Edith Wharton

[American | 1862-1937]

Edith Wharton was born in 1862 (which was during the American Civil War) and published her first short story in 1891. Wharton’s first novel–The Valley of Decision–came out in 1902 and, arguably, her most famous work, The House of Mirth, was published in 1905 See below). She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1921 (see all Pulitzer Prize winners here). Edith Wharton died in France in her villa, “Pavilion Colombes,” in 1937.

Beware of monotony; it’s the mother of all the deadly sins.

(Rather like, ‘the devil finds work for idle hands’ if people don’t have anything to do with their time, they are likely to get up to monkey business.)

The Age of Innocence

As with most of the novels Wharton set in New York this book makes an ironic commentary on the cruelties and hypocrisies of upper class American society in the years before, during and after WWII.

The return of the beautiful Countess Olenska to New York society sends reverberations throughout the upper reaches of society. Newland Archer, an eligible young man of the establishment is about to announce his engagement to May Welland, a pretty ingénue, when May’s cousin, Countess Olenska, is introduced into their circle. The Countess brings with her an aura of European sophistication and a hint of scandal, having left her husband and claimed her independence. Olenska’s sorrowful eyes, her tragic worldliness and her air of unapproachability attract the sensitive Newland and, almost against their will, a passionate bond develops between them. But Archer’s life has no place for passion and, with society on the side of May and all she stands for, he finds himself drawn into a bitter conflict between love and duty.

It frightened him to think what must have gone to the making of her eyes.

― Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

Ethan Frome

When this novel was first published in 1911, most of the reviews were critical and negative. Reviewers said the story was cruel and violent (sales in those early years were poor too). But, fast forward to today and this book is one of Wharton’s most widely read works. Different in both tone and theme from Wharton’s other works, Ethan Frome has become perhaps her most enduring and most widely read novel; it centres on a haunting tale of forbidden romance in the frozen waste of a harsh rural New England winter.

Ethan Frome is a tale of despair, forbidden emotions, and sexual tensions… The protagonist, Ethan Frome, works his unproductive farm and struggles to maintain a bearable existence with his difficult, suspicious, and hypochondriac wife, Zeenie. But when Zeenie’s vivacious cousin enters their household as a ‘hired girl’, Ethan finds himself obsessed with her and with the possibilities for happiness she comes to represent. In the words of the Penguin Classics series editors, “in one of American fiction’s finest and most intense narratives, Edith Wharton moves this ill-starred trio toward their tragic destinies.”

I want to put my hand out and touch you. I want to do for you and care for you. I want to be there when you’re sick and when you’re lonesome.

― Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome

The House of Mirth

This is often described as a black comedy centering on huge wealth and a woman (Lily) who can define herself only through the perceptions of others. Wharton is mercilessly frank as she chronicles Lily’s fall from grace, contrasting psychological insights with descriptions of external effects.

The beautiful Lily Bart lives among the nouveaux riches of New York City – people whose millions were made in railroads, shipping, land speculation and banking. In this morally bankrupt world, Lily, 29, seeks a husband who can satisfy her cravings for endless admiration and all the trappings of wealth. But her quest comes to a scandalous end when she is accused of being the mistress of a wealthy man…

It is so easy for a woman to become what the man she loves believes her to be.

― Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth

The Age of Innocence
From page to stage: “The Age of Innocence”

‘By hook or by crook’

any means necessary

‘By hook or by crook’ is an English phrase meaning “by any means necessary”, suggesting that any means possible should be taken to accomplish a goal. The phrase is old and the first currently known written instance of it is the Middle English Controversial Tracts of John Wycliffe.

Do what you have to do
Do what you have to do

One way, or another, I’m gunna gunna get ya


John Wycliffe (c. 1323–1384) was an English scholastic philosopher, theologian, reformer and a professor at the University of Oxford. He became an influential dissident within the Roman Catholic priesthood during the 14th c. and is considered an important predecessor to Protestantism.

Hook / Crook
^ Look at how they spell John.

‘Message in a bottle’

Save. Our. Soul.

Bottles out at sea
This one goes out…

A message in a bottle is a form of communication in which a message is sealed in a container (typically a bottle) and thrown into the sea.

Messages in bottles have been used to send (1) distress messages and/or to carry letters or reports from those believing themselves to be doomed (2), in scientific studies of ocean currents, as memorial tributes and (3), to send deceased loved ones’ ashes on a final journey.

Love letters have also been sent as messages in bottles. Indeed, the lore surrounding messages in bottles has often been of a romantic or poetic nature.

Nowadays, the phrase, message in a bottle, has expanded to include metaphorical uses (uses beyond its traditional and literal meaning). Say for example, sending an estranged lover an email begging for a reprieve whilst knowing a reply, let alone a reprieve is rather unlikely.

message in a bottle

Pioneer 10 plaque
…to the one I love.

📙 Fleabag

“The Scriptures”

In case you haven’t heard, Fleabag is a British TV show created and written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who also stars in the lead role. Well, anyway it lasted for two seasons and went out on a high (it was kept short and sweet). Well anyway (*II) she’s just launched a book which is basically the script of the TV show:

It is very funny in a dark and frank way but as a critic did say, “long after it’s pulled you in with its irreverence and jokes about sex, and beguiled you with its cutting wit and messily human characters, it reveals that it’s actually a tragedy.”


flea___bag
portraiture, often best when in black & white

 

📙 Remains of the Day

(Kazuo Ishiguro | British | 1954– )

This is a moving book about the repressing of our desires. It is about how class conditioning can turn you into your own worst enemy, making you complicit in your own subservience. This book will strike a cord with anyone who feels they’ve ever held themselves back when something that truly mattered was within their grasp.

Hear all about it here

The [remainder] of my life stretches out as an emptiness before me.

British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (who was born in Japan but moved to England at the age of five) is considered one of the eminent contemporary fiction authors in the English-speaking world, winning the Man Booker Prize for his 1989 novel, The Remains of the Day.

What can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves?