Saturday, 11 July 2009

Edith Wharton

I loved this novel from its opening sentence where Lawrence Selden runs into his friend Lily Bart at Grand Central Station and notices that her bloom is slightly diminished after 'eleven years of late hours and indefatigable dancing.'

At twenty-nine, Lily Bart, a poor girl whose beauty enables her to move in the best American society, is aware of the pressing need to marry a rich man because time is passing and this is echoed in the 'glitter of the American autumn' of the first chapters.

On a deeper level, Lily knows she is better than that and her friendship with Lawrence Selden a young lawyer of integrity who maintains a certain aloofness from the vicissitudes of fashionable society often verges on love. But Lily has a self-destructive streak and as her debts mount and her reputation suffers she finds that society rejects her.

Despite - or perhaps because of - her failings I adored Lily Bart. I now want to read everything Edith Wharton has written.

10 comments:

Cath said...

Really pleased you enjoyed this. The minute I started it I couldn't put it down, I got so wrapped up in Lily's story. It's the only book I've read by her, apart from some of her ghost stories, so it's high time I read more. I hear The Age of Innocence is excellent.

Rachel said...

I read this years ago and it left such a strong impression on me that I can still remember the intense sadness I felt at the end of it. It was wonderful but so tragic at the same time. I've never got around to reading any of her other novels but this review has reminded me that I should, and pronto. So glad you enjoyed it.

Ms. Wis./Each Little World said...

I love Wharton and Lily Bart is a heart breaker. The Age of Innocence is excellent as well and there is a great film adaptation with Daniel Day-Lewis. (I originally thought Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder were miscast. It really was their hair color that was miscast!) The RWB Lewis bio of Wharton is excellent, too. There is a newer bio that I own, but have not yet read.

As for the Austen books I mentioned on my blog, the first is definitely the better one. Always more fun (I think) to travel back rather than forward.

Elaine said...

I have read every single work by Edith Wharton and am totally staggered by her genius. House of Mirth is, in my opinion, her best book. I read it about 15 years ago and was stunned at the end and cried and it took me ages to stop feeling so profoundly sad at the way it turned out. Lily bart was flawed, naive and, at times, totally stupid, but her true goodness and honesty came through in the end. A wonderful wonderful book.

Vintage Reading said...

Cath, hi. Didn't know Wharton had written ghost stories. I can't believe this writer has escaped my radar for so long.

Rachel, I'm still being haunted by Lily Bart. Can't get the ending out of my head.

Linda, thank you so much for the link you sent. I believe there is a film of The House of Mirth, too.

Elaine, yes Wharton is a genius. I loved Lily and Lawrence Selden, too despite his flaws. I'm thinking of reading the Custom of the Country after Ethan Frome unless you can recommend any other titles. (I've read The Age of Innocence.)

Elaine said...

Custom of the Country is, of course, excellent. May I just say that when reading EW I would suggest leaving Hudson River Bracketed and The Gods Arrive in abeyance for the time being. I like them very much but they were her last books and critics at the time did not care for either of them. They are very good but until you are used to her writing, and if read early on, could make you think hmmmm. Just thought I would mention it.

Ethan Frome I always find very depressing so please don't read if you are having a bad day! Other than that I think all of her works are wonderful and oh you will love the ghost stories!

Cath said...

Nicola, I think everyone wrote ghost stories back in Victorian and Edwardian days. It must have been the fashion or something and there are excellent stories by writers you wouldn't expect to be writing about ghosts. E. Nesbit for instance, L.M. Montgomery, Arthur Conan Doyle (maybe not *so* unlikely), Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell and so on. Women wrote many of the best ones and if you fancy reading some I would recommend the two Virago books of ghost stories. I only own the 2nd one but it has stories by people such as Angela Carter, E.M. Delafield, E. Nesbit, Elizabeth Bowen, Elizabeth Taylor, Fay Weldon and yes... Edith Wharton. Where the men are concerned my definite favourite is M.R. James.

Thomas said...

Edith Wharton is a joy. But I have to disagree with one of the comments above. I think the film of The Age of Innocence is just awful. It's like they put Winona Ryder's character from "Heathers" into corset and bustle.

Thomas said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention, last summer I was able to visit Edith Wharton's house "The Mount" in Lenox, Massachusetts. I have a picture of it here on this post:

http://myporchblog.blogspot.com/2008/09/road-trip-vii-culture-fantasy-camp.html

mel ulm said...

I am almost done with "The Age of Innocence". Some of the sentences are so beautiful crafted I am drawn to read them several times.