Last year it was the 150th anniversary of Edith Wharton’s birth. To celebrate the fact, I decided to read The House of Mirth just before Christmas 2012. Previously, the only Wharton I had read was Ethan Frome and so I was in for a shock. The House of Mirth had me laughing, cringing and crying uncontrollably. It made such an impression that I am now, three months down the line, writing my PhD proposal on, you guessed it(!), the novels of Edith Wharton!
I have also read The Age of Innocence and The Custom of the Country since Christmas, with Summer next on my hit list. So far, I feel that The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence are my joint favourites; The House of Mirth because of the heartbreaking story of Lily Bart. I doubt anyone could stay composed as they read her words: ‘I have tried hard, but life is so difficult – and I am a very useless person.’. The Age of Innocence is also my favourite because of the perfect ending. I will try not to give it away, but again, could there be a more perfect sentence than this: ‘she said she knew we were safe with you, and always would be, because once, when she asked you to, you’d given up the thing you most wanted’? One other piece of hers that blew my socks off was a short story called Roman Fever. I’m not normally a huge short story fan to be honest as in the past I’ve found them a little unsatisfying but Roman Fever has inspired me to try them again so Wharton’s Ghost Stories and Tales of Old New York will be joining my bedside pile shortly! Which is your favourite Wharton?
I had heard relatively little about Wharton until last year and I wonder if that is because I’ve just missed her or because she is under-rated as a woman writer of mainly shorter novellas? I’ll leave you for now on that note whilst I muse on themes in her work that I might explore for my PhD…
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