Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Wharton's Mount is returning to form
By Sacha Pfeiffer
Globe Staff / December 26, 2007
LENOX - By 1997, the palatial estate built nearly a century earlier in this upscale country town by wealthy novelist Edith Wharton had fallen into disrepair.
The terrace that encircled the 25-room European-style house was on the verge of collapse. Chunks of stucco had broken off the exterior. The windows were riddled with rot.
"The building was in very sad shape," said Stephanie Copeland, president of Edith Wharton Restoration, a nonprofit group formed to rescue the 48-acre property from disintegration. "It was clear that we were either going to restore it or we were going to lose it."
Intent on returning the home, called The Mount, to its original grandeur, the group launched an ambitious and costly renovation project. Preserving the building was important, it believed, because although Wharton is best known for her more than 40 books, she was also an accomplished interior designer and gardener - and the Mount's handsome decor and elaborate landscaping were a testament to that.
Wharton's most famous works include "The House of Mirth" and "The Age of Innocence," which won her a Pulitzer Prize. But her first book was "The Decoration of Houses," an 1897 guide to interior design. In it, she expounded on her belief that a home should embody the principles of proportion, harmony, simplicity, and suitability. Seven years later, influenced by her frequent European travels, she published "Italian Villas and Their Gardens," in which she wrote that gardens should be divided into rooms and should blend into the natural landscape.
"Wharton was not only one of our greatest writers, she was also a major contributor to the field of interior design, architecture, and landscape gardening," Copeland said. "This is an area that's very unappreciated about her."
The Mount became Wharton's design laboratory, a place where she could put her theories into practice. Her 16,000-square-foot house, for example, was built on a hillside to take advantage of its sweeping views of the Berkshire Hills and nearby Laurel Lake. Its main rooms overlooked three acres of formal gardens, which incorporated grass terraces, stone walls, and a crushed marble walk, reflecting English, French, and Italian styles.
And its entrance hall had double glass doors that kept visitors out of the main house unless Wharton was home to welcome them. "While the main purpose of a door is to admit," she wrote in "The Decoration of Houses," "its secondary purpose is to exclude."
(continue reading the article at Boston.com)
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
You might think a yearly rental fee of £11,500 for the grand Georgian former home of Henry James in Rye, East Sussex, is something of a bargain – but tenancy of Grade II*-listed Lamb House isn’t simply a matter of reclining in the oak-panelled parlour and contemplating the American-born writer’s work.
Living there means taking on responsibilities that include greeting at least 7,000 members of the general public a year, on two afternoons a week between March and October – James fans descend on the house, at the top of cobbled West Street, in droves – as well as taking the entrance money and keeping records of visitor numbers. You’ll also need to be well acquainted with the writer’s life and works: many of your visitors will be James scholars from across the Atlantic.
The four-storey, brick-fronted five-bedroom house was donated to the National Trust in 1948 by the widow of James’s nephew and heir, “as a symbol of ties that unite the British and American peoples”, and became part of the trust’s long-term tenancy scheme. The most recent occupants, Sarah Philo, 30, and her boyfriend, John Senior, 59, both educational writers, moved out two weeks ago, and it is now in need of tenants.
. . .
In the oak-panelled parlour, you can stand on the rug that Edith Wharton – James’s dazzling protégée, who later outstripped him in popularity – once trod, and admire his library of first editions.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
"Wharton Letter Reopens a Mystery" by Charles McGrath
Literary biography is never finished, Hermione Lee, the Goldsmiths’ professor of English at Oxford and author of acclaimed books about Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton, said the other day. New information keeps turning up. In the case of Wharton, what has just turned up is a letter that casts new light on the vexing question of what exactly happens at the end of her 1905 novel, “The House of Mirth.” Does Lily Bart, the novel’s heroine, kill herself or die of an accidental overdose?
The text is ambiguous. Lily, honorable but not always smart in her decisions, has so fallen from her perch in New York society that she is living in a boarding house, and so broke that she needs to work for a living. She has quit one job, as secretary to a tasteless social climber, and has failed miserably at another, sewing for the fashionable milliner Mme. Regina, and to get through the nights has become addicted to chloral hydrate.
On the evening of her death, lonely and depressed, a step away from prostitution, she packs away her few remaining gowns and carefully settles her accounts, writing a check that will clear her last remaining debt, and then deliberately takes a larger dose than usual.
“The action of the drug was incalculable,” she tells herself, “and the addition of a few drops to the regular dose would probably do no more than procure for her the rest she so desperately needed. “
Some critics have argued that the suggestion of mere risk-taking here, and not intentional overdosing, is simply a euphemism of the kind frequently employed in Lily’s world, where well-bred people never referred to suicide. In an e-mail message the novelist Roxanna Robinson, author of the introduction to the new Wharton anthology, “New York Stories,” said, “I think the reader knows on some deep level that the event was deliberate, that Lily Bart knew she’d exhausted her possibilities, and knew that going on would mean a life of unbearable ignobility.”
Ms. Robinson added, “If she doesn’t take action here, if her death occurs by chance (or if Anna Karenina had fallen under the wheels by mistake), the tragedy is drained of much of its power.”
Others have argued that it is precisely the careless, accidental nature of Lily’s death that is so tragic, because carelessness, a failure to think things through, is her great flaw, while her great strength is an ability to bounce back. Had she only lived through the night, according to this view, she might have married Lawrence Selden, her soul mate, and reclaimed her place in society.
The newly revealed letter, written by Wharton herself, seems to point to the suicide theory. It is dated Dec. 26, 1904, or just a month before “The House of Mirth” began appearing in monthly installments in Scribner’s Magazine, and is addressed to Dr. Francis Kinnicutt, a well-known society doctor who specialized in the mental ailments of the well-to-do. At the time of the letter, in fact, he was treating Wharton’s manic-depressive husband, Teddy, who was beginning to behave in ways — eventually embezzling her money, setting up a mistress in Boston — that would lead to the dissolution of their marriage.
The letter begins by resorting to the timeless disguise of the advice-seeker. “A friend of mine has made up her mind to commit suicide,” Wharton writes, “& has asked me to find out ... the most painless & least unpleasant method of effacing herself.”
Only on the second page does Wharton reveal that her “friend” is in fact a fictional character appearing in the pages of Scribner’s, explaining, “I have heroine to get rid of, and want some points on the best way of disposing of her.” Later she asks: “What soporific, or nerve-calming drug, would a nervous and worried young lady in the smart set be likely to take to, & what would be its effects if deliberately taken with the intent to kill herself? I mean, how would she feel and look toward the end?”
The letter was found stuck into a first-edition copy of “The House of Mirth,” along with a poem, dated 1906, by someone apparently besotted with Lily Bart. Stephanie Copeland, the president of the Mount, Wharton’s house in Lenox, Mass., which has been restored and turned into a museum, has speculated that the poet must have been a friend of Dr. Kinnicutt.
. . . .
Ms. Lee, who was shown the letter by Ms. Copeland, said earlier this week: “One of the things that’s so interesting is the reference to serialization. We think of Wharton as a 20th-century novelist, a master of form, and here she is writing like Dickens or Thackeray. The book is about to start coming out, and she hasn’t finished it yet. The other great thing is what the letter suggests about her practical meticulousness, the way she wants to get things right — her literary pragmatism, you could say.”
She added, “Does the letter prove that all along Lily intended to kill herself? I think it’s quite likely that in December 1904, Wharton was thinking that Lily was going to commit suicide, and that by the time she came to the ending, months later, she changed her mind, because of the way those last pages hold onto so many moral positions at once. I think that, as she went on, she decided that it would be more effective if she left the ending ambiguous. It’s actually a much greater book if we don’t know for sure.”
Another person who has seen the letter is the 90-year-old novelist Louis Auchincloss, who may have more Whartonian connections than anyone still alive. His grandmother knew Edith Wharton in Newport, R.I. His parents were good friends of Freddy and Le Roy King, New York lawyers who were Wharton’s executors and also, in her later career, when she was living in France, her advisers about contemporary American diction.
“They were the least American gentlemen I’ve ever met,” Mr. Auchincloss said recently. “That’s why in her late novels you get dialogue like ‘By Jove, I’ve had a beastly, fagging sort of day.’”
Mr. Auchincloss is himself the author of a Wharton biography, a book so fond and intimate that it sometimes reads as if he had known her. “While I was writing it, I sometimes thought I did,” he said, and then declared his position on “The House of Mirth” to be unchanged by the letter.
Taking down his own first edition, he read the concluding pages aloud in his Brahmin accent, and said: “I don’t see what the fuss is about. It’s perfectly clear what happens. Lily doesn’t mean to kill herself but risks death in a desperate bid for rest. Edith Wharton wrote to Kinnicutt because she needed to find a drug that wouldn’t disfigure Lily’s beautiful body. She didn’t want that dreadful Mme Bovary thing, with the arsenic. I mean, how can you have Lily Bart die a messy death?”
