Thursday, January 27, 2005

Wharton Materials in World Renowned Literary Archive Secured For Scotland

The most important literary archive to have become publicly available in the last 100 years is on its way to Scotland thanks to a multi-million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The HLF has agreed to give £17.7 million towards the purchase of the John Murray Archive which will allow the National Library of Scotland (NLS) to complete the sale.

The John Murray Archive contains private letters, manuscripts and other correspondence from Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, Benjamin Disraeli, Herman Melville, Charles Darwin, David Livingstone, Thomas Carlyle, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edith Wharton, among others. It has been independently valued at £45 million but has been offered for sale to NLS at a reduced price of £31.2 million in order to keep the collection in the United Kingdom.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

From The Scotsman:

The naked truth

FROM HER DESK IN AN OAK-PANELLED room in New York Public Library, Hermione Lee can see the tattered remains of the splendid building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 42nd Street where the aristocratic, 17-year-old Edith Wharton had her coming-out party.

This being New York, of course, a new building is currently going up on the site, but Lee, a distinguished critic and award-winning biographer, is relishing living in the middle of the childhood landscape of the American novelist, who is the subject of her next biography - previous subjects include Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen and Willa Cather - which she is writing in the city while on a year’s unpaid leave from Oxford University, where she is a Fellow of New College.

. . . . .
While in New York she has turned down countless requests to lecture at American universities, although she has lectured at Princeton and the university’s press will publish a selection of her Body Parts essays under the title Virginia Woolf’s Nose. Edith Wharton and her body of work are, however, all-consuming. "I’m drawn to women writers who don’t have children and are rather self-concealing. I can’t think why. Although I don’t have children I do have five step-grandchildren and I’m very open about my own life."

Interview over, we repair for drinks to the Century Club on West 43rd Street, one of those imposing New York literary institutions where the members look so venerable that they might have been guests at Wharton’s coming-out ball. Indeed, whispers Lee, her eyes bright with mischief behind her spectacles, you almost expect a rather grand Edith Wharton and Henry James to walk in and begin conversing by the blazing log fire.

We both giggle - ever so quietly - at the thought. "There are times when Edith makes me laugh, so I have to ironise her," Lee says, draining her whisky glass. "She was so bossy sometimes. Although I do admire her tremendously: she was awesome, as they say here. Nevertheless, thank goodness I only write about dead people."

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Ripe Time celebrates the 100th anniversary of Edith Wharton's heartbreaking novel The House of Mirth with a NEW stage adaptation INNOCENTS

New York, New York December 1, 2004‹ Ripe Time presents the World Premiere of Innocents, directed by Rachel Dickstein, adapted from Edith Wharton's novel The House of Mirth by Rachel Dickstein with Emily Morse. Innocents previews on Saturday, January 8 for a limited engagement through Saturday, February 5. Opening Night is Monday, January 10 at 8:00 PM. The performance schedule is Monday, Thursday - Saturday at 8:00 PM; Sunday at 7:00 PM, with an additional performance on Wednesday, February 2 at 8:00 PM. Performances take place at the Ohio Theater (66 Wooster Street, between Spring and Broome Streets, in SoHo). For tickets, which are $20, the general public can call SmartTix at 212-868-4444 or visit For more information on the production, visit

Ripe Time is hosting a Panel Discussion on Sunday, January 23rd at 4:00 PM entitled "Gender, Privilege and Power: Staging the House of Mirth in the Age of Martha Stewart." The panel will be moderated by Prof. Rachel Brownstein of Brooklyn College/CUNY Graduate Center and will also take place at the Ohio Theatre. The Panel is FREE and open to the public. Reservations can be made by calling 718-622-3650.

Innocents is a timely tale of glamour, jealousy, ambition and betrayal set against a background of wealth and social hypocrisy in turn of the century New York. Penniless but well connected, Lily Bart navigates her precarious station among New York's upper class balancing her will for independence, the societal push for marriage and own her financial instability. Her search for wealth and power turns tragic when her one-time friends seek revenge on her success through a web of deception and lies. . . .

Thursday, January 13, 2005

From the New York Times (free registration required)

The Hazards of Fortune in the Age of Innocence

Published: January 13, 2005

Paula McGonagle stars as Lily Bart in "Innocents."

Even before "Innocents," the Ripe Time company's evocative interpretation of Edith Wharton's "House of Mirth," begins, the stage is set for a series of extended tableaux vivants.

Ensemble members in Victorian dress appear in the theater lobby, engaging in spirited banter. The audience files into the Ohio Theater across the stage itself, where a solitary young woman stands in a shaft of light, reading a book. The same tall, narrow door through which the audience has entered reveals the glimpse of a party in full swing, framed against a vivid red backdrop. This painterly pre-show image, held for a number of minutes, instantly establishes Lily Bart (Paula McGonagle) as both the antiheroine and ultimate outsider in Rachel Dickstein's impressionistic rendering of the literary classic. . . .

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

James Morrison at Bookslut, a well-known literary blog, reviews some of Edith Wharton's short stories and novellas:

The first woman to win the Pulitzer prize, Edith Wharton is best known for the string of novels she produced at the height of her powers: House of Mirth, The Reef, The Custom of the Country, and The Age of Innocence. Those who have not read her might imagine, perhaps from the films of her books, or from her close and well-known friendship with Henry James, that her writing would be stately, stale and suffocating. This is completely wrong.

Wharton’s fiction is perceptive, black, funny and sometimes deliciously catty. Her neglected but excellent short stories are populated by adulterers, mistresses on the run, murderers, artists (some genuine and great, some pretentious and hilarious), embezzlers and the occasional ghost. A typical opening to one of these gems is that of "The Day of the Funeral": “His wife had said: ‘If you don’t give her up I’ll throw myself from the roof.’ He had not given her up, and his wife had thrown herself from the roof.”

Among the many short stories are also a number of excellent short novels, only a couple of them as well known as they deserve to be.