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                                 " ... but then I've said the wrong thing, haven't I?

Today is the 70th anniversary of the publication on March 13, 1943 of the classic, very popular short story "Graven Image." The New Yorker. Pipe Night.

Steven Goldleaf writes:

   "Graven Image" ... is a tightly plotted story written during World War II. The locale - wartime Washington - is unusual for an O'Hara short story, but the subject matter is not: the difficulty of transcending class lines. Two former Harvard classmates are having lunch at an exclusive men's club, one of them an undersecretary serving in FDR's cabinet, the other a wealthy blue blood seeking a high-level federal  appointment. The Undersecretary (his name is never revealed), whose social status - or lack thereof - kept him from being invited to join Harvard's tonier clubs, asks Charles Browning if he still carries the tiny golden pig that betokens membership in Harvard's Porcellian Club. Producing the "graven image," Browning somehow - through charm, humility, and wit - manages to soothe the Undersecratary's still-seething resentment of Browning's social standing. Browning persuades the Undersecretary to sponsor him for the federal job, an act of delicate diplomacy that in itself shows how much Browning wants the job and how good he will be at it. But then, celebrating prematurely, Browning commits the faux pas of confiding that the Undersecretary never could have joined any important Harvard club "in a thousand years." Foot still in mouth, Browning cuts himself off - "but then I've said the wrong thing, haven't I?" Confirming this, the Undersecrtary leaves Browing in the club alone, contemplating the error of his phrase.

John O'Hara - A Study of the Short Fiction, pages 42-43.

You can listen to E. L. Doctorow discuss John O'Hara and read this story on The New Yorker website.


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