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Season of Lillian Dawes: A Novel

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From the acclaimed writer of Private Altars, comes a story of driving lyrical force set in Manhattan in the 1950s. When he is expelled from boarding school, Gabriel Gibbs is sent to live with his older brother Spencer in New York. Rather than a punishment, this becomes an exhilarating invitation to a dazzling world, from smoking cigars at the Plaza Hotel to weekend house parties filled with tennis and cocktails. It is in this heady atmosphere — from white-gloved Park Avenue to literary Greenwich Village — that ...

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The Season of Lillian Dawes

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Overview

From the acclaimed writer of Private Altars, comes a story of driving lyrical force set in Manhattan in the 1950s. When he is expelled from boarding school, Gabriel Gibbs is sent to live with his older brother Spencer in New York. Rather than a punishment, this becomes an exhilarating invitation to a dazzling world, from smoking cigars at the Plaza Hotel to weekend house parties filled with tennis and cocktails. It is in this heady atmosphere — from white-gloved Park Avenue to literary Greenwich Village — that Gabriel first glimpses the elusive Lillian Dawes. Free-spirited and mysterious, Lillian captures the imaginations of those in "all the best circles," including both brothers. As their lives entwine, so begins the powerful and poignant unraveling of innocence.

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Editorial Reviews

Sena Jeter Naslund
“A charming novel with needle–sharp wit and the lingering aroma of youthful infatuation.”
Madison Smartt Bell
“…An unusual, extraordinary work that there is really nothing to compare it to in contemporary fiction.”
Annabel Davis-Goff
"A fairy tale of enormous charm."
Annabel Davis–Goff
“A fairy tale of enormous charm.”
USA Today
“Mosby has an impeccable way with narration and dialogue”.
The New Yorker
“Tremendously ambitious…and impressive.”
Seattle Times
“…a wistful fairy-tale.”
Baltimore Sun
“…effortless and seductive…”
Entertainment Weekly
“Mosby shows an extraordinary gift. A.”
Booklist
“Mosby’s rich, elegant writing makes this novel memorable.”
Time Magazine
“Rich and accomplished.”
The Charlotte Observer
“Enchanting, heartfelt, haunting.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Intensely romantic…sings with a music seldom found in contemporary writing.”
Orlando Sentinel
“A pleasure to read.”
Boston Globe
“Mosby has a true storyteller’s voice.”
People
“Mosby writes with fluid grace…her images are magical.”
New York Newsday
“Mosby writes like no one working today.”
Boston Globe on PRIVATE ALTARS
“Mosby has a true storyteller’s voice.”
People on PRIVATE ALTARS
“Mosby writes with fluid grace…her images are magical.”
Time Magazine on PRIVATE ALTARS
“Rich and accomplished.”
The New Yorker on PRIVATE ALTARS
“Tremendously ambitious…and impressive.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Mosby shows an extraordinary gift. A.”
Orlando Sentinel
“A pleasure to read.”
USA Today
“Mosby has an impeccable way with narration and dialogue”.
Booklist
“Mosby’s rich, elegant writing makes this novel memorable.”
Seattle Times
“…a wistful fairy-tale.”
New York Newsday
“Mosby writes like no one working today.”
Baltimore Sun
“…effortless and seductive…”
The Charlotte Observer
“Enchanting, heartfelt, haunting.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Intensely romantic…sings with a music seldom found in contemporary writing.”
Publishers Weekly
Mosby's sensuous, lyrical prose, highly praised in her debut novel, Private Altars, is the saving grace of her second book, which turns out to be a contrived and inflated story that's long on atmosphere but short on credibility. The Gibbs brothers, Spencer and Gabriel, are scions of a humorless, oppressive blueblood family that takes snobbism to new extremes. Now orphans, the siblings have rebelled against their straightlaced relatives, and when 17-year-old Gabriel is expelled from boarding school, he moves in with his older brother in a seedy apartment in lower Manhattan. It's the 1950s, and a halcyon time for those in high society. Indeed, the rich are "shamelessly selfindulgent," while such humble figures as a men's room attendant and an elderly shoeshine "boy" show true nobility. While Spencer labors on a book of short stories, the preternaturally observant Gabriel wanders about New York, where one day he gets a glimpse of the tantalizingly mysterious Lillian Dawes, a beautiful woman in her 20s. Lillian is radiant and kind, and although Gabriel discovers that she uses several names and refuses to speak about her past, his adolescent crush grows acute after he and Spencer attend a Gatsbyesque house party where Gabriel becomes the unlikely confidant of several of the guests, including Lillian. When Spencer and Lillian fall in love, the course of Gabriel's loss of innocence begins. Mosby works too hard at making Lillian enchanting and multitalented and Gabriel presciently ubiquitous, and at portraying the rich as caricatures (one eccentric character takes her own heavy silverware to good restaurants, lest the house flatware not have the right weight). The melodramatic denouement, clumsily foreshadowed from the beginning, moves the book into the realm of overheated romantic fiction. That's too bad, because Mosby's elegant, poetic prose is as smooth and shimmering as velvet. One hopes she can create a more credible plot next time. 5-city author tour. (Apr. 7) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
