public school kids, too.

They looked like real public school kids, too.

That was its downfall.

I only watched two episodes of Freaks and Geeks when it originally aired, for the same reason my husband still won’t watch Roseanne: it was too real. I was a sophomore in high school at the time and the episodes I watched (“Tricks and Treats” and “We’ve Got Spirit”) made me laugh out loud but also felt all too familiar. Plus, it aired on Saturday night. Even I, a sort of amalgam between Anthony Michael Hall and Ally Sheedy’s Breakfast Club characters (or Bill Haverchuck and Ken Miller), had things to do on Saturday night. Like attending Star Trek parties.

In the Vanity Fair article, creator Paul Feig and Producer Judd Apatow recall their horror when their network head went from an on-board public school attendee to a clueless product of prep school and the ivy league. Someone experientially incapable of “getting” the show, arriving just before it launched. They also recall a push from the network to give the kids “more victories”, a sentiment that grew among the execs as the season progressed.

There were victories, it’s just that a non-nerd or a non-freak might have a harder time recognizing them.

  • When Bill Haverchuck caught a fly ball after maneuvering his way to the infield of a P.E.-class baseball game, that was a victory. It didn’t matter that jocks-on-base were tagging home while he celebrated with his team of disenfranchised nerds. He got to play shortstop. He caught the ball. Victory.
  • When ne’er-do-well Freak Daniel Desario allowed himself to be uncool and finished his first Dungeons and Dragons campaign as Carlos the dwarf, stumping his dungeon master, it was a victory. Not just for him, but for each of the self-doubting geeks at the table who felt just a little more accepted for having the wannabe-James-Dean on their team.
  • When Ken Miller was brave enough to drop the sarcasm and got to make out with Tuba Girl at the laser light show, victory.
  • When the Freaks showed up to cheer on Lindsay Weir at her Mathletes competition. Victory.
  • When Millie and Lindsay reconnected as friends during a night of babysitting, when Bill explained the convoluted plot of Dallas to his gym-teacher/mom’s boyfriend, when bully Alan admitted to a hospitalized Bill that he’d always envied Bill’s self-acceptance and social-life: victory, victory, victory.

There are more possible victories than winning Prom Queen, kissing the hottie of your dreams, or being carried off the football field to thunderous applause. Freaks and Geeks understood that: its victories were personal, unique to each of its characters, and more meaningful for it. The writers even had the guts to show that sometimes the things we have been conditioned to believe are victories do not actually feel all that victorious (Sam discovering that dream-girl Cindy Sanders was not much fun as a girlfriend, Neal’s experience as a guest at the popular crowd’s makeout party). As an adult I have watched the entire series multiple times, cringing and cheering for its characters and remembering how it all felt from the safety of adulthood. It was a triumph of writing ahead of its time, a fact noted by creators who can point to present-day programs of similar craftsmanship like Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

Do you know what victory looks like for your characters?

NaNoWriMo Prep: The Third and Final Chapter

Only one day left before NaNoWriMo! That one day happens to be Halloween! Whoo! So for the last time, here are some rather random (but surprisingly relevant) bits’o’knowledge about my characters:

Autumn Kavanaugh

  1. Can they navigate their own local area without getting lost? To what degree? Yes. She has lived in Ashby her whole life and can get pretty much anywhere in town (and Horton) without consulting Google Maps. She has a solid intuitive grasp of the cardinal directions, enough that if you told her “the river is on the north side of town” she could find her way there in a reasonable amount of time.
  2. Do they know who the top politician or monarch is where they live? What about elsewhere? Yes, for her locality. Probably not anywhere else. Damn those ignorant Americans!
  3. Do they know if/where there are any major conflicts going on right now? Yes, in a general way. Such things only touch her life in an abstract way, being from an agricultural community in CA. She probably knows some hometown boys who’ve joined the armed forces.
  4. Do they know the composition of water? Yes.
  5. Do they know how to eat a pomegranate? Yes.
  6. Are they good with the technology available to them? Average? Completely hopeless? Autumn is competent with technology She could install a program and perform a virus scan, run a cash register, but she won’t be hacking any databases or building a computer out of coconuts. Her aptitude is more for mechanical/construction concerns. 
  7. Could they paint a house? Without making a mess of it? Actually, yes!
  8. Could they bake a cake? Would you eat it if they did? She can and does during the course of Grove. It is delicious. She also bakes cookies and a pie. 
  9. Do they know how to perform basic maintenance on the common mode of transportation? She can change a tire and put fresh water in a radiator. She can change the oil, replace brake pads and spark plugs, replace head/taillights (and their fuses), and install new wiper blades. If she were stronger she could also replace shocks alone, but as it is she needs her dad’s help on that one.
  10. Do they know the price of a loaf of bread? Yes. She also knows how to bake one.

