A Backward Glance: An Autobiography takes readers up to 1934, but Wharton's account of the years post-1918 barely amount to an epilogue. She is not deA Backward Glance: An Autobiography takes readers up to 1934, but Wharton's account of the years post-1918 barely amount to an epilogue. She is not desolate, she still draws from her usual sources of joy. Writing, reading, the conversation of a circle of brilliant though fast-dwindling friends, travel, especially yachting the Aegean and motoring in far reaches (given her identification with the French elite, I found it perfect that her exploration of Morocco was smoothed by none other than General Lyautey). But, she says, life is not the same, many have died, much is ended. Her account of Henry James' decline and death during the war, in a nightmare of empathetic anguish, is hard reading:
I have never seen any one else who, without a private personal stake in that awful struggle, suffered from it as he did. He had not my solace of hard work, though he did all he had strength for, and gave all the pecuniary help he could. But it was not enough. His devouring imagination was never at rest, and the agony was more than he could bear. As far as I know the only letters of mine which he kept were those in which I described my various journeys to the front, and when these were sent back to me after his death they were worn with much handing about. His sensitiveness about his own physical disabilities gave him an exaggerated idea of what his friends were able to do, and he never tired of talking of what he regarded as their superhuman activities. But still the black cloud hung over the world, and to him it was soon to be a pall. Perhaps it was better so. I should have liked to have him standing beside me the day the victorious armies rode by; but when I think of the years intervening between his death and that brief burst of radiance I have not the heart to wish that he had seen it. The waiting would have been too bitter. ...more
The first meeting of Inez Christian and Jack Lovett at the ballet - the beginning of Lovett's "grave attraction" that would last over twenty years - iThe first meeting of Inez Christian and Jack Lovett at the ballet - the beginning of Lovett's "grave attraction" that would last over twenty years - is the sexiest scene I've read in a while:
Cissy Christian smoking a cigarette in her white jade holder. Inez, wearing dark glasses...pinning and repinning a gardenia in her damp hair. This is our niece, Inez, Dwight Christian said. Inez, Major Lovett. Jack. Inez, Mrs. Lovett. Carla. A breath of air, a cigarette. This champagne is lukewarm. One glass won't hurt you, Inez, it's your birthday. Inez's birthday. Inez is seventeen. Inez's evening, really. Inez is our balletomane.
"Why are you wearing sunglasses," Jack Lovett said.
Inez Christian, startled, touched her glasses as if to remove them and then, looking at Jack Lovett, brushed her hair back instead, loosening the pins that held the gardenia.
Inez Christian smiled.
The gardenia fell into the wet grass.
"I used to know all the generals at Schofield," Cissy Christian said. "Great fun out there. Then."
"I'm sure." Jack Lovett did not take his eyes from Inez.
"Great polo players, some of them," Cissy Christian said. "I don't suppose you get much time to play."
"I don't play," Jack Lovett said.
Inez Christian closed her eyes.
Carla Lovett drained her paper cup and crushed it in her hand.
"Inez is seventeen," Dwight Christian repeated.
"I think I want a real drink," Carla Lovett said. ...more