New York Times: Edith Wharton Always Had Paris
See also the slideshow of Paris locations associated with her work.
LIKE many of the characters in her novels, Edith Wharton made frequent use of concealment, reserve and deception in her own life. So it was fitting that the leading American female writer of the early 20th century experienced her first and most likely only passionate love affair in the city of Paris, far removed from her homes in New York and New England.
The pleasure she found in Paris in the years before World War I became a cover for the pleasure she took from the clandestine relationship with Morton Fullerton, a handsome, Frenchified, well-read American cad who worked as Paris correspondent for The Times of London.
“I am sunk in the usual demoralizing happiness which this atmosphere produces in me,” Wharton wrote in a letter at the end of 1907. She added, “The tranquil majesty of the architectural lines, the wonderful blurred winter lights, the long lines of lamps garlanding the avenues & the quays — je l’ai dans mon sang!” (“I have it in my blood!”)
For Wharton, Paris was a place of liberation. Intellectual women like her were listened to in this city. The setting was both aesthetically beautiful and logistically enabling for her romance, which she embarked upon in her mid-40s and kept secret from both her husband and her circle of friends.
“Theirs was a discreet adultery,” said Hermione Lee, the author of “Edith Wharton” (Alfred A. Knopf), the definitive biography of the writer. “It worked in Paris in a way that it never would have in America.”
She and Fullerton plotted their encounters via the text-message technology of the era: a furious exchange of brief notes delivered often several times a day by the Paris postal system.
“At the Louvre at one o’c in the shadow” of Diana, she wrote in one note. Today, the white marble sculpture of Diana, the goddess of the hunt, nude and reclining, her right arm wrapped around the neck of a stag, sits in a little-visited room up four sets of stairs off the Louvre’s Marly sculpture court. It is an excellent meeting place for a private rendezvous.
Her apartment hotel, when she needed temporary lodging, was the Hôtel de Crillon, recently opened in a late-18th-century building on the Place de la Concorde, which catered, she felt, to a cultured crowd. She detested the Ritz, where the newly rich but uncultivated Americans stayed, calling it the Nouveau Luxe in her fiction.
There is no Wharton suite or bar in the Crillon. My search of the Crillon’s guest books kept in the safe turned up the signatures of several other luminaries who stayed in the early years: Andrew Carnegie in 1913, Theodore Roosevelt in 1914, King George V of Britain in 1915. But there is no entry by Wharton.
Since she had described her Crillon space as “a very nice apartment up in the sky, overlooking the whole of Paris,” the hotel management believes that she must have rented what is now the Bernstein Suite, the sixth-floor set of rooms named after Leonard Bernstein, the American composer and conductor, who lived there off and on until his death in 1990. With its two terraces that give out onto the Place de la Concorde and the Pleyel grand piano that he played in the living room, it goes for 8,220 euros (the equivalent of more than $12,000) a night.
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