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Emily Kavanaugh

  1. Can they navigate their own local area without getting lost? To what degree? She is familiar with places in town, having grown up there. Beyond that she has very few navigation skills…but she knows how to use Google Maps!
  2. Do they know who the top politician or monarch is where they live? What about elsewhere? Yes for the U.S. and Spain (she studies Spanish in high school), no for elsewhere. 
  3. Do they know if/where there are any major conflicts going on right now? In the same vague way as Autumn. 
  4. Do they know the composition of water? Yes.
  5. Do they know how to eat a pomegranate? Yes, and it plagues her. Pomegranates are her favorite fruit, but it’s so hard to eat them without making a mess. 
  6. Are they good with the technology available to them? Average? Completely hopeless? Emily is average with technology. She knows how to use the things she likes, and when something goes wrong she gets Autumn or her dad to fix it. 
  7. Could they paint a house? Without making a mess of it? Yes, due to her meticulous nature, but she would never undertake such an arduous task. 
  8. Could they bake a cake? Would you eat it if they did? Given a very clear set of instructions, yes, and it would most likely be good…but she wouldn’t do that much work without a very good reason. 
  9. Do they know how to perform basic maintenance on the common mode of transportation? No. She can gas up her car and tell her dad when the check engine light is on, he takes care of the maintenance. 
  10. Do they know the price of a loaf of bread? No. 

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Silas 

  1. Can they navigate their own local area without getting lost? To what degree? He knows how to get anywhere on foot. He has an instinctive feeling for direction. He is less certain in his car. 
  2. Do they know who the top politician or monarch is where they live? What about elsewhere? For the U.S. and countries with whom it is in conflict. 
  3. Do they know if/where there are any major conflicts going on right now? Yes. He has an interest in government.
  4. Do they know the composition of water? Not the chemical composition. 
  5. Do they know how to eat a pomegranate? Without a doubt, and he devours them with pleasure. 
  6. Are they good with the technology available to them? Average? Completely hopeless? He is impatient with technology, and not particularly good at using it. He can operate a cell phone well enough to call people, and can post to Facebook.
  7. Could they paint a house? Without making a mess of it? No. He would do a good job for a quarter of the house, if properly motivated, an acceptable job for half, and then abandon the project for something more interesting. 
  8. Could they bake a cake? Would you eat it if they did? Doubtful on both counts. 
  9. Do they know how to perform basic maintenance on the common mode of transportation? Not really. Duan handles the maintenance on the Volkswagen. 
  10. Do they know the price of a loaf of bread? No. 

Character Study: NaNoWriMo Prep, Pt. 1

NaNoWriMo is only four days away but I am itching to get writing. None of my words count before Nov. 1st, and I play fair, so I am letting all of that creative pressure build in hopes that once that starting gate opens I will be sprinting my way through writing my second novel.

There is still the matter of the itch, and since I am writing a sequel I though it behooved me to climb back into my characters minds and walk around for a bit before I try any running. To accomplish that I have found some character development questions that I’m going to answer for three significant characters in a manner as spoiler-free as possible.

Autumn Kavanaugh

  1. What’s your character’s favourite colour?Yellow
  2. Do they/would they choose to wear a scent? What would it be?Possibly. Something bright and fun but comforting, with fruity notes to it. Blackberry and vanilla. 
  3. Do they care about what things look like? All things, or only some?Not generally. She has a utilitarian approach to looks, where things need only look good “enough”. The bar for “enough” is set fairly low.
  4. What’s their favourite ice cream flavour? Strawberry.
  5. Are they a tea, or coffee drinker? Or soft drinks, or do they drink a lot of alcohol? What kind?Lemonade is her favorite drink, soda (Orange or Strawberry Fanta) a close second. She does not drink alcohol.
  6. What kind of books do they read? What TV shows and movies do they watch? She reads fiction, preferably funny. Nothing too dark. No crime novels or shows, no mysteries. She doesn’t like to read books or watch shows that use suffering for entertainment value. Enjoys novels of manners like those by Jane Austin, Henry James, Edith Wharton, and Thackeray. She likes musicals, and comedies with heart. She’d take Emily to watch Pitch Perfect and she’d buy Juno and the collected works of John Hughes. When watching TV she’d choose So You Think You Can Dance or The Big Bang Theory.
  7. What kind of music do they like? Do they like music at all? She loves music, particularly if it’s good for dancing. Favors punk, electronica, and sillier showtunes. She would definitely have “Gangnam Style”, Ellie Goulding’s albums, and be up on the latest developments in dubstep.
  8. If they were about to die, what would they have as their last meal? Fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits, macaroni and cheese, and blueberry pie (that she probably made herself) for dessert. With lemonade to drink, of course.
  9. Are they hedonistic? In all cases? Or does practicality sometimes/always/often win out? Autumn is mostly practical, but at a point in her life where she is looking to think less to ignore some things that aren’t going so well. She’s trying hedonism on, but it doesn’t necessarily suit her. She’s inclined to be a bit of a martyr, though she doesn’t think of it that way.
  10. Do they have any philias or phobias? Fear of abandonment, and she’s not crazy about fire or loss of control (hence the avoidance of alcohol).

