Six Degrees of Separation: From Rules of Civility to Daisy Miller

It’s 2022, so a Happy New Year to you. 1 January was also the first Saturday of the month, making it time for Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.

Our starting book this month is one that I included in my January chain two years agoRules of Civility by Amor Towles. This is a book I read before I started this blog. It was recommended to me by a good friend in New York, and I loved it.

In Towles’s novel, we find Katy Kontent, a second generation immigrant to America, making her own way through the world, working out where she fits and how she might fit better, hustling where she has to. Last time, I linked along the lines of era. This time, I’m going to link along the lines of chutzpah.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s tells the story of social climber Holly Golightly, who escapes a tough life in the country and survives in New York using her looks and the generosity they unlock in wealthy men. Truman Capote described his heroine as an American Geisha.

My next choice is a biography of a young woman who worked as a geisha before becoming a ground-breaking actress in Japan. Sada Kawakami travelled beyond Japan and brought elements of Japanese theatre and arts to a Western audience. Lesley Downer’s biography Madame Sadayakko: The Geisha Who Seduced the West is a compelling account of Sada’s life.

A Japanese novel that features a geisha is Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country. This is the opaque tale of the wealthy Shimamura, a man so independently wealthy that he doesn’t know what to do with himself. So he decides to hole up in the mountains with a geisha, leaving his wife and children in Tokyo. Komako, the geisha, is equally indolent and they drift through the days. It’s a book unlike any other I’ve read, for seeming to talk about nothing but delivering a beautiful cinematic sense of that nothing.

I’m making a leap with my next book. I watched The Sound of Music yesterday, and thinking about Kawabata’s nothing in Snow Country just got me singing the line “nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could” from ‘Something Good’ in that film. The next link in my chain, then, is the true Story of the Trapp Family Singers, who used entertainment as a different means of escape, this time fleeing the Nazi Anschluss and settling in America.

This made me think of the book I read recently, The Invisible Bridge. The main plot is about a man who can’t initially escape the Nazis’ influence over his country, but there’s also a sub-plot about his wife’s daughter, a precocious party girl of sixteen who takes up with a wealthy American, who is in Paris to study art. He becomes her ticket out of France, and eventually the pair become the safe haven for the main characters.

My last book choice is Henry James’s Daisy Miller. The eponymous heroine has temporarily left America to experience European life. In Switzerland, she encounters the socialite Frederick Winterbourne, holidaying in Europe in pursuit of an older, wealthier woman. Daisy is a flirt and enjoys being away from the strictures of her Schenectady, NY society, and she piques Winterbourne’s interest. They encounter each other again in Rome, by which time Daisy has acquired quite a reputation for taking up with young Italian men.

My chain this month is about women who seek a different life, using their talent for entertaining to escape in some way. It’s also somewhat about the wealthy men who recompense the women for the entertainment they offer, whether through patronage, marriage or some other arrangement.

Where would your chain take you? Head over to Kate’s blog to find out what other readers have chosen.

12 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From Rules of Civility to Daisy Miller

  1. Still remember watching Cybill Shepherd in the movie version! Wikipedia mentions 1974 – I wasn’t even married then!

    The conclusion always seemed off – because of the timing. After doing some minor checking, I think James took some liberties.

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    1. Thank you, Mary. I had a big binge on James in my 20s – Daisy Miller and Washington Square were my favourites back then. I’ve got The Golden Bowl waiting on my Kindle. Maybe this year will its year.

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  2. Some interesting titles in that chain. I particularly like the look of ‘snow country’ I must investigate further. I also included ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ in mine.

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  3. I hadn’t thought of linking the protagonists through a quality or aspiration. Very clever!
    Like you, I went on a major Henry James kick in my relative youth; at the time I had an undemanding job and plenty of mental energy to devote to his novels. Washington Square was one of my early favorites, along with Portrait of a Lady and The Bostonians (flawed, but very interesting). I made it through the late, great novels as well but it did take a lot of effort.
    I loved Kawabata’s Snow Country. Like you said, nothing much happened but ah! that dreamy, poetic mood…

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    1. Thank you very much!
      I haven’t read The Bostonians. I’ll have a look for that one on Project Gutenberg. Portrait of a Lady is a great pick, I enjoyed that one, too.

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  4. Great chain! I thought of The Great Gatsby but Breakfast at Tiffany’s is another obvious link. I once came close to buying a condo just a few blocks from where Holly lived and I thought the association would be fun!

    The only other one I have read is The Story of the Trapp Family Singers which was in my secondary school library. However, I have been meaning to read The Invisible Bridge because I am 1/4 Hungarian. Maybe this is a good time to move it higher on my TBR.

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    1. I’d linked from Gatsby last time I had Rules of Civility in a chain, Con, and didn’t want to double repeat myself!

      What changed your mind about the New York condo? That would have been so much fun. Especially if you adopted a ginger cat (the film version, I know!).

      I was obsessed with The Sound of Music in my pre-teen years, and read Frau Trapp’s memoir back then. When I re-watched the film the other day, after a few years away, I got different things from it, so am considering a re-read of the memoir.

      I recommend The Invisible Bridge from the perspective of not knowing enough about Hungary’s history. I wonder if you will get something different from it, with your Hungarian heritage.

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