Ray's Reviews > The Philadelphian

The Philadelphian by Richard Powell
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's review
May 15, 2008

liked it

Oh man, what a delight this was to read. Now mind you, it only gets three start cause its structure was pretty conventional (sometimes boring and predictable) and it wasn't badly written per se, but it wasn't exactly literature.

But what this was a love letter to Philadelphia and even though it was written 50 years ago, it captures the same crazy devotion many of us have today.

Plot: a poor Irish lass escaping famine travels to the US, becomes a maid, seduces the young son of the fancy society people she works for her, becomes pregnant, is cast out of home. Her daughter's story takes over: she's a seamstress, humble, yet still proud. Raises her daughter to be the newest belle at the society ball. Who of course marries into wealth, but faces tragedy. Her child, a boy, then makes it big on the Main Line and in "society," but rejects it all to be his own man (sort of).

The plot is less important than the moments like this:

He had always had trouble with History, because dates in history skidded around his mind like soap in a bathtub. But his grandmother fixed that. It was easy once you knew the trick. You just got straight in your mind what was happening in Philadelphia at any given time and then you tied in other dates with that. For example, a thing called the French Revolution began in 1789. Well, who could remember that a date like that floating around all by itself? But you could remember that they wrote the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787, and that the French Revolution started only two years later.

Ah, music to a Nativist heart.

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