Click on this link to go to the full article.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Glimpses of the Moon is one of Wharton's rare comedies, though not without its share of heartaches. Popular but penniless, Suzy Branch and her friend Nick Lansing devise the ultimate fund-raising scheme: to marry and live off the wedding gifts while they help each to find suitable millionaires. The plan works perfectly-- until they fall in love.
This new adaptation written by Tajlei Levis & John Mercurio, and directed by Marc Bruni, features a cast of six actors, three musicians and special guest appearances by popular cabaret artists. Marc Bruni is currently the Associate Director of Legally Blonde and Grease on Broadway.
Levis and Mercurio previously collaborated on an adaptation of Dawn Powell's 1942 novel A Time to be Born, which had a sold-out run at the Lucille Lortel Theatre as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. The New York Times called that production "an elegant adaptation…full of catty wit and jitterbugging. The jazzy score - full of catchy numbers - made the running time fly by." Composer John Mercurio is a Jonathan Larson award winner whose musical Diva Diaries played to packed houses at the Broward and Tampa Bay Performing Arts Centers and the Lakeshore Theatre in Chicago.
Shows are at 8pm Monday evenings, January 14- March 3, 2008.
The Algonquin Hotel is located at 59 West 44th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue, in Manhattan.
For reservations, please call the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel at 212-419-9331 or email GlimpsesMusical @ Gmail dot com.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Tenement Museum Shop, 108 Orchard Street
EDITH WHARTON’S NEW YORK
How the OTHER Other Half Lives
Learn how New York City shaped novelist Edith Wharton’s writing. Join us for a panel discussion with Wharton scholar
Hildegard Hoeller and Roxana Robinson, editor of the new collection The New York Stories of Edith Wharton.
About the panelists:
Hildegard Hoeller is associate professor of English at the City University of New York, where she teaches 19th and early twentieth century American literature. She is the current president of the Edith Wharton society and has worked on Wharton since the late 1980s. Her first book, Edith Wharton's Dialogue with Realism and Sentimental Fiction (2000), focused on Wharton's response to these literary traditions.
Roxana Robinson is the author of three novels, three short story collections, and a biography. She has been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The New York Times, Vogue, and many other publications. She is a trustee emeritus of American PEN and currently teaches at the New School. Newsweek has compared her fiction to that of Edith Wharton’s.
F to Delancey; B/D to Grand
FREE and open to the public
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
1. Edith Wharton and the Culture of Celebrity.
Wharton’s treatment of literary, musical, and theatrical celebrity; fans, obsessive and otherwise; the meanings of stardom and fame in Wharton’s fiction; being in and out of the spotlight. All approaches welcome; papers on Wharton’s lesser-known works would be especially appreciated. Please send 1-page abstracts and brief c.v.’s to Meredith Goldsmith (email@example.com) by January 15, 2008.
2. Representations of Wharton in the Mass Media
How has Wharton been represented, both during and after her lifetime, in the mass media (including, but not limited to, reviews, visual images, advertisements, obituaries, fictional texts, architectural and design texts, newspapers, magazines, film, radio, television, tourist and historical site brochures, internet sites, and so forth). What aspects of Wharton’s life, identity, or career are privileged or omitted in these texts and for what purpose? What is the relationship between the persona constructed in these texts and the private and public persona that Wharton herself constructed? What is the relationship between Wharton’s mass media representation and her fiction? All approaches are welcome. Please send a 1-page abstract and brief c.v. to Gary Totten (firstname.lastname@example.org) by January 15, 2008.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Actors bring a literary classic to life in Caldwell
'Age of Innocence' reading at high school
Friday, September 21, 2007
BY ELIZABETH MOORE
A spellbound audience listened to the conversation between the illicit lovers -- there was anticipation, an argument, a stolen kiss, and finally tears.
The audience was made up of English students from James Caldwell High School and Mount Saint Dominic Academy and the lovers were really professional actors who had volunteered their time to bring the Edith Wharton classic "The Age of Innocence" to life.
Alysia Reiner and David Alan Basche, a married couple with film and Broadway experience, took to the stage Wednesday at Caldwell High School to read aloud Chapter 29 of the Pulitzer-prize winning novel, the scene where Newland Archer meets his wife's cousin Madame Olenska at the train station.
In the novel, Archer is married, but in love with his wife's cousin. [more at the link]
Friday, September 14, 2007
--Submitted by Julie Olin-Ammentorp
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Edith Wharton Conference in Lenox, Massachusetts, June 26-28, 2008 "Edith Wharton and History"
Deadline: 20 January 2008
The broad theme of this conference, organized by the Edith Wharton Society, aims to bring historical, cultural, and literary contexts to Wharton's life and all of her work. Please send abstracts of no more than 1000 words and a one-page cv to Carol Singley [email@example.com] by January 20th, 2008.
Possible topics include:
Edith Wharton and women's history and women's studies
Edith Wharton and women's writing
Edith Wharton in the work of others (her influence on others, her appearance in the work of others)
Historicizing aspects of Wharton's work
Edith Wharton and popular culture
Edith Wharton and cultural phenomena and practices
Edith Wharton and illness, addiction, etc.
Edith Wharton and publishing
CFP, American Literature Association, May 2008: Edith Wharton and the Culture of Celebrity.
Wharton’s treatment of literary, musical, and theatrical celebrity; fans, obsessive and otherwise; the meanings of stardom and fame in Wharton’s fiction; being in and out of the spotlight. All approaches welcome; papers on Wharton’s lesser-known works would be especially appreciated. Please send 1-page abstracts and brief c.v.’s to Meredith Goldsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org) by January 15, 2008.
CFP: Claiming Space in Edith Wharton's Novels; NeMLA April 10-13, 2008 Buffalo, NY
In The House of Mirth, Lily Bart declares "How delicious to have a place like this all to one's self! What a miserable thing it is to be a woman."
Lily speaks to the unwritten rule that women cannot live alone. She speaks to her desire to have a space, whether physical or metaphorical, of her own, a space where she can live her own life. This panel explores physical and metaphorical spaces in Wharton's novels and specifically address Wharton's female characters and how they experience, manipulate, and claim space. Email abstracts of 250-500 words by Sept. 15, 2007 to Miranda
Texas A&M University
The Edith Wharton Essay Prize
Call for Submissions
Deadline: October 1, 2007
The Edith Wharton Essay Prize is awarded annually for the best unpublished essay on Edith Wharton by a beginning scholar. Graduate students, independent scholars, and faculty members who have not held a tenure-track or full-time appointment for more than four years are eligible to submit their work.
The winning essay will be published in The Edith Wharton Review, a peer-reviewed journal indexed in the MLA Bibliography , and the writer will receive an award of $250.
All entries will be considered for publication in The Edith Wharton Review as well as for the Edith Wharton Essay Prize. Submissions should be 15-25 pages in length and should follow the new 6 th edition MLA style, using endnotes, not footnotes.
Applicants should not identify themselves on the manuscript but should provide a separate cover page that includes their names, academic status, e-mail address, postal addresses, and the notation “The Edith Wharton Essay Prize.”
To submit an essay for the prize, send three copies by October 1, 2007, to either of the editors of The Edith Wharton Review:
Prof. Carole M. Shaffer-Koros, Editor
Dean, School of Visual and Performing Arts
Union, NJ 07083
Prof. Linda Costanzo Cahir, Co-editor
Union, NJ 07083
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
The Wharton School
In 1929 Janet Flanner (a k a Genêt), fledgling Paris correspondent for the fledgling New Yorker, wrote under her own byline for the first time. Her profile of Edith Wharton, she knew, had caught both Mrs. Wharton's personality and the ambivalence it inspired in the brasher, far more experimental writers of the 1920s. A chilly bluestocking and a perpetual outsider, whether in the city of her birth, New York, or her adopted homeland, France, Wharton was the mother of them all, beloved and hated. Her long career included a Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence (1921), a gold medal from the National Institute of Arts and Letters (she was the first woman to receive it) and a string of bestsellers because, as Flanner tartly observed, in lambasting society's sins, "Mrs. Wharton gave the great public what it wanted." Wharton was, in other words, a middle-brow satirist who, wearing pearls and décolletage in her stock publicity photograph, "dressed for her public as for a ball."
On the cover of Hermione Lee's exhaustive new biography, the fortysomething Wharton, draped in furs, stands in front of a large shadowy picture and glances wistfully to her left, reddish hair decorously swept up into a large, fashionable hat. Decidedly affluent, Wharton also seems youthfully vulnerable and, in a sense, trapped by her flush costume. For Lee, the Goldsmiths' Professor of English Literature at Oxford University and author of a superb biography of Virginia Woolf, intends to make the writer human, real and engaging.
