Cover image for The magnificent Ambersons
The magnificent Ambersons
Tarkington, Booth, 1869-1946.
First Midland book edition.
Publication Information:
Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 1989.
Physical Description:
xix, 516 pages, 7 unnumbered leaves of plates : illustrations ; 22 cm.

Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Library
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



The rise and fall of a prominent mid-Western family centers around the life of a spoiled young man.

Author Notes

Newton Booth Tarkington was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on July 29, 1869. He was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, than spent his first two years of college at Purdue University and his last two at Princeton University. When his class graduated in 1893, he lacked sufficient credits for a degree. Upon leaving Princeton, he returned to Indiana determined to pursue a career as a writer.

Tarkington was an early member of The Dramatic Club, founded in 1889, and often wrote plays and directed and acted in its productions. After a five-year apprenticeship full of publishers' rejection slips, Tarkington enjoyed a huge commercial success with The Gentleman from Indiana, which was published in 1899. He produced a total of 171 short stories, 21 novels, 9 novellas, and 19 plays along with a number of movie scripts, radio dramas, and even illustrations over the course of a career that lasted from 1899 until his death in 1946. His novels included Monsieur Beaucaire, The Flirt, Seventeen, Gentle Julia, and The Turmoil. He won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1919 and 1922 for his novels The Magnificent Ambersons and Alice Adams.

He used the political knowledge he acquired while serving one term in the Indiana House of Representatives in the short story collection In the Arena. In collaboration with dramatist Harry Leon Wilson, Tarkington wrote The Man from Home, the first of many successful Broadway plays. He wrote children's stories in the final phase of his career. He died on May 19, 1946 after an illness.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Though not out of print, this latest offering from Bantam is the least expensive edition currently available. The 1919 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel portrays the decline of the superrich Amberson family, who act as a metaphor for the old society that crumbled after the Industrial Revolution. All fiction collections should own a copy, and all video collections should include Orson Welles's 1942 film version. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From Nahma Sandrow's Introduction to The Magnificent Ambersons Tarkington himself intended The Magnificent Ambersons to be read not as a novel but as a political wake-up call. He set out to show how modern industrialization, specifically the triumph of the automobile over the horse and buggy, transformed America. He illustrated this history lesson through the falling fortunes of one Midwestern family and the rise of another. The Magnificent Ambersons is also a story of romance and coming of age. A young man learns his hard life lesson and gets his girl in the end. But the book is not so simple viewed in this light, either; it is an unconventional novel, without the comforts of a lovable protagonist or a happy ending, More complex, more personal, and darker than either of these summaries suggests, The Magnificent Ambersons is a kind of poem, an elegy to lost youth and the irretrievable past. The feelings the reader is left with are melancholy, yearning, and a sense of loss. How one responds to a work of art is an individual matter. On first reading The Magnificent Ambersons , some are more struck by the history, and some by the romance. No reader can be fully conscious of all the layers, all the time. But they're all there, each deepening and enhancing the effects of the others. It's probably best to read the book through once just for pleasure, and then to go back and analyze how the author created his effects. Such an analysis can be eye-opening, and can certainly make a second reading (like the second hearing of a piece of music) a startlingly different experience from the first. This introduction approaches The Magnificent Ambersons layer by layer: history, fiction, and then poem. A section at the end discusses writers from Indiana. See "For Further Reading" for more books by and about Booth Tarkington. History Tarkington did not set out to write a novel of character at all. What he had in mind was an exposé of social ills and ongoing historical processes. The Magnificent Ambersons was part of an ambitious trilogy called Growth (1927), in which the author describes changes he saw in America, especially his own Midwestern part of America, in the early twentieth century. Tarkington was not an intellectual, but he read and traveled, and gave serious and informed thought to what was going on in the world. He even served a term in the Indiana state legislature--and would probably have run for reelection if not for a debilitating case of typhoid fever--and was active in various political and social causes. He wrote about his observations and political opinions, most notably in The World Does Move (1928). In fact, his first published novel, The Gentleman from Indiana , concerns a crusading journalist who tries to reform corruption in an Indiana town. Although Tarkington wrote Growth between 1914 and 1923, the trilogy looks back on a process that had been going on for the half century since the Civil War. As he wrote, contemporary Americans were struggling to assimilate the dizzying changes that were transforming their world. Tarkington's paternal grandfather, for example, crossed the mountains northward from Virginia to Indiana, cleared forests, and broke virgin soil with a wooden plow. His maternal grandfather was a Yankee peddler who carried goods westward by pack horse over Daniel Boone's Wilderness Road. His favorite uncle made a fortune in the California gold rush. Like Tarkington's father, The Magnificent Amberson 's Major Amberson served in the Civil War and lived to see airplanes and skyscrapers; George Amberson will probably live to see television and the atom bomb, as Tarkington himself did. The immediate trigger for the trilogy was the shock Tarkington had when he come home from a stay in Europe. Downtown Indianapolis, including his own family house, was filthy with soot. The short explanation was that the region had run out of natural gas and started burning soft coal. Actually, larger forces had been at work on the town of Tarkington's youth. In the wake of the Civil War, the nation showed the cumulative effects of the shift from an agricultural to an urban industrial nation, the settlement of the western frontier, population movements from country to city, massive immigration, and accelerating technological innovations. Businesses expanded so much--some to the point of becoming huge monopolies--that a new term, "Big Business," took hold. Corruption, too, was plentiful. Human behavior seemed to be coming unfastened from an orderly social structure and decent values, leading to vulgarity and coarsening at all levels. This whole transformation was hastened by World War I, which began in 1914, though the United States did not enter until 1917. Excerpted from The Magnificent Ambersons (Barnes and Noble Classics Series) by Booth Tarkington All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.