Friday, 5 March 2010

Go steady, Undine!

Undine's white and gold bedroom with sea-green panels and old rose carpet, looked along the Seventy-second street toward the leafless treetops of the Central Park.
Undine and her parents are living at the Hotel Stentorian in New York with the aim of moving among wealthy society. Undine is no Lily Bart. She is interested in all that is vulgar, expensive, bright and showy. This is echoed by her rather obvious beauty - bright red-gold hair and a high complexion. Completely self-centred and extravagant she drives her second husband, the lovely Ralph Marvell to suicide and flees from her third husband who is not quite such a pushover.

I loved Mrs Heeny, the cheerful manicurist and masseuse who keeps a sheaf of society newspaper clippings in her bag, knows all the latest gossip and is always warning Undine to Go Steady! I've read The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth. Any suggestions which Wharton I should try next?

Browsing in Waterstone's today I was struck by a display of books for Mother's Day at the front of the store. Are all mothers only interested in expensive Cath Kidston craft books, books with cute kittens on the front and books about how to make cupcakes? I am so bored with cupcakes. A while back Waterstone's had a display of books by Japanese writers and they managed to put an Amy Tan novel amongst them!

14 comments:

claire said...

As a mother I wouldn't pick up any of those on their display!

claire said...

P.S. I have not read any Wharton except the short story Roman Fever featured in the Persephone Biannually, which I loved. So the Roman Fever and other Stories might be a good choice. I've also read a number of very positive reviews on The Custom of the Country recently.

Teresa said...

I loved Custom of the Country. Undine is such a delicious character, isn't she? The only other Wharton I've read beyond the ones you mention is Ethan Frome, which I liked but not as much as I did the others.

callmemadam said...

Ho, I'm laid up and watching The Age of Innocence on TV this minute!

I'd always assumed the current flood of books about cupcakes and crochet was aimed at the young, since mothers have been there, done that, thank you.

callmemadam said...

Ho, I'm laid up and watching The Age of Innocence on TV this minute!

I'd always assumed the current flood of books about cupcakes and crochet was aimed at the young, since mothers have been there, done that, thank you.

m said...

That's exactly what I thought looking at Waterstones' window the other day ... I don't know why it's so impossible to market anything to women without infantilising them (pink!) or insulting their intelligence. But as for Edith Wharton ... you know you're going to read all of them, they're brilliant.

E. L. Fay said...

For Mother's Day marketing, I can see retailers trying to aim for the common denominator. I also wonder if those displays might have a psychological dimension - like this is what we associate with mothers in a warm, fuzzy way, even though that's not always the reality? People are more likely to buy things, after all, if they feel good about them. But, yeah, it's insulting that the "common denominator" has to be pink and cutesy.

I haven't read any Wharton yet but I keep hearing great things about her. Hopefully I'll get to it in the near future.

makedoandread said...

I've always thought it odd that The Custom of the Country has yet to be made into a film, or even a TV adaptation. What a fantastic range of roles for women!

I'm a big fan of Wharton's The Reef. It's an old, familiar story, but the writing is so elegant and perfect that it's unforgettable. And The Bucaneers is just a fun read.

Protector of Vintage said...

I just finished reading "The Children" and would be very interested in your review should you decide to read it.

LizF said...

Though it saddens me to say this, just because someone works in Waterstones doesn't mean they know about books!
Our local branch has four or five who know what they are talking about, one who is insufferably superior and one who makes me want to jump up and down with fury when I overhear her 'advising' customers because she really hasn't a clue!
I've worked as a bookseller (for a different company) and it's not always that easy to work out what people want (one woman couldn't remember any details about the book she wanted other than the picture on the cover -but since it was a book about horse racing and the cover had a horse on it that wasn't much help!)but I really do think that the least you could do is find out what the high profile new releases are because more often than not that is what the average only-read-on-holiday customer is after.
To my shame I have yet to read any Edith Wharton although I have managed to acquire three copies of The Age of Innocence and two of Ethan Frome! A book of her short stories sounds good though.

bookssnob said...

Wonderful! I must read more Wharton! I've heard The Children is very good...reprinted by Virago recently with a very nice cover.

I'm not a mother (yet) - but my mum would certainly not appreciate a Cath Kidston book or a book about cupcakes for mother's day! Funnily enough, she has far more interesting things to occupy her than sewing floral hanging decorations or making lots of cupcakes! Don't get me wrong, both of these things are fine occupations for a rainy day, but I do get frustrated by the conception that women have nothing better to do than float around making their houses look pretty.

JoAnn said...

Undine is the most unforgettable character ever! Summer will be my next Wharton but, if you haven't read it, you may want to try Ethan Frome.

Vintage Reading said...

Claire, Custom of the Country is an excellent Wharton to start with. I've not read any of Wharton's short stories so I'll try and track it down.

Teresa, yes, I don't think Wharton entirely comdemns Undine, in fact I think she rather admires her.

callmemadam, my latest Waterstones gripe - being asked if I would like a cut-price copy of Paul O'Grady's autobiography! Now I've nothing against O'Grady but I really don't want to read his life story. Why couldn't they have offered me a cut-price Wharton novel?!

m, Waterstones have now added some fiction to their Mother's Day displays and it seems a much more thoughtful selection than the non-fiction. Yes, I'll be accumulating more Wharton.

EL Fay, yes I suppose baking and crafting indicates warm, nurturing associations. Some of the fictional choices added to the display were interesting, Anne Tyler, E M Delafield etc. The non-fiction was too pink and floral, though.

Make Do and Read, I'm interested in The Bucaneers. It's unfinished isn't it? I'll try to get a copy.

Protector of Vintage, I've not heard of that title - I'm a bit of a Wharton novice, really, but I'm compiling a list of her work to read.

LizF, I've always found the staff very helpful in Waterstones, and the younger ones seem very knowledgeable about science fiction etc which I don't read! The organised displays really bug me though. They currently have a display of American writers with ONE female writer (Wharton) amongst them. The handwritten reviews on the shelves are starting to irritate me now, too.

BookSnob, I really don't get the Cath Kidston thing. To me the shop is just a more kitsch, expensive and less interesting version of Laura Ashley. I think you'd love Wharton.

JoAnn, Undine is certainly memorable. I can't think of another literary heroine quite so manipulative, but she is entertaining. Thank you for the Summer recommendation.

sunt_lacrimae_rerum said...

I think you've read the best of the bunch but you must give "Ethan Frome" a try if you haven't yet. Wharton's short stories are a true delight. They should be better known.