Determined not to present Wharton as the pale, predestined or passionless victim of her well-heeled class and kind, Lee admiringly writes at the outset of her book that "with prolonged, hard-working, deliberate ambition, she pushed out and away from her family's mental habits, social rules and ways of life...to construct her own personal and professional revolution." That is, almost eighty years after Flanner's profile appeared (which Lee in passing calls "malicious"), Mrs. Wharton comes before the public yet again, this time as a tough and first-rate writer of "compassionate realism" and as, once again, a perpetual expatriate, dignified, aloof in public and preternaturally energetic, a devoted friend and complicated, contradictory woman.
Born in 1862, the youngest child and only daughter of George Frederic and Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander Jones, Edith Jones was a solitary child whose mother disparaged her first attempt at fiction, as Wharton famously recounts in her 1934 memoir, A Backward Glance. She began her story with a character exclaiming, "If only I had known you were going to call I should have tidied up the drawing-room" and then nervously handed her work to her mother, who read it and dryly remarked, "Drawing-rooms are always tidy." Yet it may have been her mother, whom she never forgave, who arranged to have a volume of her verses privately printed in 1878. (In later life, Wharton said her father, whom she liked better, had arranged the printing.) In any case, two years later, when Wharton was 18, one of her brothers helped get the poems to The Atlantic Monthly, which published several. Though suffocated by the ornamental life of the rich, Wharton was off to a well-connected literary start.
Twenty years old when her father died, she soon met erudite, aloof and aspiring young international lawyer Walter Van Rensselaer Berry, a lifelong friend, literary mentor and confirmed bachelor, with whom she may or may not have fallen in love and near whom she is buried in the Cimetière des Gonards at Versailles. In 1885, though, she married Edward (Teddy) Wharton, an amiable Harvard graduate twelve years older than she with no career and absolutely no interest in literature. The marriage was a disaster. Prone to mental illness, all the more so after his wife became a famous author and had an extramarital affair, Teddy fell apart, mismanaged funds and was hospitalized; in 1913, after twenty-eight unhappy years together, Wharton divorced him.
Edith Wharton had "constructed a life," as Lee reminds us, during her difficult and neurasthenic early married life. Her first book, The Decoration of Houses (1897), written with architect Ogden Codman, was, as Lee puts it, part of a "complex cultural argument about America at the turn of the century" that took her parents' generation to task for its smugness, parochialism and genteel bric-a-brac. Based on Wharton's extensive research in America and Europe, the argument revealed an "ethics of style" (the term is Lee's) that extended to her gardens, her books and her comportment: uncluttered, well balanced, not a Victorian frippery in sight. As a consequence Lee describes all Wharton's various homes--even the English estate Coopersale, which she did not buy--and her breathtaking gardens, chiefly at the Pavillon Colombe in Saint-Brice-Sous-Forêt and the Château Sainte-Claire in Hyères on the French Riviera, in painstaking and loving detail.
Wharton wrote travel articles, later collected, and stories for Scribner's and The Century magazines, and as early as 1899 her first volume of stories was selling well, tamping down bouts of insecurity and illness. In the next five years she steamed ahead, publishing two novellas, two more story collections, a two-volume novel, a translation and two books on Italy: There's no Melvillean trajectory of failure here. She handled editors, advertising, contracts and illustrations with professional and high-hatted aplomb. The House of Mirth (1905) earned $20,000 off the bat and was a succès d'estime. Ethan Frome (1911), The Reef (1912) and The Custom of the Country (1913)--arguably her best book--all tumbled out, one after the other, followed by the tragic Summer (1917). As a famous author and wealthy woman with an ample inheritance who earned $50,000 within two years of the publication of The Age of Innocence (1920) and netted about $6,000 per story in the early 1920s, Wharton would fret over the relation between art and commerce--"could you be very good, and very popular," Lee rhetorically asks. It was a concern in much of Wharton's work, in early stories like "The Descent of Man" (1904) and late novels such as Hudson River Bracketed (1929) and The Gods Arrive (1932).
This is also a theme in much of the praise she consistently and at times condescendingly received during her lifetime. By the later '20s (vide Flanner) Wharton's reputation was tarnished by writers who considered her as passé as a tufted sofa parked under a gas chandelier. Edmund Wilson rushed to her posthumous rescue, republishing his 1938 essay "Justice to Edith Wharton," written the year of her death, in The Wound and the Bow (1941). Wharton was a social prophet as pessimistic as Hardy or Maupassant, he said, a pioneer as well as a poet of interior decoration--but, of course, inevitably a has-been: In women "something like genius may be stimulated by some exceptional emotional strain, but will disappear when the stimulus has passed."
Wharton's reputation suffered another critical blow in 1947, when her former friend Percy Lubbock published his Portrait of Edith Wharton, making, as Lee mischievously remarks, the aloof and aristocratic writer "sound like the character played by Margaret Dumont in the Marx Brothers films." Yet for all these slings and arrows, Wharton's reputation does not need rehabilitation today. After the 1968 lifting of the embargo on voluminous papers left to Yale University's Beinecke Library, Yale professor R.W.B. Lewis was selected to write Wharton's biography, and his graceful Pulitzer Prize-winning book, published in 1975, revealed that, among other things, Margaret Dumont was really Bette Davis: For almost two years, circa 1908-10, the 46-year-old Wharton had a passionate affair with the charming bisexual roué Morton Fullerton, a handsome Harvard-trained journalist raised in Waltham, Massachusetts, and the model for Henry James's Merton Densher in The Wings of the Dove. In addition, in the appendix to his book Lewis published Wharton's erotic love poem "Terminus," as well as a prose fragment, "Beatrice Palmato," about an incestuous relationship between a father and daughter. Mrs. Wharton was not the cold fish she'd been taken for.
Nor was she a lesser Henry James. As Lee makes amply clear, from the time she began publishing in the 1890s, Wharton was compared to James (he was not compared to her) and resented being considered his disciple, especially since she could not bear to read his late work. As Lee points out, Wharton was more likely to write "against him than to write under him," parodying his titles, rewriting his Aspern Papers as the story "The Touchstone" or Portrait of a Lady as The House of Mirth. Yet their friendship was lasting and deep, if sometimes fraught with asperity. James called The Mount, the mansion she built in Lenox in 1902, a "delicate French château mirrored in a Massachusetts pond" and described the cavalcade of travel arrangements--car, chauffeur, hats, veils, cushions, robes and servants dispatched ahead to ready the hotel rooms--as the "incoherent restlessness of wealth" and "a luxury of bloated alternatives." But it was James who urged Wharton, after the publication of her first novel, an Italian costume drama called The Valley of Decision (1902), to "Do New York" and become the American Balzac. "It was as if, from the first," Lee wryly notes, "he was encouraging her to do what he could not."
These days, though, Wharton has largely been pried loose from James, her well-crafted novels and stories ranked independently and high, their narratives tight and fresh. They bear rereading: Her reach is farther, deeper, than one may have supposed, her dramatic sense tighter, her insight into the foibles and follies of character more unsparing and more merciful. And her books have not been forgotten: Lily Bart and Ethan Frome are American icons, and novels such as The House of Mirth, Summer and The Age of Innocence are continually dramatized, filmed and set to music. Nor is there any dearth of information being uncovered about Wharton's life. In 1977 Cynthia Griffin Wolff published an adroit psychological study of Wharton (A Feast of Words: The Triumph of Edith Wharton) and Richard Howard's brilliant poem "The Lesson of the Master" was read on National Public Radio with Nancy Marchand as Wharton. In 1994 Shari Benstock's well-researched feminist biography as well as Eleanor Dwight's illustrated one both appeared. Marion Mainwaring, formerly R.W.B. Lewis's assistant, recently wrote a book about Morton Fullerton in which she itemizes Lewis's mistakes and appropriations, and Lewis himself, along with his wife, edited a large selection of Wharton letters, which included many to Fullerton. Wharton was also the subject of a C-SPAN program on American writers, and the home she built in Lenox is being restored to its former splendor, complete with tours and celebratory programs.
What, then, can a new biographer hope to accomplish--in almost 900 pages--beyond compiling and elaborating on what has already been amassed? (Such a voluminous compilation, responsibly done, is no small task.) The signal strength of Lee's book lies in its social history and literary criticism, its insights into Wharton's reading of Proust (whose strength, observed Wharton, "is the strength of tradition") and its fine discussions of The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome ("a story of silence and speechlessness") and The Age of Innocence ("all about being watched"). She also brushes the dust of Wharton's fine, grim story "Bunner Sisters" and draws attention to the late, elegiac novel The Children (1928). Delicately relating each of these to Wharton's life--although underscoring that Wharton did not write directly about her own experiences--Lee astutely demonstrates how Wharton transformed her obsessions into stories of loss, regret, entrapment and the woman who pays and pays.
Above all, as Lee demonstrates, Wharton's subject was social change: the parvenu of the Gilded Age upsetting the applecart of old money into which Wharton was born; the horrors of conspicuous consumption (Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class was a Wharton favorite) in a culture that stifles creativity; the unwritten codes of well-bred behavior and the feckless men who hew to them, usually at the expense of women; and the tension between brash American vulgarities (slang, skyscrapers, standardization) and the gratifying polyphony of a well-made sentence.