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Emily Kavanaugh

  1. What’s your character’s favourite colour? Lavender

    She better keep this one well-hidden.

  2. Do they/would they choose to wear a scent? What would it be? Floral, with lots of white flowers like lilies or gardenias. Possibly a chocolate note.
  3. Do they care about what things look like? All things, or only some? Yes, very much. Emily is highly invested in things looking just the way they are “supposed to”, including herself…to the point that her expectations might not be strictly realistic.
  4. What’s their favourite ice cream flavour? Cherry Garcia
  5. Are they a tea, or coffee drinker? Or soft drinks, or do they drink a lot of alcohol? What kind? She drinks alcohol socially, when it is offered, but she doesn’t seek it out. Her favorite drink is hot chocolate (with a mound of whipped cream atop a flotilla of marshmallows). She drinks tea when she can get it, and root beer the rest of the time.
  6. What kind of books do they read? What TV shows and movies do they watch? She reads romance novels and fairy tale updates, though no one outside of her home knows that. She prefers the more outlandish romances, the ones with pirates and knights. Twilight is her bible.  Her taste in movies runs to romance as well, comedies are fine but she particularly likes the dramas. She’d be first in line for Breaking Dawn Pt. 2, watch Anna Karenina with her sister, and she owns well-worn copies of Titanic and Dirty Dancing. She’d watch Once Upon A Time and Vampire Diaries.
  7. What kind of music do they like? Do they like music at all? Pop, particularly ballads. Her Spotify would show Leona Lewis, Taylor Swift, and Celine Dion in heavy rotation. She likes “Someone Like You”, but not Adele’s other songs, and she thinks Carrie Underwood has too much attitude. Justin Beiber and One Direction would fulfill the dreamy boy requirement.
  8. If they were about to die, what would they have as their last meal? Lobster, with chocolate mousse for dessert.
  9. Are they hedonistic? In all cases? Or does practicality sometimes/always/often win out? She is. Emily lives almost entirely in service to her own pleasure, and she can rationalize most of her behavior to seem thought-out rather than based on a whim. Practicality does not win out because Emily doesn’t have much concept of what is practical.
  10. Do they have any philias or phobias? She is afraid of deprivation. She’s afraid of looking foolish or uncool.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Silas

  1. What’s your character’s favourite colour?He likes deep earthtones: oxblood, mohogany, and forest green…but he doesn’t really care enough to choose a favorite.
  2. Do they/would they choose to wear a scent? What would it be? His own natural musk.
  3. Do they care about what things look like? All things, or only some?In a low-key, binary way. Things are attractive/unattractive, cool/uncool, appealing/unappealing without a lot of shades in between. That is the degree to which it affects his decision-making. Want or do-not-want.
  4. What’s their favourite ice cream flavour? Dark Chocolate
  5. Are they a tea, or coffee drinker? Or soft drinks, or do they drink a lot of alcohol? What kind? He drinks quite a bit of alcohol, homemade wine and store-bought beer, though it doesn’t often show. He’s not big on coffee, soda, or tea, though he’ll take whatever’s offered and does go for the occasional glass of milk.
  6. What kind of books do they read? What TV shows and movies do they watch? He doesn’t read or watch TV much. He’s read the classics that pop up in conversation Romeo and Juliet, Of Mice and Men, etc. He’s read a couple of Nick Hornby books three-quarters of the way through before he got bored and moved on. Jeopardy!, horse racing on ESPN, and big cat documentaries can sometimes hold his interest. When he goes to the movies he chooses raunchy comedies like Project X or Superbad.
  7. What kind of music do they like? Do they like music at all? Looking at him one might guess Jason Mraz or Jack Johnson, but he actually leans more toward the tortured and disgruntled: Trent Reznor, Johnny Cash, and Black Flag pour from the speakers in his crappy Volkswagen.
  8. If they were about to die, what would they have as their last meal? Spicy sausage with peppers, a perfectly ripe orange, chili-cheese curly fries, some figs, and a chocolate milkshake all washed down with a bottle of cherry wine.
  9. Are they hedonistic? In all cases? Or does practicality sometimes/always/often win out?At his core, Silas is a hedonist. However, he can put that inclination aside for a time in order to focus on reaching a specific goal.
  10. Do they have any philias or phobias? He loves horse racing and the sensual pleasures: food, sex, music, you name it. He is afraid of losing the people he loves, and he keeps that circle small as a result.

