Sunday, May 21, 2006

From The Guardian
The author's curse

David Lodge spent three years writing and researching a biographical novel about Henry James. Then he learned that at least four other writers had been at work on similar projects. Soon he found himself caught up in a web of irony and coincidence worthy of a Jamesian plot

If anyone deserves to win this year's Man Booker Prize, it's Henry James. During 2004, he has been the originator of no fewer than three outstanding novels.

Thus began Peter Kemp's review of my novel, Author, Author, in the Sunday Times of August 29 2004, a few days before its official publication date. The other two novels to which he referred were Colm Tóibín's The Master, published in March of that year, and Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty, published in April. Henry James is the central character of both The Master and Author, Author. The central character of The Line of Beauty, which is set in the 1980s, is a young man who is writing a postgraduate thesis on Henry James, and Hollinghurst's novel was seen by several critics as a stylistic homage to him.

Kemp did not mention another novel about Henry James, which had been published in November 2002 and was reissued as a paperback in the spring of 2004, Emma Tennant's Felony, which spliced together an account of James's relationship with the American novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson and a speculative retelling of the source story of his novella, The Aspern Papers. Nor did Kemp mention - probably he was not aware of its existence - yet another novel about James, by the South African writer Michiel Heyns, which was being offered to London publishers in 2004. Entitled The Typewriter's Tale, and narrated from the point of view of James's secretary, it concerned James's involvement, in the years 1907-10, in a love affair between two of his closest friends, the novelist Edith Wharton and Morton Fullerton, bisexual journalist and man of letters. We know all this about a book that is still unpublished because Michiel Heyns wrote an eloquent and poignant article in Prospect magazine in September 2004 about coming last in the procession of James-inspired novelists. These were its opening words: "My agent forwards to me another polite letter of rejection: 'I am so sorry but timing is all - and there has been a spate of fiction based on the life of Henry James published here. I don't know how such coincidences happen ... something in the atmosphere? So regretfully I must say no.'"

Monday, May 15, 2006

Donors of Wharton Library Revealed (from the Buffalo News)

Anonymous no longer

For about a century, writer Edith Wharton's personal library was overseas. Now, thanks to a pair of Buffalonians, the collection has been bought and returned to The Mount, Wharton's onetime home in Lenox, Mass.

The caretakers of The Mount bought the personal library for $2.6 million from its owner in England, through the help of an anonymous, private donor, according to the Associated Press.

At a recent ceremony celebrating the collection's return, the couple's identity was revealed: Robert and Elisabeth Wilmers.

The chairman of M&T Bank and his wife, who heads Roche and Co., attended the event, whose guest list included a famous former librarian, first lady Laura Bush.

The Wilmers are longtime supporters of The Mount and have a home in the area. Four years ago, Roche and Co. sponsored the restoration and decoration of the mansion's forecourt and entrance hall.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

From the Albany Capital News site:

First Lady Laura Bush visits Lenox
Updated: 4/25/2006 10:41 AM
By: Ryan Peterson

The Mount, the estate that author Edith Wharton designed and built in 1902, is in the midst of a complete restoration. One of the restoration's goals was to purchase Wharton's library and bring it back home. That goal was reached with the help of a $2.6 million donation that First Lady Laura Bush helped celebrate at a ceremony on Monday.

Mrs. Bush said, "Many of these books contain notes and editorial changes that Edith made in her early editions of her own works. Several books have inscriptions from her close friends who were historical figures in their own right, people like President Theodore Roosevelt and Henry James."

The staff at The Mount in Lenox was very excited and honored to have Mrs. Bush pay a visit. Mrs. Bush, who is a former librarian, said on national television in 2001 that Edith Wharton is one of her favorite authors.

"As a librarian and a lover of literature, I believe it's important for Americans to be able to visit the homes of our most renowned and beloved authors," she said.

From the Seattle Times: (Review of House of Mirth play running through May 13, 2006)

Classic story of woman's quest for social status

Seattle Times theater critic

"Everything about her was both vigorous and exquisite," wrote Edith Wharton of her definitive character Lily Bart.

The same can be said of actress Jennifer Lee Taylor, the captivating Lily in Book-It Repertory Theatre's "The House of Mirth."

With her fair, translucent beauty, aristocratic carriage and sleek charm, Taylor is every inch the Gilded Age enchantress Wharton described in her brilliant novel — and the ethical self-doubter, too.

Playing across Taylor's lovely face (she resembles a young Meryl Streep) are the conflicting desires that make her, ultimately, masochistic and noble. Lily attempts to both cultivate her conscience and seek her fortune in the nouveau riche piranha tank of Old New York. Alas, the two impulses turn out to be tragically incompatible.

From the Times Literary Supplement:

Isabelle de Tuyll, the prolific eighteenth-century writer who adopted the nom de guerre of Zélide and whose suitors included James Boswell and Benjamin Constant, was also rescued from oblivion by a biography with “a strong visual sense”. In 1925, following the lead of Lytton Strachey, a young architectural historian called Geoffrey Scott produced a compact, sceptical and elegantly written Portrait of Zélide. Scott underwent what Holmes calls “the classic ‘transfer experience’ of the modern biographer, starting as the detached scholar but gradually being drawn hypnotically into all the domestic details and dramas of Zélide’s world”. Part of the reason Scott was drawn in was that the story reflected his own emotional entanglements with numerous older women, including Mary Berenson, Edith Wharton and Vita Sackville-West, all of whom he shamelessly told were the real and secret dedicatees of his book. Holmes also believes that Scott’s book, although not exactly feminist, “changed forever the way English biographers wrote (or simply failed to write about) women. It recognized that women’s lives had different shapes from men’s, different emotional patterns of achievement and failure”.