Not a storyteller in the manner of such countrywomen as Victoria Glendinning and Claire Tomalin, Lee builds Wharton's portrait by means of a series of biographical essays, or chapters, each organized around related topics: childhood memories and Wharton's retrospective elision of them; her travels in Italy; her English coterie of friends; the history of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, where Wharton lived from 1907 to 1920; her indefatigable war work setting up a network of schools, orphanages and hostels for Belgian refugees in France, for which she was named in France a chevalier of the Legion of Honor and sent to Morocco to report on the colonial Resident-General Louis-Hubert Lyautey, whom she knew and whose brand of paternalistic imperialism she admired. Wharton's antimodernism is the subject of a chapter called "Jazz," and a marvelous chapter, "A Private Library," enumerates Wharton's books and marginal annotations--an autobiography in themselves, as Lee nicely observes. This is academic criticism at its best, the sort painfully out of fashion in the academy. And Lee does not deal in labored prose. She calls Ogden Codman's complaints "bitchy"; she dubs the translator Charles Du Bos a "fusspot" and she describes the mother of Wharton's friend Philomène de Lévis-Mirepoix as "a hoot." One can feel Mrs. Wharton shudder.
But the pitfall of Lee's biographical method is a degree of extraneous, if often entertaining, detail (the family tree of Wharton's friend Lady Wemyss, the people she did not meet at Paul Éluard's home, which she did not visit, or the fact that one could not hang out one's wash in the Faubourg in the 1950s). Still more problematic is her assumption that the reader is a Wharton aficionado already apprised of the importance of various characters (Morton Fullerton, say) before their relevance is fully established. And her method requires a certain repetition of characters, incidents, "impeccable pedigrees" and subject matter--a somewhat inevitable drawback when some of the same anecdotes kaleidoscopically reappear in various chapters, albeit from a slightly different point of view.
Ultimately, though, there is the matter of Wharton's character, which Lee treats evenhandedly. Addressing, for instance, the matter of Wharton's insufferable anti-Semitism in the last third of her book, Lee twice recounts Wharton's deathbed pronouncement that she "hated the Jews" and comments unpersuasively that Wharton's attitudes "were commonplace among upper-class Anglo-Americans, and the French, in pre-Holocaust times." Respectful of Wharton's prejudices but far more candid than her "gallantly protective male biographers," Lee calls Lewis's omission of rancid anti-Semitism from the selected Letters a "polite misrepresentation" and then adds, with far more principle than earlier, that one must take Wharton's views seriously. As a result, Lee's Wharton is fastidious, high-handed, imperious in her treatment of servants and, occasionally, her friends; she is snobbish, arrogant, lonely and driven, and her amazing work during the war had "a touch of Lady Bountiful" about it. Her politics leaned to the right; she disliked socialists and lesbians; she was something of a warmonger; and according to writer Sybille Bedford (whom Lee calls unfair), she did not like women, or at least young women, writers. Lee gives us all of it, as if pre-empting any criticism of Wharton by anticipating it.
(read the rest by clicking on the link to The Nation)
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Saturday, September 1, 2007 through Saturday, November 3, 2007 - "The
Age of Innocence" on display Stop by the BORDERS @ Wayne Town Center and check out the display showcasing "The Age of Innocence" as well as other Edith Wharton offerings. If you returned your library book already, and now want a copy of your own, take advantage of the discount BORDERS is sharing with our BIG READ community on this Pulitzer Prize winning work.
Saturday, September 15, 2007 - EARLY A.M. BOOK GROUP - @ 8 a.m.
Remember to enter through the children's room - and join us for a
discussion of our BIG READ choice: Edith Wharton's The Age of
Innocence. The fall of 2007 marks the beginning of this group's fourth
year of reading and discussing - and we are still going strong. Please join us!
Wednesday, September 19, 2007 - WEDNESDAY MORNING BOOK CLUB - @ 10:00 a.m.
Have you read The Age of Innocence but aren't a member of a book group?
Would you like to be part of a facilitated discussion? If so, please
join us for coffee and croissants and an extremely rewarding morning.
Free and open to the public.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007 - ALYSIA REINER & DAVID ALAN BASCHE PRESENT:
THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. Professional actors, Alysia Reiner and David Alan
Basche, will be sharing their dramatic reading of portions of The Age
of Innocence with James Caldwell High School and Mount Saint Dominic
Academy students reading this Wharton Pulitzer Prize winning novel as
part of Caldwell Public Library's BIG READ! (Check out:
www.alysiareiner.com and www.davidalanbasche.com).
Tuesday, September 25, 2007 - TUESDAY AFTERNOON BOOK CLUB - @ 2:00 p.m.
Have you thought of joining a book club, but just can't decide? Have
you read Wharton's Pulitzer Prize winning classic, and wish to discuss
it prior to touting it to your own book club? Do you simply love Edith
Wharton and wonder what is going on with this BIG READ? Join us at the
Caldwell Public Library for a cup of tea and a facilitated book
discussion of The Age of Innocence.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - TUESDAY EVENING BOOK CLUB - @ 7:30 p.m. Is
your class or book group reading The Age of Innocence but you want some
other perspectives on the classic? Are you in search of a book group,
since your life just doesn't accommodate joining one at the moment?
Please be part of our BIG READ this evening at the Caldwell Public
Library for what promises to be a lively facilitated book discussion. Free and open to the public.
Friday, October 5, 2007 - JENNINGS LIBRARY BOOK DISCUSSION GROUP - @
12:00 noon. Meet at the Jennings Library on the campus of Caldwell
College where the Jennings Library Book Discussion Group, in
conjunction with the Caldwell Public Library's BIG READ program, will
read and discuss Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence.
Sunday, October 7, 2007 - Caldwell Public Library and the BIG READ will
be a part of The Rotary-Kiwanis Caldwell 17th annual Street Fair from
The Street Fair is a perfect venue for sharing information about our
community's participation in the BIG READ! Bloomfield Avenue is closed
to traffic as craft and new merchandise vendors line the roadway, in
addition to vendors selling food and drinks. The Caldwell Public
Library's banner-draped table at the Fair, provided by their BIG READ
partner, the Kiwanis Club of Caldwell-West Essex, will provide BIG READ
reader's guides and flyers listing all activities, as well as sell
copies of Edith Wharton's
book: The Age of Innocence.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007 - BORDERS hosts a BIG READ discussion of The
Age of Innocence - @ 7:00 p.m. Come to the BORDERS in the Wayne Town
Center for a facilitated discussion of Wharton's Pulitzer Prize winning
novel, meet some special guests, and buy a copy of The Age of Innocence
if you don't yet have one.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007 - Join us to discuss The Age of Innocence
at the West Caldwell Public Library @ 2:00 p.m. A facilitated book
discussion of Edith Wharton's Pulitzer Prize winning novel will take
place in the West Caldwell Public Library's meeting room.
Friday, October 12, 2007 - Join us at 7:30 p.m. when the Caldwell
Public Library celebrates its 90th birthday in a BIG READ way! The
Library celebrates its 90th birthday with a re-dedication by Mayor
Susan Gartland as well as a dedication of the "Gene and Kathryn Collerd
Local History Resource Room." A community reception will follow the
unveiling of an exhibit derived from the late Gene Collerd's
photographic works, followed at 9:00 p.m. by a "public read" of The Age
of Innocence by 34 readers - each reading one chapter of the Pulitzer
Prize winning Wharton novel. Our "public read" will be recorded to
share with our BIG READ partner - the Museo de Arte de Ponce, in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
Saturday, October 13, 2007 - Continue celebrating our 90th in a BIG
READ way, and return at 9:00 a.m. for the continuation of our "public
read;" we will pick up wherever we left off at midnight last night. The "public read"
of The Age of Innocence will continue, with a different reader for each
chapter of the Pulitzer Prize winning Wharton novel. Our "public read"
will be recorded to share with our BIG READ partner - the Museo de Arte
de Ponce, in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007 - Join us to discuss The Age of Innocence at
the West Caldwell Public Library @ 7:00 p.m. A facilitated book
discussion of Edith Wharton's Pulitzer Prize winning novel will take
place in the West Caldwell Public Library's meeting room.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007 - BIG READ Keynote Presentation by Dr. Carol J.
Singley @ 7:00 p.m. - Caldwell College - Alumni Theatre. Keynote
presentation about "The Age of Innocence" to be presented by Edith
Wharton scholar, Dr. Carol J. Singley, Associate Professor of English,
Rutgers University-Camden. A question and answer period as well as a
book signing will follow. Caldwell College's Alumni Theatre will be the
setting for this captivating program, which will be recorded for the
benefit of our BIG READ Wharton partner - the Museo de Arte de Ponce, in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Dr.
Singley has written extensively on Edith Wharton, and is a long-time
member, and past President, of the Edith Wharton Society. (While this
program is free and open to the public, it is suggested you arrive
early as we anticipate a SRO crowd!)
