Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Wharton in Suzanne Vega song

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

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

Beatrix Farrand's garden design at Bellefield

From the New York Times

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

Garrison Keiller on Edith Wharton

Humor from Salon.com.

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

Edith Wharton and H. C. Bunner

Note from Linda Selman:

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.]


By Linda Selman <http://www.nybooks.com/authors/13294> , Reply by Edmund White

In response to The House of Edith * (April 26, 2007)
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.

Linda Selman
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

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.

Linda Selman

Monday, July 02, 2007

Caldwell, N.J. Public Library Receives NEA "Big Read" Grant for THE AGE OF INNOCENCE





Library Launches Extensive Town-Wide Reading Initiative with Edith

Wharton’s Classic “The Age of Innocence”

Caldwell, N.J.—June 25, 2007—

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) todayannounced that among 117 national grant recipients, the Caldwell Public Library is the only New Jersey library to receive a 2007 BIG READ grant. The Library will use the $10,000 matching grant to promote and carry out community-based reading programs between September and December 2007. Additionally, the Library will offer a variety of speakers and programs this fall that will illuminate Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer Prizewinning novel. The events, predominantly scheduled during October and November 2007, allow for book groups, students and indeed, all readers, to read the book and benefit from the wide array of related activities, maximizing the entire reading experience.

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 James Caldwell High School, the Kiwanis Club of Caldwell-West Essex, and the Mayor and Council of the Borough of Caldwell. In addition, Caldwell College, Mount St. Dominic Academy, and a host of community, library, religious, social and other local book groups have joined the effort, all agreeing to read, review and discuss the classic work.

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 Institute of Museum and Library Services. “We are celebrating our 90th birthday this fall and Edith Wharton’s novel was published just three years after our library was dedicated,” added Kleppe-Lembo. “By reading this literary classic we are not only exposing our community to an ageless work of art, but also educating them about the history of our library and our town.”

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 librarian@caldwellpl.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 Caldwell Public Library, an Andrew Carnegie Library dedicated in 1917, celebrates its 90th birthday in October 2007. Its mission is to provide its diverse community with a wide array of literary, cultural, historical, educational and social resources through personal service and innovative programs utilizing a range of learning technologies in a welcoming environment. www.caldwellpl.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 Midwest and the world to meaningful arts opportunities, sharing creativity, knowledge, and understanding across boundaries. Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. One of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United States, Arts Midwest’s history spans more than 25 years. For more information, please visit www.artsmidwest.org.