George William Apley is born on Beacon Hill in Boston on January 25, 1866. The Apleys are an old family in Massachusetts. Thomas, known in the old records as Goodman Apley, emigrated from England to America and settled in Roxbury in 1636. Goodman Apley’s son, John, graduated from Harvard in 1662. From his time, there has been an Apley at Harvard in each succeeding generation. John Apley’s son, Nathaniel, established himself in Boston. A later Apley, Moses, became a shipping master and laid the foundation of the Apley fortune. Moses Apley was George Apley’s grandfather.
George Apley grows up in a quiet atmosphere of wealth and social position. He learns his parents’ way of living calmly and with fortitude. In an orderly way, he is introduced to the polite world, at first through visits to relatives and later through study at Harvard. His Harvard days are probably the high point of his life. His parents send him to Harvard in part to help him firmly establish those qualities of gentlemanly behavior that they and private grammar school together have tried to encourage in him. George’s parents are anxious that he should make friends with the right people.
At Harvard, George is carefully instructed in the ways of high-minded gentlemen. The success of this training is evident in a theme that he writes in which he describes a Boston brothel in terms expressing his repulsion and shock. In the gymnasium, George wins distinction as a boxer. Moreover, he becomes a member of the board of the campus humor magazine, the Harvard Lampoon. He is also taken into the Club, an honor his father appreciates greatly. In his junior and senior years, he takes part in the musical extravaganzas of the Hasty Pudding Club. In spite of these activities, George never neglects his studies, and he is known as a respectable student with grades placing him in the middle of his class at graduation.
While in college, George falls in love with an impossible woman, Mary Monahan. Their affair is cut short by the Apleys and is never referred to publicly. Shortly after the breakup, George’s parents prescribe a sea voyage for him. When he returns home, he takes up the study of law and becomes a member of the board of the Boston Waifs’ Society. As part of George’s instruction in the shrewd business manners and knowledge of the Apleys, he is sent to work with his uncle William for one summer. William senses that his nephew will never make a good businessman and advises that George should go into law or be made a trustee of other people’s money, not his own. As a result George, like many of his friends, never goes into business actively.
In February, 1890, George follows his parents’ wishes and becomes engaged to the suitable Catharine Bosworth. After he is married, his father-in-law and his own father see to it that the young couple have a house as well as a summer cottage. The two mothers are equally solicitous. George discovers that he has married not only Catharine...
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