Saturday, October 20, 2007 - AMERICAN GIRLS' TEA PARTY @ 12:30 p.m. -
American Girl "Samantha Parkington" was growing up during "The Age of
Innocence" time period. What better way to celebrate the book or Edith
Wharton than with a tea party. Girls - feel free to bring your dolls to
tea as well! Free and open to the public, but, we suggest you let us
know you are coming by Wednesday, October 17th (email@example.com)
so we have enough tea cups.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007 - Another "not to be missed" BIG READ event
will take place at 12:30 p.m. when Edith Wharton scholar and author,
Dr. Eleanor Dwight, will present: "At Home and in the Garden with Edith
Wharton," at the Caldwell-West Caldwell Women's Club. Former Professor
at the Bard Graduate Center and the New School for Social Research,
Dwight is the author of Edith
Wharton: An Extraordinary Life. She will present an illustrated talk on
Wharton's life and the experiences that shaped her life and writing, as
well as introduce the audience to Wharton's non-fiction writing on
garden and home design - "Italian Villas and Their Gardens" (1904) and
"The Decoration of Houses" (1897).
Tuesday, October 30, 2007 - MISCHIEF NIGHT meets the BIG READ @ 7:00 p.m.
Children of all ages are invited to celebrate "Mischief Night" at the
Caldwell Public Library by joining us for some dramatic readings from
"The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton." Not for the feint hearted!
Thursday, November 1, 2007 - The third and final Wharton scholar
presenting to our community thanks to our BIG READ grant will be Dr.
Linda Costanzo Cahir. Join us in the James Caldwell High School auditorium at 7:00 p.m.
Come for a presentation of clips from the 1993 Martin Scorcese's film
version of "The Age of Innocence" with an introduction and commentary
provided by Dr. Costanzo Cahir, an Assistant Professor of
English/Education at Kean University. Cahir, who is also a contributing
editor to Literature/Film Quarterly, a co-editor of The Edith Wharton
Review and the author of Literature Into Film: Theory and Practical
Approaches will address the complicated task of turning this vivid
novel of the 19th century into a modern film.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Vega, who sings of sights large ("New York Is a Woman") and small ("Edith Wharton's Figurines"), closes the album with "Anniversary," a hope-embracing remembrance of 9/11: "Make the time for all your possibilities/ They live on every street."
Friday, July 13, 2007
Tucked inside the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site in Hyde Park, Bellefield is overshadowed by its sprawling neighbor, which includes Springwood, the Roosevelts’ home, and a museum and library. That’s a shame. Bellefield, which dates to the 18th century and is now the onsite headquarters of the National Park Service, is modest, but its garden is a charmer. It was designed in 1912 by Beatrix Farrand, a renowned landscape architect at the height of her career. She not only created gardens for the Rockefellers, the Morgans and Edith Wilson at the White House, but also pioneered the concept of “garden rooms” with their own feel. And she was Edith Wharton’s niece.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
If medical people are deprived of the right to drive, how will they serve the good folks of Yoknapatawpha County or get to the hospital late at night in an emergency? The DHS will employ and train a new corps of drivers to transport medical personnel and to watch them for furtive behavior such as whispering or making odd hand gestures.
These driver/watchers will be English majors. It is a known fact that nobody who wrote a term paper about the novels of Edith Wharton has ever committed an act of terrorism. Anyone who can write 3,000 words deconstructing "The House of Mirth" and find the subtexts and overtones of Sylvia Plath, the Beach Boys' "Fun, Fun, Fun," the journals of Meriwether Lewis, and MySpace has done enough violence and lost his appetite for terror.
At the moment, a half-million English majors are employed in the service and hospitality industry but they are ready to answer their country's call and assume responsible positions in the field of healthcare security. Trust us. We will watch the doctors and make sure they do not hurt you.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
On June 14, 2007 The New York Review of Books published my "Letter to the
Editor" pertaining to the information I uncovered regarding H. C. Bunner's
influence on Edith Wharton's early works. Edmund White conceding some of my facts and refuting others made a reply. When I addressed his comments in a2nd "Letter to the Editor" it was declined because of space in the column and other more pressing issues. [The letter appears below.]
BUNNER & THE SISTERS
By Linda Selman <http://www.nybooks.com/authors/13294> , Reply by Edmund White
In response to The House of Edith
To the Editors:
I read with interest Edmund White's review of Hermione Lee's biography Edith Wharton [NYR, April 26]. One mystery that has not been solved by Ms. Lee or any other scholar is, who influenced Wharton's early artistic development? Why did Edith Wharton, descendant of New York's "Four Hundred," choose for her subject matter the lives of the struggling lower classes to portray American moral values?
As I was adapting Wharton's novella Bunner Sisters (written in 1891, published in 1916) for the stage, I uncovered that missing link. I assumed, as well as everyone else, that Wharton made up the name Bunner. It turns out we were mistaken. The influence on the still young, unformed Wharton was H.C. Bunner, author, poet, playwright, and editor in chief of Puck Magazine, America's first successful political comic weekly. He was the "literary light" of her era.
As a writer and member of the Authors Club, H.C. Bunner (1855–1896) was the first to bring to the forefront the radical concept of New York City as a creative resource, spelled out in his 1883 essay "New York as a Field for Fiction" in Century Magazine. He even laid out the format on how to write it. Bunner asked his fellow writers, "May we find a field for character-study in New York as Thackeray found in London and Augier in Paris? Must we not import our character, like our fashions, and our dressing-cases, and our wine?"
The quintessential New York writer, Bunner had already accepted the challenge he put forth to others by establishing this unique literary genre, "The New York Story," in serial format each week in Puck and later in Scribner's. During his lifetime, the public clamored for a Bunner sensibility, a Bunner style, and a Bunner point of view. His stories focused on the drama and hopes of the immigrant, the poor, and the new middle class as they attempted to carve out meaningful lives in the tenement houses of the city and its environs. Bunner recognized the importance and worth of this community. He used his magazine as a forum to integrate these individuals into the fabric of American life.
Edith Wharton's novella Bunner Sisters is a testimony to him and his form. The story's title, writing style, and genre reflect the actual lives of H.C. Bunner and his brother Rudolph. As Wharton herself wrote later in life, "I had yet no real personality of my own [in the early 1890s], and was not to acquire one till my first volume of short stories [The Great Inclination] was published—and that was not until 1899."
Among Bunner's devoted and admiring friends were literary giants Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, and W.D. Howells. He received an honorary degree of Master of Arts from Yale University (1895) and every year Columbia University awards a student the H.C. Bunner Gold Medal for the best essay written about American literature. Bunner's brief life—died of tuberculosis at the age of forty-one—ought to be regarded as a tragic and untimely loss to American letters.
New York City
Edmund White replies:
Edith Wharton may have been referring to H.C. Bunner in her choice of a title, Bunner Sisters, but it seems unlikely that his was the decisive influence on Mrs. Manstey's View or Ethan Frome. In her early work she consistently revealed her strong ethical sense of the cost of riches and the underside of conspicuous consumption—and her sensitivity to these questions is a prominent (if underrated) aspect of that work.
June 4, 2007
TO: Letters to the Editor
RE: Linda Selman’s Response to Edmund White’s June 14 Response
BUNNER & THE SISTERS
In his letter [NYR, June 14], Edmund White concedes “Edith Wharton may have been referring to H. C. Bunner in her choice of a title, Bunner Sisters.” Let me remind Mr. White that it is no small gesture for a fiction writer to honor openly another by incorporating his or her name into the title of the story.
Young painters pay homage as a matter of course by reproducing the style, form and techniques of an admired master’s genre as their own. The desire to emulate that genre is incorporated into the fledgling artists’ early works before their unique form of expression is discovered. As a young writer of prose, H. C. Bunner followed that approach with de Maupassant, as did Edith Wharton with H. C. Bunner.
Wharton closely practiced and incorporated the essence of Bunner’s new genre, The New York Story. In an inspired Open Letter, “New York as a Field for Fiction,” Century Magazine, 1883, he set forth a challenge to the literary community of America:
Suddenly, within the span of a man’s life, it [New York City] has become the sole receiving port of a marvelously great immigration, the commercial and financial center of the nation, and one of the largest and richest cities of the world. This, it seems to me, is a promising place to look for social phenomena, if only in the clash of the old and the new, and the general struggle to fix standards of society.
Go out among the living folk to study character and color – the vital essence that is all the difference between the conventional figure and the creation of character… Go to any street and pick out the family mansion that was once the pride of the block. Go home with… clerks and other plain folk at the shop and in the boarding-house…. and fancy for ourselves how he looks and talks, and what he thinks…. You cannot tell all about people from their occupations….
The field is clear…. The novelist of New York will find no competition…. Mr. James devotes himself to settling international complications of taste and affection…but his “Washington Square” might as well have been the smokiest of sparrow-haunted London parks as that fair old spot that was once the Potters Field.
