• A Privileged Life

    Music & Books  

    by LeeAnne Jackson

    When I first picked up Susanna Salk’s book, A Privileged Life: Celebrating WASP Style (Assouline), I wasn’t quite sure that I would identify with this somewhat shrouded demographic. I’m a Southern Prep from a world of hot toddies, pearls, and the SEC.  A far cry, or so I thought, from champagne, riding boots, and Brown. After reading this lovely book, I found myself identifying with the traditional, intelligent, classic, and casual-yet-elegant aspects of this lifestyle and how it as a whole has contributed to the often-lost traditions in today’s American culture.

    Ms. Salk shares her own treasured memories of her childhood and adolescence in the book. Growing up in Massachusetts, surrounded by ribbon belts, Ivy League lacrosse, cocktails, Nantucket summers, Pulitzer shifts, and monogrammed sweaters at Milton, she is the perfect example of a WASP woman.

    Salk fills the pages with hundreds of photographs of famous WASPs, from Jackie, to Blythe Danner, Audrey Hepburn, Brooke Astor, Robert Redford, as well as many candid portraits of her friends and family. The lovely captions, and personal sentiments help the reader catch a real glimpse into this often emulated, yet misunderstood way of life.

    The book beautifully explains how WASPs, like many Americans, identify with traditions, and how members of this demographic seem to almost freeze with time. They seem forever youthful, in their beloved forty-year-old camel coats, inherited summer homes, and their weekly Saturday morning brunch. WASPs define heritage, grace, joie de vivre, and formal without being fancy.

    Although deeply rooted in tradition, the inherent definition of “WASP” has progressed through different eras and is a far cry from the original constraints of the word. While Salk’s parents emulated Grace Kelly and Cary Grant, her generation leaned toward Carole King and Ryan O’Neal. Today’s generation continues to add twists on the classics, but adhere to the tried-and-true preppie principles.  The barriers to this elusive American style of living have been removed, allowing increased accessibility for current generations. Even if you didn't grow up summering in the Cape, you may find yourself living slivers of a privileged life after all.

    Nov 11, 2010 | Permalink (5) Total Comments

    Rosie left a comment on 11/14/2010 at 3:24 AM:

    Sounds like a great read.

    But, quick question: did you mean Katharine Hepburn? Audrey is from Belgium, but Katharine is definitely WASP through and through.

    Lee Anne left a comment on 11/12/2010 at 4:52 PM:

    @LBF—I am an outsider, which I stated in my review. Unfortunately Miss Salk doesn’t cover many of the topics you mentioned above, or I would have included them in my review. I feel the book gives a general overview of WASPs, and leans toward the pleasantries, not just the technical definition of “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.” Obviously many of the people mentioned or photographed in the book have some of the qualities you stated in your comment, but as with any culture, Southern Prep or WASP, there are various contexts which can only be understood when fully submerged in the lifestyle. I identified with many topics Salk covered, but don’t consider myself a WASP expert by any mean. The book, much like this blog, educates the reader on why the Prep/WASP style is continuosly being reinvented, and ultimately will never go out of style. Thanks for taking the time to read.

    Joey Dee left a comment on 11/12/2010 at 12:54 AM:

    LBF is right. The personal lives of this group are anything but traditional. Your article is very good though, and if more people read anything to do with how to put oneself together, instead of walking around like they were in a Lil’ Wayne video, maybe decency will return.

    Laguna Beach Fogey left a comment on 11/12/2010 at 12:15 AM:

    Well said. Pleasant commentary. Great book. Obviously, written by an outsider.

    I will say, though, as someone who grew up in WASP community, you and your fellow writers have not even begun to scratch the surface of WASPdom.

    What about the, Alcoholism? Squash? Homosexualism? Right-wing politics? Bridge? Yachts? Adultery? Tennis? Lawn Bowling? Christianity (Anglican/Episcopal/Congregational/UCC)?

    S.N. Carpeaux left a comment on 11/11/2010 at 7:16 PM:

    Nicely done, LeeAnne. You’re review makes me want to read the book, not just set it on the coffee table.