Chapter 5: A Change of Life
Sophie and Warren, both residents of the Towers, have fallen in love.
Warren’s daughter is extremely conservative, however, and argues with her
father that “old people don’t do such things.” Sophie and Warren quarrel
and separate, but love wins out and they are handfasted by the circle.
The title, of course, is a euphemism for menopause. Sophie is thirty years
past menopause. It’s Warren who’s having the change of life.
A handfasting is a pagan kind of wedding. So they can both keep their
various benefits, Sophie and Warren’s handfasting is not quite a legal
In Warren’s conversations with his daughter, we see again how insensitively
older people can be treated, especially by their children who don’t understand
that they may still be sexual and/or sociable.
Babbittis the title of a 1922 novel by Sinclair Lewis that satirizes
middle-class conformity. There’s wonderful YouTube recording of Fred Astaire
and Gene Kelly singing the Gershwins’ “
The Babbitt and the Bromide.”
PCH. The Pacific Coast Highway (State Route 1) runs along most of the
California coast and through Long Beach.
Agardi Metrovitch was the Italian opera singer with whom Madame Blavatsky
(the author, not the cat) traveled in the 1850s.
Warren’s fondness “his girls” is also shown in later stories. Warren is
another of the book’s good, honest men.
We hear the old women sitting around and telling dirty jokes and being
generally raunchy. It happens. I got the diamond prick joke from a friend
who got it from her 90-year-old grandmother. (I met the grandmother.) Again,
this is something younger people don’t expect in their elders, as if senior
citizens somehow get over being alive.
McCarthys. Senator Joseph McCarthy, Republican, Wisconsin, famous for
his witch hunts. Senator Eugene McCarthy, Democrat, Minnesota, ran for
the Democratic nomination in 1968 against President Johnson. Charlie McCarthy,
dummy and possible alter-ego of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen from the 1930s
to the 1970s. “Brother” of Candace Bergen.
Typhoid Mary. There really such a woman. Mary Mallon, who died in 1938,
was the first person in the U.S. to be a carrier of the typhoid pathogen.
She worked as a cook, infected fifty-three people (three of whom died),
was quarantined twice, and in fact died in quarantine.
The ranch, which is owned by a member of the circle, is near Laguna Beach
in south Orange County. In Southern California, people call any piece of
land bigger than a city lot a ranch. Conveniently, there are four standing
stones on the land. The ranch will be an important setting in chapters
15, 19, and 26.
In the handfasting, we hear the first of several passages from Shakespeare
as Cairo and Margaretta read the lovely sonnet from
Romeo and Juliet (Act I, scene 5). (Note that Romeo and Juliet
are teenagers. In the 1936 movie, Norma Shearer, Juliet, is 34 years old.
Leslie Howard, Romeo, is 43 years old. The kicker--John Barrymore, Mercutio,
is 54 years old! The 1996
Romeo + Juliet is interesting, too. I own both movies.) In chapter
23, Jacoba’s deceased husband will recite Shakespeare to her, and Matthew
will recite John Donne’s poetry to Brooke. It never hurts for modern readers
to be exposed to Renaissance literature.
Have you ever really, really thought about what your parents or grandparents
might be doing in bed? Is sex acceptable among the elderly? Why or why
What do you think about the men you’ve met so far in the book?
Is it possible that the circle owns land that no one else can see? What
are some analogous mythological lands? Is it really possible for us to
“own” land that belongs to the planet?
Copyright © 2011 by Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Permission
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Secret Lives Reader’s Guide for personal use only.