saturated tale about a young man living in 1950s New York after being kicked out of boarding school who falls for the fabulous Lillian Dawes. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Newsday
Katherine Mosby writes like no one writing today. Her second novel is lushly descriptive and deeply nostagic, old fashioned but by no means quaint. Once again she had created a romantic, absorbing, highly literary story…Mosby's images are often exquisite.
Entertainment Weekly
F. Scott Fitgerald couldn't have done a finer job of conjuring up the 1950's… Mosby shows an extraordinary gift….
New York Times
Exquisite…there is so much to enjoy in The Season of Lillian Dawes ... a meticulous attention to language that betrays her origins as a poet. So too does her gift for the quick, vivid image. Mosby writes good social comedy, but The Season of Lillian Dawes is much more than that....
Orlando Sentinel
It's {this}more patrician world Mosby evokes so well in her lyrical second novel The Season of Lillian Dawes. A faint whiff of Fitzgeraldesque nostalgia wafts from its pages like the shadow of a fragrance released from an empty drawer….it's a pleasure to read, thanks to the perceptive grace of the writing.
USA Today
Mosby has an impeccable way with narration and dialogue.
Charlotte Observer
Mosby writes with graceful fluidity and poetic elegance. She details her characters so perfectly they leap off the page . It's is a lovely novel, The Season of Lillian Dawes, -- enchanting, hearfelt, haunting.
Baltimore Sun
Wonderfully evocative…Her literary talents are similar to those of an Old Dutch master. She has an acute eye for revealing details and memorable scenes. The lyrical nostalgia of this novel is so effortless and seductive…
San Diego Tribune
… [Mosby}'s back with "The Season of Lillian Dawes," a sparkling novel in the vein of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton and Henry James.
Seattle Times
Mosby's sparkling dialogue and observations have a screwball-comedy zing…
Richmond Times Dispatch
Mosby has a knack for imbuing her essentially serious-indeed, intensely romantic-narrative with deliciously funny bits without knocking it off-balance.The Season of Lillian Dawes is a delight, a refreshing romantic tale… and one that sings with a music seldom found in contemporary writing.
Kirkus Reviews
An adolescent is obsessed with a mysterious, glamorous young woman in 1950s Manhattan. Having been kicked out of prep school for smoking a cigar in the chapel, recently orphaned Gabriel Gibbs ends up living with his older brother Spencer in an apartment in Greenwich Village, where Spencer, ten years Gabriel's senior, is completing a book of short stories. Gabriel idolizes Spencer and so does the author. He is a character without faults: generous, wise, handsome, and brilliant. While Spencer spends his days writing, Gabriel wanders the city. Along the way he hears about, then briefly sees, the beautiful Lillian Dawes. Her picture appears on the society pages with increasing frequency, Gabriel catches her dancing in the kitchen of a Cuban restaurant, and his aunt Lavinia mentions having befriended her on the SS Rotterdam, where Lillian showed extraordinary shooting skills. Lillian has no money but floats within the upper-class WASP world with ease. After Spencer's nouveau riche friend/nemesis Clayton Prather tells Gabriel he has "plans" for Dawes, Gabriel wrangles an invitation to a weekend at Prather's country place. There, Spencer and Lillian meet while Lillian displays her many talents and superior soul, equal only to Spencer's own. Finally the plot, which for more than two thirds of the story has meandered along with Gabriel, rushes through Spencer and Lillian's romance and its (obvious) connection to Spencer's search for the lost heir to a fortune his father embezzled years earlier. While second-novelist Mosby (Private Altars, 1995) writes with a formal grace that only sometimes verges on the pretentious (references to The Great Gatsby don't help), her characters seem to have beenborrowed from the movies-eccentric aunt, Asian houseboy, communist moocher friend (not to mention Lillian herself)-and in spite of all the period detail carefully layered in, the tale has an artificial, unlived quality. Pretty sentences deliver a flimsy storyline and unbelievable characters. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060936952
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/13/2003
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Katherine Mosby's previous works include a collection of poetry, The Book of Uncommon Prayer, and two novels, Private Altars and The Season of Lillian Dawes, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She lives in New York City and teaches at New York University's Stern Business School.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