I have yet to revise Grove, and I kind of knew that I should do an exercise like this before trying because these three characters were not as three-dimensional as I wanted them to be. This was pretty useful in for clarifying who they are, how they should have related to each other in Grove, and how they will relate in Starsand. Stay tuned for another installment of Character Study tomorrow!

Character Study: Joan Holloway as Mid-Century Lily Bart

This is an idea I’d had sitting in my drafts for awhile now, but I never got around to writing the actual post. Given the events of this week’s episode of Mad Men, the time has come.

SPOILERS INCOMING: There will be spoilers from both the show Mad Men and the book House of Mirth by Edith Wharton in this post. They are too integral to white-out, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Stunning

Competent

Husband-hunting

Self-sabotaging

Perceptive

Principled

“Everything about her was warm and soft and scented; even the stains of her grief became her as raindrops do the beaten rose.” – Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth

Joan Holloway and Lily Bart are the very definition of artful: each knows how to present herself and her surroundings to maximum advantage. Joan uses her her sashay and giggle to prompt the fellows to take her to lunch, while Lily trades on the use of her beauty and charm to access luxurious lodgings. Each longs to secure a comfortable future by landing a wealthy man, but their lively minds and strong wills cause them to stumble just when success seems surest. Lily Bart suffered a needlessly tragic end, could Joan be headed for the same?

We meet Joan Holloway at the beginning of Mad Men as a great beauty, socially powerful, on the verge of being “past her prime” at twenty-nine. She commands the halls of Sterling Cooper with an unwavering sense of decorum, handling switchboard operators and executives with equal finesse. She has worked her way up as high as most mid-century woman could imagine going in Manhattan and must make a choice: remain in the office and become a former-sexpot-turned-career spinster à la Ida Blankenship, or find a suitable man to marry (and fast).

Lily Bart is a great beauty of a similar stripe: at the top of her social game and in high demand at all the most fashionable parties. She navigates social situations made sticky by her lack of money or standing with humor and charm, making the absolute most of every opportunity that comes her way. Just like Joan, Lily is twenty-nine and unmarried. No matter how lovely she may be, her social set are already lamenting her pickiness and predicting spinsterhood.

Despite their considerable talents and charms, both Joan and Lily have a tendency to make willful decisions just as they are about to achieve their objectives. Lily abandons the unimaginably rich and intolerably dull Percy Gryce, in favor of a few stolen hours with middle-class lawyer Lawrence Selden. Still, she cannot bring herself to choose happiness with Selden in dingier surroundings over the opulence that attends an oppressive life with a man like Gryce. Joan dallies with her unsuitable man, her married boss Roger Sterling, but will not encourage him to leave his wife.

Though Lily is single and Joan married, their downward spirals follow similar trajectories. Each loses a shot at her greatest love by slighting someone in a proud moment. Many times spurned social-climber Simon Rosedale first calls Lily’s virtue into question when he spreads word that she was seen leaving Lawrence Selden’s private rooms, then offers to marry her if she will only blackmail Selden and a former friend to regain a place in society. By this time Lily has descended into the working class: she has been disinherited due to her gambling and borrowed a large sum of money from a  married man who has designs on her, an action which leads her to be sacrificed on the social altar by friend looking to distract from her own indiscretions.

For her part, Joan fires new secretary Jane in a moment of wounded pride, driving her right into the waiting arms of Roger Sterling. Roger trades wife Mona for new, twenty-year-old wife Jane; and longtime lover Joan set to marry her new future-doctor fiancé. Unfortunately, the disappointments just keep piling up as Greg Harris turns out to be an incompetent surgeon and a rapist to boot. Having resigned from her position as office manager in anticipation of being a pampered housewife, Joan is forced to take a job in a department store to make ends meet. Joan’s long-sought marriage quickly turns sour, ending with her back in the office and single mother to Roger Sterling’s baby. Like Lily, she is offered up to save those more powerful and wealthy than herself, literally prostituted by the partners this week for a better chance at securing Jaguar as a client.

Lily’s life ends with an accidental overdose on a sleeping aid, just as Lawrence Selden comes to propose.

Roger Sterling is once again a single man but, much as Selden washed his hands of Lily’s entanglement with Gus Trenor, he did not stand in the way of the prostitution plot.

Many followers of Mad Men have been noting foreshadowing pointing to a suicide this season: empty elevator shafts, Sylvia Plath references, lingering shots of Don and Megan’s penthouse balcony. Could it be Joan who is destined to mimic her literary counterpart?

“She felt a stealing sense of fatigue as she walked; the sparkle had died out of her, and the taste of life was stale on her lips. She hardly knew what she had been seeking, or why the failure to find it had so blotted the light from her sky: she was only aware of a vague sense of failure, of an inner isolation deeper than the loneliness about her.” – Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth