Saturday, January 24, 2015

Let's Talk About Edith Wharton

I believe in soul mates, sort of, for authors and readers, the kind of reading relationship that even lifelong readers find only once in a blue moon. You read a handful of pages and have to stop because it’s like this writer was inside your head while penning this book. Your ideas of and outlook on life sync up so well that it becomes impossible to remember a time before you’d discovered this writer. And it’s reciprocal, because, after gleaning all the wisdom and empathy possible, you go out and recommend this book and this writer to all your friends. You can’t stop talking about it. It sneaks into every conversation.

For me, that author is Edith Wharton. It's her birthday, so let me tell you a little about her. Edith Wharton was a literary bamf. In addition to over 20 novels, she wrote poetryshort stories, and nonfiction like The Decoration of HousesItalian Villas and their Gardens, and In Morocco. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921 for The Age of Innocence and was the first female recipient. She moved to France and did relief work following WWI. She wrote novels of manners (think: Jane Austen), but used them to expose the hypocrisy of it all and how trapped you could be in your life. It's brilliant. She's brilliant. And the awesome news for you is that most of her stories are in the public domain!

Some of my fave EW books and stories:

Roman Fever - It's short and so worth your time.

Xingu - A bit longer, but very zinging.


This book is so short. You could read it in an afternoon. It's about a love triangle between Ethan and his wife, Zenobia, and her cousin, Mattie. It will mess with your emotions, but in the best way, in the Edith Wharton way.


About Lily Bart, a 29-year-old socialite who has declined to marry. When it becomes clear that she needs to in order to keep up her lifestyle, she attempts to find a husband suitable to both society and herself. My first EW book. A masterpiece. Glorious. I've read it about half a dozen times, and I'm listening to it again now.


This is a rom-com EW style! you've got a marriage of convenience, missing cigars, and dubious morals. What's not to love?


Ah, this is probably my favorite novel. EW left it unfinished when she died, but Marion Mainwaring, a Wharton scholar, finished it in the '90s. It's about love and friendship (inspired by her own friendship with her governess) and growing up. Weirdly, it's probably one of her happiest books.

Some of my fave EW quotes:
"‘The greatest mistake,’ she mused, her chin resting on her clasped hands, her eyes fixed unseeingly on the dim reaches of the park, ‘the greatest mistake is to think that we ever know why we do things. …I suppose the nearest we can ever come to it is by getting what old people call “experience.” But by the time we’ve got that we’re no longer the person who did the things we no longer understand. The trouble is, I suppose, that we change every moment; and the things we did stay.'" - The Buccaneers

"I don’t know if I should care for a man who made life easy; I should want someone who made it interesting."

"There is one friend in the life of each of us who seems not a separate person, but an expansions, an interpretation, of one’s self, the very meaning of one’s soul."

"In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways."

"We can’t behave like people in novels, though, can we?" - The Age of Innocence

"There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it."

"Ah, there's the difference--a girl must [marry], a man may if he chooses." - The House of Mirth

"What is truth? Where a woman is concerned, it's the story that's easiest to believe." - The House of Mirth

"Half the trouble in life is caused by pretending there isn't any." - The House of Mirth

"If only we'd stop trying to be happy we'd have a pretty good time."

"Life is always either a tightrope or a featherbed. Give me the tightrope."

(Rest of the sources to come, since a lot of these I collected on goodreads or in word files.)

Some interesting EW tidbits:
- She wrote ghost stories.
- She moved to France later in life (and wrote about it). The street on which she lived is now called rue Edith Wharton.
- She was given an honorary doctorate from Yale, and the Yale library has a collection of her letters and manuscripts.
- She was good friends with Henry James.
- The Mount is thought to be haunted. Ghost Hunters filmed an episode on it.
- She was rewarded the Chevalier Legion of Honour for her relief and refugee work in France during World War I.

Oh, yeah, and she designed her own house:
The Mount - It's in Massachusetts, and it's gorgeous! Go visit!
In conclusion: Happy Birthday, Edith Wharton!

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