There is in most lives, a defining moment, a point dividing time into before and after -- an accident or love affair, a journey or perhaps a death. For Spencer, all four, like the points on a compass, combined in the shape of Lillian Dawes. And because it is not possible to witness a tragedy without carrying away some of its stain, she became my watershed as well.


I was seventeen when the Renwick School for boys decided, despite my family's long affiliation with the school, to discharge me midterm. My father had died the year before, and out of deference to his name, and perhaps also his bequest, they had kept me on through a number of earlier infractions. However, when I was caught smoking a cigar in the chapel after curfew, it was plain I had exhausted the sympathy due my orphaned state. The masters were so eager to return me to what remained of my family that rather than wait for my aunt Grace to retrieve me at the end of the weekend, they sent me to New York, to my brother Spencer, which amounted to divine intervention in my opinion.

Spencer was ten years older than I, at boarding school by the time I was able to say his name. Our relationship therefore had been forged on holidays, in equal measures of jealous admiration on my part and amused affection on his. Spencer had assumed, at the time of our mother's illness, the role of family diplomat, a position for which he was singularly suited: his wit and lean good looks made him a favorite among even the most petulant of relatives, and his indifference to his status only furthered it. That is,until he declined to pursue his role professionally: after a brief stint with the State Department, he renounced his interest in foreign affairs. Then, much to everyone's surprise, Scribner published a slim collection of essays Spencer had written his final year at Yale, entitled Apropos of Nothing. Our father particularly, and the family generally, understood these two events as a repudiation of the tradition that had put Gibbses in the Senate, the Supreme Court, and two European embassies in the last century. It was also noted, a bit hysterically, that Spencer omitted from his wardrobe the hat and sock garters that were the mark of a gentleman.

Spencer's decision to go to law school had mollified my father initially; it was still possible for Spencer to “come around.” But after graduating with honors, Spencer went to Italy, where he spent the next several years translating the obscure Renaissance poet Lapadini into English for an academic publisher.

It was at that point that Spencer's past underwent review, and then revision: childhood activities, earlier thought to indicate promise, were now taken as signs of oddity. For example, the Christmas pageants he had written for Hadley (our only cousin, five years my senior and five years Spencer's junior) and me to perform, featuring spectacular death scenes involving pomegranate explosions, were now seen to be morbid, though at the time he had been praised for the ingenuity of his plots and the historical accuracy. It should also be said that at the time, the relatives were so grateful to Spencer for having found a way of keeping Hadley and me occupied that they would have applauded a reenactment of atrocities far more tasteless than those Spencer actually chose.

Spencer's fall from grace, such as it was, did not, as I had initially feared, put greater pressure on me to succeed. It had, in fact, the opposite effect. I think it was felt that if Spencer, with all his gifts, could become a disappointment, then it was better not to hold out any major expectations for an ordinary fellow like myself. Indeed, it seemed to excuse my own lackluster efforts in the classroom and on the playing field because a precedent had been set'if I was not achieving my potential, it was because Spencer had squandered his. I might have felt guilty about letting my own failures fall on Spencer's shoulders, but I didn't. At the time, I felt relief.

Spencer met me at the station and took me to the Oak Room for dinner. Not only did he let me order a drink, but after the meal had been cleared, he offered me a cigar.

“I hear you've developed a taste for these.”

“Actually, it was Bixby's idea,” I explained, taking the cigar. “He was outside taking a leak when Mr. Thrush came in, which is why I was caught and he got off.”

“Gabriel,” Spencer said quietly, holding out a match for me to light the cigar,

“I don't give a damn if you smoke cigars and I don't think your expulsion is a world-class tragedy. And I am happy to take you in for the remainder of the term, only don't try to bullshit me.”

He blew the match out just before it singed his fingers and dropped it disdainfully in the ashtray.

The Season of Lillian Dawes. Copyright © by Katherine Mosby. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Introduction Most of us, at some time in our lives, will encounter someone who fascinates -- even obsesses -- us. We hunger for information about this person, titillated by the mere mention of a name or the glimpse of a face. Such an infatuation can set loose our imagination, so that the object of our affection achieves, in our minds at least, mythic status. We imbue these people with qualities they may not possess. Their presence, even the mere fact of their existence, overpowers us -- whether they know it or not. The Season of Lillian Dawes offers a riveting portrait of a young man in the throes of such an enchantment. The orphaned son of a wealthy lawyer, Gabriel Gibbs has been entrusted to the care of his older brother Spencer after being kicked out of prep school. In his Greenwich Village apartment Spencer sets out to educate Gabriel in the ways of the world. This education takes the form of late-afternoon soliloquies delivered while Spencer soaks in the tub; private tutoring from Spencer's eccentric friend Beckwith; and aimless afternoons spent in the library, coffee houses, and movie theaters of Manhattan. Thus occupied, Gabriel is ripe for some excitement, and it comes to him in the form of the mysterious Lillian Dawes.Unlike most of the people Gabriel has met in Manhattan -- people who try to appear worldly, wealthy, and gay, when in fact they are disillusioned, narrow-minded, and bored -- Lillian Dawes stands out like a fresh cut flower. She is enigmatic without being aloof; sounds intelligent without showing off; and acts kindly to those whom others choose to ignore. Lillian carries with her an air of melancholy that touches Gabriel withits world-weariness, even if he doesn't understand why.It doesn't take long for Gabriel to become bewitched by this unknowable woman. Unfortunately, he isn't the only man drawn to Lillian. Spencer, too, is swept up in her aura and soon he and Lillian are a couple. Together Spencer and Lillian possess enough charm, good humor, and warmth to light up any room. They complete each other. But Lillian and Spencer aren't completely honest with each other, and the secrets they keep are powerful enough to destroy their relationship.The Season of Lillian Dawes explores how Gabriel's obsession becomes a life lesson about the difference between appearance and reality, about truth and deception, and about the importance of holding onto one's principles no matter what the cost.Over time, most of us will relinquish our obsessions with the unknowable other: either because of disappointment, or because we move on. For Gabriel, however, Lillian becomes a symbol that resonates throughout his life. Can these symbols endure? Katherine Mosby leaves us wondering, hoping that they can. Discussion Questions
  1. Why do you think the novel is titled "The Season of Lillian Dawes"? What are some of the various meanings for the word season, and how do they pertain to this story?
  2. Why did Mosby tell the story through Gabriel, instead of through Lillian or even Spencer? Is he a reliable narrator? Is he, as his name suggests, a "bearer of truth?"
