Edith Wharton discussion

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What's your favorite Wharton novel?

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message 1: by Michaela (last edited Oct 05, 2008 09:42AM) (new)

Michaela Wood | 25 comments Mod
"The House of Mirth"!
Something about the interaction between Lily Bart and Lawrence Seldon makes my heart contract and I have always had the strongest reaction to this book, however beautiful and tactile "The Age of Innocence" might be. Lily for me is the female paradox, it is demanded that she be ornamental, but she is punished for not being more. Seldon is the only witness - he has peeks through her mask and suspects an equal is beneath. Seldon's very limp and confused attempts to help Lily step out of her little prison, creates a wonderful, pathetic tension. Oh God Seldon, just get it together! Lily's only way to get free without his help, well you see at the end. I just adore this book.


message 2: by Amber (new)

Amber | 1 comments I love to hate both Seldon and Lily. They are so helpless. What I love most about this book is Wharton: the world that she unveils to us through sarcasm and wit. It's impossible not to love this book. I love how clearly Wharton draws a line connecting Lily to her mother's sick aspirations for materialism and femininity.


message 3: by Michaela (new)

Michaela Wood | 25 comments Mod
The mother's background story was very interesting in it's relation to the rest of the book. I think she (the mother) grabs Lily's face at some point and exclaims something like "this face! This face will save us all". Sounds like a pyschotic stage mom.


message 4: by Emily (new)

Emily | 1 comments I've been obsessed with Age of Innocence and House of Mirth for almost two years now :D


message 5: by Michaela (new)

Michaela Wood | 25 comments Mod
What do people here enjoy about the Age of Innocence? I always considered it, for one, a classic cheating novel. All the emotions that lead the staid Newland Archer into a kind of moral nightmare, from which he tries to escape with honesty, and find's society doesn't allow that level of honesty (it can handle his cheating better).

I enjoyed the ideas of womanhood shown in Madame Olenska verses May Welland.



Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) I just found a copy of The Mother's Recompense, one of Wharton's later novels (published in 1925), in a used bookstore whilst on holiday. I am looking forward to reading this, as I've never read it before, and have heard that it is quite good.


message 7: by Laura (new)

Laura | 5 comments My favorite has to be Summer, and I'm excited to see an entire discussion devoted to the novel. I'm using it for my masters thesis, along with The Age of Innocence and the "Beatrice Palmato" fragment. To me, Summer is her most well-organized evenly paced novel. I love particularly because each character is so ambiguous morally that she leaves you questioning everything. Age of Innocence has this effect on me, too, and I'm drawn to the BP fragment. I really wish she had lived to complete that novel; it would have been her best.

I've been a huge Wharton fan for several years. Sadly, I don't think she is as widely studied or appreciated as, say, her old buddy, Henry James. My work focuses on Wharton's Gothic--and her canon is much more Gothic than the general media likes to portray it. I find it interesting that many fans of Wharton recognize her criticism of manners, but do not take note of her condemnation of the idea of social systems itself. I'm arguing in my thesis that all of Wharton's work can be read as Gothic--even novels like Age and House of Mirth. Almost every page of Age mentions how dead Archer is because of the pressures placed upon him. Form, for Wharton, is not only imprisonment but death. To me, Age is not just an adultery novel; it uses adultery to examine the futility in challenging gender, class, and sexuality scripts and simultaneously shows the consequences for accepting them. That's why Archer rings our heartstrings: he knows if he challenges the system, he will be excommunicated like Ellen; if he follows his prescribed role as "gentleman", he will sacrifice everything that makes him human.

May and Ellen interest me, too, but to me they serve as paradigms of both ends of this spectrum: Ellen is ostracized because she is her own woman; May is victorious in "saving" her marriage because she does precisely what is expected of her. She has been taught since birth that a girl should want to get married and have a family that has a certain appearance. Thus, when she marries Archer, she is convinced this is what she wants. Scorsese once said he thought May was the strongest character in the story, but it's really Ellen. May blindly follows the system, never once questioning anything. Ellen challenges it in many ways, but pays dearly socially, emotionally, and psychologically. Indeed, The Age of Innocence is brilliant and one of the finest indictments of American culture. Not a small achievement.

I could keep up this discussion forever, but I will probably bore the hell out of everyone. If anyone would like some good articles/books/info about Wharton, send me a personal message. I LOVE her stuff!!!


message 8: by Laura (new)

Laura | 5 comments Christopher wrote: "I just found a copy of The Mother's Recompense, one of Wharton's later novels (published in 1925), in a used bookstore whilst on holiday. I am looking forward to reading this, as I've never read i..."

Mother's Recompense is great. It deals with incest, which is one of her signature topics. Enjoy!


message 9: by Ellena (new)

Ellena I love The Age of Innocence. I haven't read all of Edith Wharton's books so I don't know that my comment counts for much but I am going to read more of her work. Right now I am reading Ethan Frome.


message 10: by Ellena (new)

Ellena Michaela wrote: "What do people here enjoy about the Age of Innocence? I always considered it, for one, a classic cheating novel. All the emotions that lead the staid Newland Archer into a kind of moral nightmare, ..."

Yes it definitely is a classic cheating novel. I think though that the reason people still enjoy this novel is because people haven't changed very much over time. There is still scandal and gossip and what is considered right and wrong. I think people are obsessed with scandal even today. Just look at any People magazine or Enquirer.


message 11: by Christina (new)

Christina Dudley (christina_dudley) No one's spoken up yet for The Custom of the Country! My book club read it recently (after loving Age of Innocence), and everyone was split right down the middle on Undine Spragg. I loved her. She's a great counterpoint to fading Lily Bart and trapped Countess Olenska and cheated-on May Wellend.


message 12: by Marcy (new)

Marcy (marshein) Up until now my favorite Wharton novel was House of Mirth--because it so eloquently shows the plight of women at that time. Lily Bart ends up dying young because of the stifling constrictions placed on women: under-educated, unprepared to take care of herself and with so few professions open to her, she must marry or be poor all her life. While things have changed enormously, with women now educated and able to work at anything, we're still lagging behind men; single women are still very likely to be poor. House of Mirth made me cry.

I said "Up until now" because I'm reading The Glimpses of the Moon, about 2/3 thru, and I adore it. Not quite as depressing as HOM.

How come this group hasn't seen activity in like 3 years? I hope it changes, I only recently discovered Wharton and want to talk about her.


message 13: by Joan (last edited Jan 13, 2014 05:32PM) (new)

Joan | 5 comments Hey everybody, about a year ago I downloaded all of Edith Wharton's novels, 31 of them I think, onto my Kindle. I don't know if that's still possible. I paid $1.99 if I recall correctly. Have any of you read "The Custom of the Country?" Devastating. Now I see that someone above mentions it. Undine Spragg as a good anecdote to Lily Bart? Yes and no. Undine is a horrible person who tramples everyone who loves her.


message 14: by Marcy (new)

Marcy (marshein) I just finished The Glimpses of the Moon. I really loved it and was surprised at the upbeat message. I want to say someting about the ending but I can't without totally revealing it. Maybe in a discussion dedicated to the book itself?

I think I'll read The Custom of the Country next.


message 15: by Marcy (new)

Marcy (marshein) Joan wrote: "Hey everybody, about a year ago I downloaded all of Edith Wharton's novels, 31 of them I think, onto my Kindle. I don't know if that's still possible. I paid $1.99 if I recall correctly. Have an..."

Joan, I just read The Custom of the Country and started a topic; except I misfiled it under Summer, and am trying to figure out how to change it.


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