For if the mere journalist whose range of vision is bounded by his office wall may see this much, how much more is to be found by the man who has served his apprenticeship to fiction, who has the eye to study and the hand to write! I cast my hint upon the waters. I hope somebody will fish it out in whose care it will thrive.
Edmund White states, “…it seems unlikely that his [H. C. Bunner] was the decisive influence on Mrs. Manstey's View or Ethan Frome.” I disagree. Wharton’s first published works were poems inspired by and linked to the myths, art and poetry of the classics. However by 1890, she was focusing on the shifting lives of immigrants, the poor, and the lower middle classes residing in and around New York City. This was the world H. C. Bunner had exposed and for which he had gained prominence and worldly success in the years before Wharton’s early fiction was to be recognized. In fact, it was Bunner’s editor at Scribner’s, Edward L. Burlingame, whose job it was to cultivate new American literature, who discovered her.
In Edith Wharton, Hermione Lee describes Wharton’s first short story, “Mrs. Manstey’s View” (1891) as a work of “sad urban confinement and poverty…. the beginnings of the tearing-down and the building-up of old New York.” “Bunner Sisters” (1891) her second work, Lee writes, “is the most poignant and cruel of these early stories of America’s underclass… a… subdued, realistic masterpiece of thwarted lives….” “Ethan Frome” (1911) Ms. Lee concludes, “comes as a great shock, and not just because of the violent switch from her usual upper-class, sophisticated, international territory to the remote hills and poor farmers’ lives of nineteenth-century New England. But Wharton has been interested in American deprivation for a long time – as in “Bunner Sisters.” Although Lee acknowledges the themes of the stories as evolving from the under-classes of American society, she did not uncover the influence as being that of H. C. Bunner. His name until now has never been connected with Wharton.
Edmund White also refuses to credit H. C. Bunner for Wharton’s “strong ethical sense of the cost of riches and the underside of conspicuous consumption.” Where does he imagine Wharton’s inspiration came from? Certainly not from her milieu but rather from Bunner’s championing of the under-classes in his short stories and in the pages of Puck.
In “Mrs. Manstey’s View” the protagonist, Mrs. Manstey, an infirm elderly widow, looks down from her third floor boarding-house room window onto the back yard of her city block – “a street where the ash-barrels lingered late on the sidewalk and the gaps in the pavement would have staggered… [But] in the very next enclosure did not a magnolia open its hard white flowers against the watery blue of April?” It was just as Bunner was repudiated to have done from his office windows at the Puck Building. “The windows,” states Henry Gallop Paine, Puck’s managing editor, “looked out over Mulberry Street, and Bunner was as interested in the tenants of the four-story brick tenements opposite and in their doings as if they were old friends. If nothing interesting was happening on Mulberry Street, he would go and look out the back windows on Jersey Street. And what he saw there will soon be found in his volume entitled Jersey Street and Jersey Lane.” At the end of Wharton’s story, Mrs. Manstey dies on the same day the work on the extension of the building opposite her, which would have blocked her view forever, “resumes.” The ending is a mirror image of Bunner’s “The Story of a New York House.” At its conclusion, the protagonist, Mr. Dolph, an infirm elderly widower, dies on the same day the house he built years before is being broken down “brick by brick.”
Wharton’s novella “Bunner Sisters,” is the story of two poor, working-class sisters, whose shop and living quarters can be found in the basement of a Stuyvesant Square tenement. The story’s title, writing style, and genre reflect the actual lives of the Bunner brothers: Rudolph Francis and Henry Cuyler. Wharton honors Stuyvesant Square, the same locale H. C. and the Authors Club (in which he was a member) resided. She honors the bucolic environs of New Jersey, where both the Bunner sisters and the Bunner brothers sojourned when they were in need of “a breath of real country air.” H. C. Bunner helped establish an “American Bloomsbury” in Nutley, New Jersey. Evelina, the younger sister of the Bunner sisters, writes a letter extolling the spiritual union of marriage as had H. C. Bunner in his extraordinary short story, “A Letter and a Paragraph.” Like Ann Eliza, the elder sister in “Bunner Sisters,” Rudolph, the elder brother of the Bunner brothers, sacrifices a good portion of his life for the success of his sibling. Both became the caretaker of an ailing and dying loved one – in Rudolph’s case his mother and in Ann Eliza’s her sister Evelina. Each experienced at an early age the death of a sibling to tuberculosis. For them, as well as for Edith Wharton, existence becomes a quest to capture a unique and authentic self within life’s limitations. As Wharton writes, “The city [New York] under fair spring sky seems to throb with the stirring of innumerable beginnings.”
“Bunner Sisters” was not published until 1916; long after Henry Cuyler Bunner was dead, Edward L. Burlingame had retired from Scribner’s and Edith Wharton had found fame.
H. C. Bunner’s challenge to American writers did not go unheeded. Edith Wharton successfully created the beginnings of her own unique genre by consistently incorporating into her fiction Bunner’s seminal writing style and point of view.
Monday, July 02, 2007
AWARDED BIG READ GRANT FROM NATIONAL ENDOWMENT
FOR THE ARTS, LEADS FIGHT TO REVERSE DOWNWARD
Library Launches Extensive Town-Wide Reading Initiative with Edith
Wharton’s Classic “The Age of Innocence”
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) todayannounced that among 117 national grant recipients, the Caldwell Public Library is the only
Launched nationally in 2006, the NEA presents THE BIG READ in partnership with the
Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest to encourage literary reading by asking communities to come together to read and discuss a single book. Organizations selected to participate in THE BIG READ receive grantsranging from $5,000 to $20,000 to promote and carry out community-based programs. Modeled on successful “one book, one community” programs, THE BIG READ was created to address the national decline in literary reading as documented in the NEA’s 2004 landmark survey Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America. The survey showed that less than half the American adult population reads books as a leisure time activity.
“We are thrilled to be awarded this grant and given the opportunity to participate in the 2007 BIG READ program,” said Library Director, Karen Kleppe-Lembo. “We embrace programs that foster a love of reading across all facets of our community, and THE BIG READ enables us to begin reversing the proven decline in literary reading, while targeting a wide spectrum of readers and potential readers in our community, including high school students, college students, book clubs and more.”
To encourage community-wide participation in THE BIG READ, the Caldwell Public Library has partnered with
The Library selected The Age of Innocence from a list of twelve literary classics chosen by an esteemed panel of writers, poets, and critics convened by the NEA and the
THE BIG READ is designed to restore reading to the center of American culture, bringing together partners across the country to encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment. “By joining the Big Read, these cities and towns are showing how important reading is to the cultural, civic, even economic fabric of its community. They understand the benefit of having people from different generations and walks of life reading and discussing a great book,” said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. “Yes, this is about reading, but it’s also about getting people to leave their homes and offices, unplug themselves for a few hours, and enjoy the pleasures of literature with their neighbors.”
“We are pleased to announce this second round of Big Read grants. The first-round grantees created innovative and exciting partnership activities that exceeded our expectations,” said IMLS Director Anne-Imelda Radice, Ph.D. “We’re eager to support these additional communities in launching their collaborative efforts. Through the Big Read, IMLS and NEA are assisting people all across the country as they come together in community to rediscover the great American novel.”
The NEA also provides participating communities with a library of free materials, including Reader’s and Teacher’s Guides for each of THE BIG READ novels, an Audio Guide for each novel featuring distinguished actors and writers, an online organizer’s guide for hosting a BIG READ program, BIG READ publicity materials, and a comprehensive program website. The audio guide for The Age of Innocence features screen actor Alfred Molina.
To participate in the Caldwell Public Library’s BIG READ programs or for more information on local activities and events related to THE BIG READ, please contact Karen Kleppe-Lembo at 973-226-2837 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For a complete list of communities participating in THE BIG READ, a list of THE BIG READ novels, program application guidelines, or more information on the program, please visit www.neabigread.org.
The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts— both new and established—bringing the arts to all Americans, and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Endowment is the nation’s largest annual funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases. For more information, please visit www.arts.gov.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. To learn more about the Institute, please visit: www.imls.gov.
Arts Midwest connects people throughout the
Thursday, June 21, 2007
I thought it a good idea to draw your attention to three letters sent by Wharton to John [Hughes Smith] that are up for auction on Thursday 21st June. The catalogue and relevant information is available from the auction room website and the hyperlinks below.
If you would like further information please contact me at this email address or at the phone number below.