  3. Lavinia tells Gabriel, "I've never made a fetish of the truth, my dear . . .. The truth is overrated. It's the refuge of the dull and unimaginative and most of the time it's a big disappointment, while a lie worth telling or well told is, well, a kind of gift." How does this statement apply to Lillian? To Spencer? To Gabriel? How important is the truth to you?
  4. Having taken on the role of Gabriel's guardian, Spencer also takes responsibility for his younger brother's education as well as his moral development. Is Spencer a good role model for Gabriel? Is his "bohemian" lifestyle appropriate for a teenager?
  5. Why do you think Gabriel is so drawn to Lillian, even before he meets her?
  6. After learning about archetypes from Spencer, Gabriel starts to regard all the women he encounters in classical terms, identifying Hadley, for instance, as a witch. The only woman he can't classify is Lillian. Why is that? Does Gabriel's infatuation with Lillian cloud his judgment? Or is she truly extraordinary and beyond classification?
  7. Like Lillian, Spencer is the kind of person who draws people to him; they are fascinated with him and seem to like him without even knowing him. What makes him so likeable? If you met Spencer do you think you, too, would be charmed by him?
  8. Lillian, it turns out, is a master of trompe l'oiel painting, a style that depicts objects with photographic detail, and which is often used as a transformative method of interior decorating. Why is it significant that Lillian would develop a talent for this kind of artistic expression?
  9. After Lillian leaves Clayton's house, Gabriel discovers a scrap of paper on which she has written the words Schadenfreude and Weltschmerz, German terms that have found their way into the English lexicon. Discuss the meanings of these words. What do they mean to Lillian? How do they foreshadow other events in the novel?
  10. In Lillian, Aunt Lavinia recognizes a kindred spirit and strives to protect her. Why is this, and why doesn't she reveal Lillian's secret to Spencer and Gabriel?
  11. Spencer tells Gabriel that "It is a feature of modernity to be handicapped not by our abilities to do, but by our abilities to see, in the grand sense that renders the fulfillment of meaning. Hence the frustration that leads to decadence, paralysis, and futility." He also says that the cure for this "modern condition" is literature and love. Discuss this passage and its meaning for Gabriel, Lillian, and Spencer. Who of these characters would you characterize as "modern?" And how are each of their lives affected by literature and love?
  12. Mosby's characters spend time in venerable Manhattan icons: the Plaza Hotel, Rumpelmeyers, Central Park, even checker cabs. How is New York, a city that Spencer says will "break your heart a thousand times a day," a character in the novel?
  13. Discuss the epigraph, a quote from Flaubert. How is it appropriate for this novel?
  14. Why does Gabriel, in the novel's first paragraph, describe himself as a witness to a tragedy? What was the tragedy, and whom did it involve?
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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2002

    A COMPELLING STORY RESONANTLY READ

    Jeff Woodson, one of America's premier voice artists, gives resonant reading to this tale of fascination and obsession. Those who heard Woodson's rendering of 'Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil' well know the qualities he brings to a voice presentation. When young Gabriel Gibbs, son of an affluent attorney, is kicked out of prep school he is remanded to the care of his older brother, Spencer. That really isn't too hard to take as Spencer lives in a Greenwich Village apartment and determines that what Gabriel needs is an education in the way the world works. Of course, it is a very privileged world. It is not too long before Gabriel spies the mysterious Lillian Dawes. She is unlike any of the other women he has come across in the City, and he is smitten. So is Spencer. When Lillian and Spencer become a couple it seems to be the perfect pairing. But, we all know how the course of true love runs and each harbors secrets from the other. As an observer, although an emotionally involved one, Gabriel learns more than he might have in prep school - he learns about masks and what lies beneath them, he discovers the importance of being true to oneself. It is a compelling story from which all of us may make discoveries.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2013

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