Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wharton's poem "Elves' Library" and hauntings at The Mount


The walnut-panelled library contains more than 200 works of original literature, requested by librarian Princess Marie Louise. “To the writers and musicians she sent tiny blank volumes for them to fill,” says Lucinda. In return she received a hand-written, leather-bound story from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, How Watson Learned The Trick, Rudyard Kipling submitted a 4x3cm book of handwritten poems, some unpublished, complete with his own illustrations, MR James wrote The Haunted Dolls’ House, Thomas Hardy sent seven poems and Robert Graves five.

Edith Wharton considered her contribution to be “doggerel… unworthy of so charming a destination”. Amusingly, Lucinda agrees: “She was right. Her poem Elves’ Library is appalling,” says Lucinda.

From Halloween brings haunted tours at Edith Wharton’s The Mount:
Now, in honor of the looming presence of Halloween, The Mount is offering some special spooky programming in addition to the 90-minute Friday Night Fright tours that begin at 6 and 7 p.m. On Saturday, Oct. 30, at 11 p.m. Schuyler and her colleague, librarian Molly McFall, will lead a late-night tour complete with re-enactments and the usual spectral guests. A ghost tour and reading will be held earlier, at 6:30 p.m.

"The people who come here are all over the place," McFall said. "We’ve got young teenagers who want to be scared, professional ghost hunters and women on a girls night out. They’re as old as we allow them, basically from 8 years old to 80."

No matter the age of the visitor, the tour, according to both women, is not for the faint of heart. Many visitors who come in search of a ghostly encounter are not disappointed.

"We go upstairs in the stables, and it’s dark and creepy, and the space is huge," McFall said. "That’s when the kids get scared. There are some possibly true gruesome stories which took place in the stables."

One such story is that of a servant girl who was reported to have hanged herself on the property.

"That story is attached to The Mount from way back," McFall said. "Rumor had it that the girl hanged herself in the attic. We assumed that it was the attic in the main house. But then we had a psychic figure here in 2008 from Ghost Hunters International and he said he saw a figure hanging from a beam in the stable."

In addition to seeing the figure, the young psychic also was able to "read" the emotions of certain rooms in the house, particularly rooms in which the domestic turmoil of Wharton’s life played out for years.

"Once the psychic entered Teddy Wharton’s room, he felt very sorry and depressed," McFall said. "He said he felt something awful, something oppressive."

Schuyler is not quick to blame the odd happenings on the ghosts and bad energy that encompassed the Wharton legacy at The Mount. In fact, she said, of all of the inhabitants of the mansion, the Whartons were there the least amount of time.

"The Shattucks (who purchased the property in 1911) both died in the house. Mr. Shattuck had a heart attack and died peacefully," she said. "This is not something you talk about normally on a standard tour. In the room where he died, certain people have had experiences where they can’t breathe."

While she hasn’t had this experience, Pixley said there have been many incidents at the estate that make her catch her breath at the creepiness of it all.

"I’ve heard someone call my name when I was the only one in the house. I’ve heard a man sneeze," she said. "I was on the second floor in the dining room when I heard an angry man’s voice tell me to get out. It put my heart in my throat and sent chills down my spine."

Even Pixley’s co-worker Sherry has been harassed by unseen beings.

"The other night we were on the third floor and I was walking down the main stairs when I heard Sherry scream," she said. "She said that someone had flicked her really hard on the head, so hard that her barrette had been knocked out of her hair."

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Digested Classics: The Age of Innocence

Humor from John Crace in The Guardian:

The Age of Innocence
Edith Wharton (1920)

When Newland Archer arrived, the curtain had just gone up. "Darn it," he thought. "I am 10 seconds early." At least New York society had not witnessed his faux-pas.

He gazed towards the divine May Welland, seated in the Mingott box, and frowned when he saw her cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska, sitting next to her. What would New York think of the reintroduction of the scarlet woman into society? He and May looked into one another's eyes and Newland knew she had understood he wished their betrothal to be announced that very night.

The engagement would normally have been the talk of New York, yet it was the return of Mrs Mingott's other granddaughter, the Countess Ellen, that dominated salon conversation.

"I hear she left her husband," said Mr Sillerton Jackson. "How scandalous these Europeans are!"

"How dare you, sir!" Newland exclaimed. "She left her husband to escape his beatings."

"A New York wife would take a beating in private," replied Mr Sillerton Jackson. "I find myself compromised by our acquaintance as you are to be married to a Mingott."

These sentiments echoed throughout New York until Mrs Archer persuaded her cousins, the Van der Luydens, New York's most powerful family, to invite the Countess to tea.

"Thank goodness for that," New York society sighed.

Newland was irritated to be summoned to see his employer, Mr Letterblair. Newland had more pressing things to occupy his mind than work; how was New York wearing its waistcoats this season? "Mrs Mingott has requested your assistance," said Mr Letterblair. "The Countess Olenska is seeking a divorce."

Archer understood the delicacy of the situation. "New York will expel the Mingotts from society if you pursue this" he said, "and my engagement to May will also make me an outcast."

A maelstrom of emotion coursed through the Countess's bosom. "Very well," she said. "Come and see me for 10 minutes in a few months' time when I am staying in Skuytercliff," she whispered, overwhelmed by feelings that could not be expressed in New York society.

Newland urged his horses on. "Sorry I'm a bit late," he said, though both he and Ellen knew that what he was really saying was he loved her deeply, yet did not want to compromise her by making her his mistress.

"I've got to go," Ellen replied, though both she and Newland knew what she was really saying was that she loved him deeply, yet did not want to compromise him by becoming his mistress.

Newland went to visit May. "We must get married this year," he begged. "I am aware you once had feelings for a Mrs Rushworth," May replied. "If you have any outstanding obligations to her, then I release you." Newland felt a surge of love for May. Particularly as she didn't seem to have guessed his feelings for the Countess.

"Why do we have to honeymoon in Europe?" May inquired. "Because it is our Henry James moment," Newland replied.

Locked in the loveless marriage decreed by New York, Newland was tormented by his passion for Ellen. He hurried to Boston. "It's been two years and I wanted us to spend another five minutes together," he cried. They kissed, a kiss that signalled they might have intercourse some time in the next few years.

"I'm pregnant," said May, having secretly been aware of her husband's feelings for Ellen all along.

"I am returning to Europe," Ellen announced, and all New York breathed a sigh of relief at such a satisfactory conclusion.

Twenty-six years later, Newland stood outside Ellen's Paris apartment with his son, Dallas. May had died some years earlier and Dallas had suggested they visited.

"Come on up," said Dallas.

"No," said Newland.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Beatrice Palmato

From The Atlantic:
There's no sex in Edith Wharton's best known work. Her Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Age of Innocence chronicles a decades-long affair between a man and his wife's cousin—where the two lovers don't so much as kiss. In Ethan Frome, a married man and his would-be mistress decide to kill themselves rather than succumb to the temptation to sleep with each other. Her short story "Roman Fever" uses an illegitimate child as a plot device—but does not describe any of the out-of-wedlock sexual activity that went into producing it.

Literary types get excited, then, when they discover Wharton's more explicitly erotic work. Jezebel's Anna North has unearthed a "prose fragment" from a story called "Beatrice Palmato" that Lapham's Quarterly published last winter. North introduces the two-page story with the promise, "Check out the Wharton you didn't read in English class."

[Note: The article doesn't mention it, but this discovery was first published in R. W. B. Lewis's Edith Wharton: A Biography in 1975.]