2 May

In both Edith Wharton’s The Age Of Innocence (1920) and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (2011) there is an important young male character who feared a potential future immersed in routine and boredom. Ms. Wharton’s young man speaks of the “haunting horror of doing the same thing everyday at the same hour…’sameness-sameness.'” Ms. Morgenstern’s adolescent’s family expected him to stay on the family farm where he anticipated a life “always the same, year after year.” Both feared, in Ms. Wharton’s words, “being buried alive under a static future.”

These books are set in the latter 19th, early 20th centuries. The Wharton novel renders the the culture of New York’s moneyed society. Ms. Morgenstern creates a circus of Merlinesque magic placed in that time period but transcending actual time.

The young men handle the fear of a boring future quite differently. Wharton’s character gives into society’s pressure and chooses the conventional life. He experiences much boredom as the years pass. Interestingly in his fifties, when another chance comes to be unconventional, he does not take it: “Looking about him, he honored his own past and mourned for it. After all, there was good in the old ways.” In contrast, Morgenstern’s youngster ran away and joined the circus. The novel ended before we know much more than he became the circus director. I assume that he was never afterwards oppressed by routine in a world of magic and illusion.

Neither choice do I find particularly appealing. It seems that it is worth the struggle to find variety and meaning from one’s choices in the real world.

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