Chris Albury <email@example.com>
Auctioneer & Valuer
(Autographs, Documents, Photographs, Ephemera)
Dominic Winter Book Auctions
Mallard House, Broadway Lane, South Cerney, Nr Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 5UQ
Children's & Illustrated Books
Modern First Editons, Private Press & Original Artwork
Thursday 21 June commencing at 11am
Viewing Tuesday 19 & Wednesday 20 June 10am-7pm and morning of sale
HYPERLINK "http://www.dominicwinter.co.uk/catcal/S214/index.html"View Catalogue : HYPERLINK "http://www.dominicwinter.co.uk/illustrations/ill214.html"Images
Wharton (Edith, 1862-1937). Autograph letter signed 'E. Wharton', 53 rue de Varenne, [Paris], 31st December 1910, To John, wishing him best wishes for the New Year, and the Newcastle, if he goes, 'When you wrote me that you were sending a book of Ballads which was "improper reading", my spirits rose, & I fell upon it with avidity. But on perusing L's preface I learned to my dismay that he had personally seen to it that not a line or syllable of the original subsided "which boy & maid may not read". As I fall under neither of these categories, I felt that he need not have taken so [?] trouble in my behalf; but when (at his request) I turned to the "bracketed" lines in Glasgerion & Young Hunting, & saw that "He kissed her in the red fire-light" had been substituted for language of which I dare not even think (judging from the context), I realised how thoughtful you had been in selecting for me this expurgated edition of the songs of our rude ancestors. I trouble to think what I have escaped, when such indelicate allusions are still left & though I shall always value your kindness in sending me the book, I trust you will not expect me to leave on the drawing-room table a work in which such distressing instances of female weakness are celebrated with all the fallacious charms of art. It would certainly do you no good at Newcastle if it were known that you were in the habit of sending to ladies poems in which kissing in the red fire-light is regarded as a comparatively innocent pursuit!', then asking for a letter with news and concluding if there is any chance of his going down to Rome en-route for Newcastle, 4 pp., 8vo
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Wharton (Edith, 1862-1937). Autograph letter initialled, 53 rue de Varenne, [Paris], 20th November, no year, To John, thanking him for Max, 'It's the most precious thing I've seen for a long time. I sent you Michelangelo & again racked my tired and muddled head for the name of the other book. Do put it on a postcard I'm as ashamed of being so ineffectual as if I did it on purpose!' noting that Teddy is still in London and has written to Miss Bahlumann (?) & my maid that he never intended to return, 'as I have put him in too "humiliating a position"!!', then declaring that she may find herself 'bolting over to London & making the irrevocable and un-Nietzschean gesture', with a postscript saying that he must come over and see the incomparable Habit Vert and that she thinks A. C. Benson is almost the best of Max, 'the feud is wonderful', final blank a little soiled, 3 pp., 8vo
Wharton (Edith, 1862-1937). Autograph letter initialled, 53 rue de Varenne, [Paris], 5th February 1914, To John, apologising for not writing sooner since her return from America, but that she has been exhausted and though the trip was interesting and rewarding she was left in a state of 'exhaustion & dactylophobia from which I am just recovering', thanking him for his last two letters, telling that she did know of "The Custom" which she knows 'immensely better than the H of M, but most people won't see it because anglo saxons hate irony and can't get on without "heart-interest", suggesting that if he is inclined, he should take a motor trip with her through Algeria and Tunisia and that there is no one more than him that she would rather have as a compagnon de voyage and hoping that she can get Percy too, suggesting that they should not start later than the 10th March as it gets rather hot on the edge of the desert, 4 pp., 8vo
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Edith Wharton By Hermione Lee 869 pages, Alfred A. Knopf; £25, Chatto and Windus.
In her short story "The Fullness of Life," Edith Wharton wrote that a woman's life is like "a great house full of rooms," most of which remain unseen: "and in the innermost room, the holy of holies, the soul sits alone and waits for a footstep that never comes." In spite of the many books written about Wharton and her work - including R. W. B. Lewis's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1975 biography - it is Hermione Lee's determination to provide an unprecedented tour of all the rooms in Edith Wharton's mansion. The text is unquestionably authoritative, impressively - indeed, almost alarmingly - exhaustive (it includes lists of Wharton's neighbors, of fellow hotel guests, of the ads surrounding her published stories, of the wines in her cellars); and it seeks, with meticulous care, to approach the soul in her innermost sanctum.
This is a daunting undertaking: Edith Wharton was formidable, multifaceted, guarded and phenomenally busy. Between 1897 and 1937, the year of her death, she published at least one book a year. Altogether she wrote 48. Her posthumous reputation has suffered somewhat in comparison with that of her friend Henry James (as Lee points out, "to this day it is still rare for a book or an essay or a talk on Wharton not to mention James," though "this has not worked the other way"), but Wharton is a literary master - or mistress - in her own right. While only a handful of her books are still widely read, her finest fictions - including "The House of Mirth," "The Custom of the Country," "Ethan Frome" and "The Age of Innocence" - remain as affecting and engrossing today as when they first appeared (when many of them were best sellers), unsentimental illuminations of America in a time of social transition and rich explorations of the unspoken human heart. Moreover, as Lee's biography makes clear, Wharton was also significant as a designer, decorator, gardener, traveler and philanthropist, making her prolific literary production but a part of her life's work.
Edith Newbold Jones was born in New York City on Jan. 24, 1862, into considerable prosperity: "If the Joneses were not Astors or Vanderbilts," writes Lee, "they gave off a pretty well-upholstered air." Raised partly in Europe, like Henry James, she had two older brothers and a difficult mother. Her father, of whom she was immensely fond, died when Wharton was only 20. In her late teens she wrote a novel and published poems (including in The Atlantic Monthly), but she would not fulfill her literary promise until her middle years. At the age of 23, she married Teddy Wharton, an apparently solid if conventional man 12 years her senior, and embarked upon the life expected of a young woman of her station, settling near her mother in fashionable Newport, Rhode Island. While superficially comfortable, it was a time of constraint and depression. A move to Lenox, Massachusetts, in the Berkshires, entailed the design and construction of Wharton's famous house there, the Mount, which is now open to visitors, and to which a substantial portion of her library has recently been returned.
Following on the heels of her influential first book, "The Decoration of Houses" (1897), which she wrote with a friend, the architect Ogden Codman, the move coincided more or less with the publication of her first novel, "The Valley of Decision" (1902), and with her nonfiction book "Italian Villas and Their Gardens" (1904).
At about the age of 40, Edith Wharton at last came to life - at least professionally. The novel that made her name, "The House of Mirth," published in 1905, is the searing account of the struggles and spiraling descent of Lily Bart, a young woman whose youth is slipping away, and with it her prospects. As Lee observes, "she is always losing her opportunities, because she cannot quite turn herself into a commodity." Lily's failures reflect the importance of money, and self-marketing, for women in late-19th-century American society, and Wharton's assessment is brutal. The book was scandalous, and popular: it sold 30,000 copies in the first three weeks after its publication, and 140,000 in its first year.
In the wake of this success, Wharton became, in every sense, a grande dame, who could no longer complain that she was a failure in Boston because she was "too fashionable to be intelligent" and in New York because she was "too intelligent to be fashionable." In spite of this literary blossoming, and although she was bolstered by close male friends like Henry James and the aristocratic international lawyer Walter Berry (to whom she was so close, for so many years, that many wrongly assumed they were lovers), Wharton struggled with the isolation of an unsatisfying marriage, and with Teddy's increasingly erratic behavior. In 1906, the Whartons settled in Paris; and soon thereafter, through Henry James, she met the louche American journalist Morton Fullerton, with whom she had her life's one truly passionate love affair. Dashing and attractive, he was not a reliable choice: "When Morton Fullerton met Edith Wharton in 1907, he had a potentially scandalous homosexual past, a French wife whom he had divorced with startling rapidity, a blackmailing mistress in whose house he was still living (for convenience, not as a lover), and a frustrated career" - and that was just for starters. R. W. B. Lewis first revealed the details of this affair, but Lee provides a fuller picture of their intimacy, and of Wharton's moving vulnerability in the relationship. [more at the link above]
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Lee, a Brit who previously wrote 900 pages about Virginia Woolf, is a traditional biographer who seldom rises above the mountain of minutiae culled from letters, diaries and library collections.http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07112/779443-148.stm
She leaves the psychoanalysis to others, preferring to investigate her subject's pets, furs, paintings, friendships and incessant trips to Italy.
There are serious attempts to interpret Wharton's writings, but in Lee's approach, the works come across as just another activity like designing a garden. I never got the sense of what Wharton's writing process was amid the clutter of her overstuffed rooms.
As for her subject's views on society, including Jews and blacks, Lee confines her comments to a few pages among the 762, preferring to prepare a kind of Sotheby's catalog instead of Wharton's possessions. She also assumes that her readers know French, an assumption that can further slow the nearly funereal pace.Sadly, after reading Hermione Lee's treatment of Edith Wharton, I will need some time before the memory of her dullness passes and I can read the novelist with anticipation again.
The Real Edith Wharton
April 22, 2007
The real Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was, to be sure, born in New York City into a well-to-do family that knew its way around the haunts of the hoi polloi. (This despite its common, arguably ignoble surname: She began life as Edith Newbold Jones.)
In Hermione Lee's rich new biography, which makes exhaustive use of "hitherto untapped sources" (mainly, its subject's lesser known nonfiction writings), we are made constantly aware of the tensions between social convention and obligation, and of a penetrating intellect's compulsion to excavate the sources and consequences of social and (quite frequently) sexual irregularity and transgression.
