Sunday, April 22, 2007

Review of the Lee biography from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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.

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.

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