Sunday, April 16, 2006

Garrison Keillor on Edith Wharton

I have an after-dinner speech about marriage that is 15 minutes long and somewhat funny. ("The rules for marriage are the same as for a lifeboat. No sudden moves, don't crowd the other person, and keep all disastrous thoughts to yourself.") As a thrice-married guy, one feels an obligation to share such insights.

So I found myself in a cab to LaGuardia to catch a plane to Atlanta to give the speech. (I was in New York to speak at the Edith Wharton Society but not about marriage since she had a miserable one.)

[Does anyone know what event this might be? None of the EWS members I've asked know anything about it. Thanks. --Ed. ]
From the Seattle Times:

From page to stage, trying to capture Edith Wharton's Lily

By Misha Berson

Lily Bart, an alluring and eligible woman of 29, is a glittering ornament of the Manhattan "smart set" who catches many a male mogul's wandering eye.

But Lily is no mere "It Girl" of the Gilded Age. She is, in fact, one of the most complicated of American literary protagonists. Ambitious and ambivalent, vain and virtuous, torn and ultimately tragic, she is often a puzzle — to herself, and to others.

Given Lily's beauty and charm, why does happiness escape her? And why, given all her rich admirers, does she end up poor and alone?

Lily's psychological intricacy, in relation to the rigid social strata she inhabits, make Edith Wharton's 1905 book, "The House of Mirth," one of the finest of American novels — and among the hardest to stage or film.

Yet "The House of Mirth" devotees can still dream that Lily's glittering, perilous saga in Old New York will someday translate into satisfying drama.

That hope rises again, with the arrival of a new stage adaptation by British writer Marcus Goodwin. Produced by Book-It Repertory Theatre, and staged by artistic director Jane Jones, it opens Friday at Seattle's Center House Theatre, with gifted actress Jennifer Lee Taylor as Lily.
. . .
Coming up

"The House of Mirth," produced by Book-It Repertory Theatre, previews begin Tuesday, opens Friday and runs through May 13 at Center House Theatre, Seattle Center; $15-$30 (206-216-0833 or
From the Mercury News:

Within a few months, I had all the books in hand and had mapped my strategy. Along with each winning work, I would read at least one other book by the author and his or her biography, study criticism and view any film versions. This was going to be a gourmet reading experience.

Speed bump No. 2: Most of the first 10 Pulitzer Prize winners were abysmal. The jurors had lapsed into good taste only once, when they chose Edith Wharton's ``The Age of Innocence.''

Speed bump No. 3: Life and news intervened. On election night 2000, I sat in a St. Petersburg, Fla., hotel room perusing ``Scarlet Sister Mary'' and faced facts. After months of reading and research, I had made it only as far as 1929. The Bush-Gore drama unfolding on television was a whole lot more interesting. I flew back to online news work in Atlanta and put aside the project for 4 1/2 years.

. . . . .
Some books were impossible to read without the main character's metamorphosing into the actor in the movie role. In my mind's eye, Atticus Finch was indistinguishable from Gregory Peck, Newland Archer conjured up Jeremy Irons and Oprah Winfrey was Sethe. It was a reminder that we bring all our experiences to reading.

[Ed. question: When did Jeremy Irons play Newland Archer?]

Friday, April 14, 2006

Buccaneers Miniseries now on DVD

`The Buccaneers' miniseries gets better with age
By R.D. Heldenfels
Akron Beacon Journal

DVD pick of week: When The Buccaneers aired on Masterpiece Theatre in 1995, I called it "a wonderful story of money and class, romantic love and marriages of convenience, of England and the United States."

More than a decade later, the DVD (BBC Video, five parts on one two-sided disc, $14.98) found me liking it even more.

Based on an unfinished Edith Wharton novel, the miniseries involved young women trying to succeed in London society after failing to make a dent in America's upper crust.
From (San Francisco)

The Wharton One-Acts" — Valley Shakespeare Festival presents the West Coast premiere of two stage adaptations of Edith Wharton's stories "The Mission of Jane" and "The Promise." Closes Sunday,April 16 at Downtown Yoga, 220-B Division St., Pleasanton. 8 p.m. today and Saturday; 4 p.m. Sunday. $20-$25. (925) 606-6468;

When the TV companies wheel in experts to talk in hushed tones about art, I rush down to galleries and slash canvases. Not really. Galleries are always closed by that time of night. My favourite buttock-clencher in last night's The Private Life Of An Easter Masterpiece was "The Last Supper creates who we are." That leaves our mothers and fathers out of the picture then. But, luckily, the American novelist Edith Wharton was remembered as keeping it real by saying: "Ever since I first saw that painting I wanted to bash it in the face."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ethan Frome: An American Romance – a new musical based on the classic 1911 novella by Edith Wharton – will receive its first staged reading at The York Theatre on Tuesday, May 9th at 3 PM and 7:30 PM.

. . .

The York Theatre at St Peter’s is located at 54th St. just east of Lexington Ave. For further information, call 212-935-5820 or visit

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The House of Mirth Closes Book-It's Season (Broadway World)
Lily Bart, the lovely, impoverished and stubbornly single heroine of Edith Wharton's 1905 dark bestseller The House of Mirth, is a character destined for disappointment. Trapped in a society where women are "brought up to be ornamental," she's torn between her desire for a carefree gilded existence and her desire for the unthinkable: a marriage based on love. And unfortunately, at age 29, her shelf life is about to expire. Lily's plight is the heart of Wharton's scathing account of high society, The House of Mirth, which runs April 20 -May 13 at Book-It Repertory Theatre's Center House Theatre.

Adapted by Marcus Goodwin and directed by Jane Jones, The House of Mirth is set in the Gilded Age of 1905 New York, a world of great wealth, great poverty, and more than anything else, great greed.

"The culture that Edith Wharton writes about is very nouveau riche," says Jane Jones, director. "They don't have the experience or grace of knowing how to be rich, of how to act, or how to treat people. There's a lot of measuring up, a ton of greed. They basically eat each other alive. People are terrified of what might happen to them, because things are changing so incredibly fast. Everyone is very guarded about their money and yet they flaunt it shamelessly. They're consumers, in all senses of the word."

Lily Bart is only too aware of her own status as a hot commodity. But her vanity is only one of her fatal flaws. Her naiveté also plays a part in her slow spiral down, as does society's penchant for celebrating and then denigrating its "chosen ones".

"Lily Bart is a celebrity because of her great beauty," says Jones."She's put on this pedestal, but the pedestal is actually a gilded cage; she has no freedom. And unfortunately, once you're on that pedestal, there's only one place to go and that's down. For whatever reason, as a society we celebrate that. Just look at the tabloids where you can read about Jennifer Aniston losing her husband or Lindsey Lohan's drug addiction because she didn't know how to deal with fame and money."

Does that mean Lily Bart is essentially the Jennifer Anniston or Lindsey Lohan of her day?

"Lily Bart is no different,' says Jones. "She's gotten herself into debt through her gambling addiction and she's also addicted to the high life. She's naïve and ignorant as to what the cost of fame and celebrity is, of what it costs to stay in that circle. And if you look at the rich now, nothing's changed. Living in that world costs, sometimes it costs your life."