As she did in her masterly analytical biography of Virginia Woolf, Ms. Lee "reads" her subject's oeuvre and life as products of a brilliant woman's disciplined determination to move beyond the limitations of her upbringing and class and excel in the man's world of literary achievement. The resulting portrait of an artist certainly complements, and probably surpasses, R.W.B. Lewis' much admired and honored Wharton biography of more than 30 years ago.
Ms. Lee begins her study on a note that would be struck again and again throughout Wharton's lifetime: A trip to Paris made by Wharton's parents in 1848 (when a later French revolution was underway) is juxtaposed with Wharton's own experience of France in 1914, when she would not be content to stand and watch a civilization she adored succumb under foreign attack.
It was the pattern of Edith's life: foreign travel, residence abroad and an eventual drawing away from what she would perceive as the commercialization and cultural devaluation of her native country.
Ms. Lee offers a plaintive picture of the young Edith, indulged and encouraged in her pursuit of learning and "childhood passion for the sound of words," even as she was being groomed for entry into a society for which her parents only barely qualified. Her well meaning father's suspect earning capacity was further compromised by her imperious and foolish mother's lavish spending sprees.
It was thus all but inevitable that Edith would be married off to the ostensibly proper Bostonian Edward "Teddy" Wharton, a wan underachiever and a probable homosexual who failed to satisfy any of his ardent young spouse's needs. (Long-available evidence strongly suggests that the marriage remained unconsummated for some time, and its inevitable end was divorce.)
She was fortunate enough to have several outlets for her energies. The Atlantic Monthly had published poems written when she was a teenager (poetry was not her forte, as she quickly realized). An early product of her lifelong interest in interior design and landscape architecture and gardening was her first book, "The Decoration of Houses," written in collaboration with her friend Ogden Codman. It was generously praised as an authoritative work on its subject.
And there was travel -- to her beloved France (whence her family repeatedly returned, and where Wharton would spend her later years alone) and to Italy (which comprised "a theatre for Wharton, in which she saw acted out the survival of the ancient and the classical").
The organization of Ms. Lee's book, as thematic as it is chronological, allows the biographer to treat major themes in depth, showing their relevance to the entire span of her life and work.
Her chapter on "Italian Backgrounds," perhaps Ms. Lee's finest, thus considers both the romance and the realism Wharton gleaned from her Italian experiences (e.g., in her perception of how "the sense of ordinary lives" permeates Italian fiction, drama and even grand opera) and its specific relevance to the development of her fiction -- in Wharton's arduously researched first novel, the historical romance "The Valley of Decision." [more at the link above]
Thursday, April 12, 2007
The life of Edith Wharton is not an inspiriting rags-to-riches saga, nor is it a cautionary tale of riches to rags—riches to riches, rather. Born Edith Newbold Jones, in January of 1862, into one of the leading families of New York—the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” is said to have originated with reference to her great-aunts Mary and Rebecca Jones, who shocked the rest of their staid society by building a mansion north of Fifty-seventh Street, unthinkably uptown in the nineteenth century—the author maintained multiple establishments and travelled in the highest style, with a host of servants, augmenting her several inheritances by writing best-selling fiction. In the Depression year of 1936, when two thousand dollars was a good annual income, her writing earned her a hundred and thirty thousand, much of it from plays adapted from her works. Yet her well-padded, auspiciously sponsored life was not an easy one. The aristocratic social set into which she was born expected its women to be ornamental, well-sheltered, intellectually idle agents of their interwoven clans, whereas Edith was an awkward, red-haired bookworm and dreamer, teased by her two older brothers about her big hands and feet and out of sympathy with her intensely conventional mother, née Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander—a mother-daughter disharmony that rankled in Edith’s fiction to the end. She felt like a changeling, writing, in a last, unfinished effort of autobiography, “Life and I,” that her parents “were beginning to regard me with fear, like some pale predestined child who disappears at night to dance with ‘the little people.’ ”
In truth, some of her imaginative activity was alarming, as she describes it; from the age of four or five she would march up and down the house with a book in hand, pretending to read aloud words that she concocted in an “ ‘ecstasy’ of invention.” In “Life and I,” she writes of “the rapture of finding myself again in my own rich world of dreams” and of “the ecstasy which transported my little body.” Her mother disapproved and attempted to distract her with suitable playmates; her father’s library was the site of her reading pleasure, as she lay stretched out on the rug. George Frederic Jones had graduated from Columbia College, sat on charitable boards, and had inherited enough money to keep up (just barely) with his wife’s expenditures. Thrift and a dip in the family fortune prompted him to move the family to Italy and France, with their dollar-friendly economies, between 1866 and 1872; Edith returned, at the age of ten, knowing French, Italian, and German, and with a lifelong love of Europe.
In 1881, the family went again to Europe, this time for the father’s health; he and Edith saw sights in Italy with Ruskin’s writing as their guide. But George Frederic Jones died the following year, in Cannes, at the age of sixty-one, when Edith was twenty. She gave him credit for her bookish, culturally voracious side, though in her memoir “A Backward Glance” she credits her mother with arranging the private printing of her first book, “Verses,” when Edith was sixteen. Others remembered it as her father’s idea, and on her deathbed she assigned her father credit. In 1905, when “The House of Mirth” was published, to great success and acclaim, she wrote to a friend, “I often think of Papa, and wish he could have been here to encourage me with my work.” Yet had he lived, her unhappy married life, and her eventual blooming into one of the twentieth century’s finest American writers, might well have taken other turns, to posterity’s loss. The upper crust builds thick inhibitions around its would-be writers; a live father and a more compatible husband might have kept Wharton’s rather dour, frequently satiric genius sealed in a carapace of good manners and amateurish diffidence.
As Wharton’s reputation gradually emerged, after her death, in 1937, from under the cloud of her late, commercially successful but critically denigrated novels and the impression they reinforced of a facile, popular “lady novelist,” she has not lacked for biographical and critical attention. Her literary executor, Gaillard Lapsley, a conservative Cambridge historian, sold her manuscripts and letters to Yale, embargoing “anything of a biographical sort” for thirty years. However, in the mid-nineteen-forties he invited Percy Lubbock, another Cambridge scholar whom Wharton had met through Henry James, to compose a memoir of her, which to some other of her acquaintances seemed a poor caricature. The embargo was lifted in 1968, and Louis Auchincloss’s friendly, elegantly illustrated brief biography, “Edith Wharton: A Woman in Her Time,” followed, in 1971. As early as 1966, a number of eminent American writers, including Edmund Wilson, Leon Edel, and Alfred Kazin, had been considered by the custodians of the Wharton lode for the authorized biography; the Yale professor R. W. B. Lewis was chosen. His “Edith Wharton: A Biography” came out in 1975, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and it remains, more than thirty years later, the gold standard—the Wharton biography that most people have read. Now an equally long and territorially similar biography, simply titled “Edith Wharton” (Knopf; $35), has been produced by Hermione Lee, the first female Goldsmiths’ Professor of English Literature at Oxford and the author of book-length studies of Elizabeth Bowen, Willa Cather, and Philip Roth, and of a greatly admired, nearly nine-hundred-page biography of Virginia Woolf. The reader peruses her biography of Wharton, watchful for the ways in which it differs from, and improves on, Lewis’s.
Lee tells us that her Wharton “makes use of the recent publication of her letters to Léon Bélugou and Louis Bromfield, draws on a large scatter of unpublished letters . . . and follows her trail more closely in France, Italy, and England.” These are real additions to the record, but nothing on the sensational order of the revelations that Lewis’s biography contained: an account of Wharton’s passionate affair, from 1908 to 1910, with the hitherto obscure journalist Morton Fullerton; the publication, in an appendix, of an enthusiastically pornographic fragment of an unfinished story titled “Beatrice Palmato”; and the inclusion, complete, in Lewis’s text of a long, long-lined poem, “Terminus,” addressed to Fullerton in the hot wake of his embraces in the Charing Cross Hotel.
[Continued at the link above]
Thursday, April 05, 2007
Amanda envisions a whole new career track for Vince, away from the action-adventure genre ("Aquaman") toward soft-edged chick flicks and period pieces. Where Ari saw a budding Schwarzenegger or (at the very least) a Tobey Maguire in Vince, Amanda sees a Hugh Grant or (at the very least) a Colin Firth. She even actually reads scripts and offers her new client a Sam Mendez-directed treatment of "Glimpses of the Moon." For a show hardly ever given to them, that's a cute little literary inside joke referring to Edith Wharton's novel about a pair of penniless flappers from the 1920s who learn to live off of well-heeled friends - just like Vince's posse.
Ari, naturally, seethes from afar. He explodes when he sees Vince and Amanda court-side at a Lakers' game - "that's the house that I built!" - and is contemptuous of the Wharton idea. "You know Edith Wharton," he tells Lloyd (Rex Lee). "The guy can't [have sex with] the woman for five years because thoooooose were the times...."