Edith Wharton at Home by Richard Guy Wilson

13330391My second Wharton post takes a look at a non-fiction book dedicated to the house she lovingly designed and built called The Mount. Located in Lenox, Massachussetts, Wharton lived here from 1902 to 1911 when she permanently moved to France. The Mount was her first full scale house project overseen by her from the ground up. And what a beauty it is.

I love houses and interior design so I was very pleased to discover that Wharton had passions for both subjects as well. In fact, her very first published book was on the art of interior decorating. How many people knew that? I didn’t. She also wrote books on garden design and loved traveling to such places as France, Italy, and England to draw inspiration.

At Home documents Edith’s early childhood briefly before delving into her first house projects – those homes she occupied during the beginning of her marriage in Newport, RI and New York City. The novel quickly moves on to the first design ideas of The Mount and the chaos involved in building such an estate. The reader also gets quite an impression of the ‘gilded age’ with all its splendor and money. Several famous architects are discussed as well as first hand anecdotes of the society that visited Edith in her many homes.

Stepping inside The Mount once it’s finished is breathtaking. The pictures throughout the book are stunning – some literally taking my breath away. I cannot imagine living in such monstrosities and was amazed to learn that Wharton’s house was built on a rather narrow budget!! I also adored thinking of her sitting in The Mount’s corners, writing away at Ethan Frome.

I wouldn’t recommend At Home to everyone, just those of you would might really enjoy a book devoted to architecture, beauitful stately homes, and Edith Wharton. You get a real sense for who Edith was and how her passions filled her writings. The book reads very easily and didn’t feel dry a single time. The pictures are worth the rather large price tag – sometimes I would find myself just staring at them, wishing I could walk the gardens (which I totally can and plan on doing someday!). Such a gorgeous addition to my collection!

Bonus:

Hearing of Edith Wharton through the words of her great friend, Henry James.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

5246Dear Edith Wharton, I love you. My crush on you knows no bounds and I rank you right alongside Jane Austen. Ethan Frome was awesometacular. Not entirely sure how I will keep myself from living in a Wharton vacuum the rest of the reading year.

Ethan is a guy with a wife. Zeena is that wife and she is a hypocondriac. And just kind of utterly detestable. Zeena has a cousin. Mattie is young, vivacious, and without many plans for her future. She comes to live with the Fromes to help out around the house since Zeena is worthless. Ethan quickly becomes smitten. An elm tree and a sled play large roles.

Ethan Frome is more novella than novel, but still nothing short of brilliant. That ending! I just kind of sat stunned not completely understanding what had happened. So I read the last 10 pages again. And sort of squealed at the ridiculous.

As a character study, Wharton is perfection. I’ve known this some time having reading The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence. But as much as I loved those longer novels, I think Ethan Frome has replaced them as my favorite. Which makes me think that Wharton might be even better as a short story writer. This amazes me. I’m crazy excited for her story collections – specifically the ghostly ones.

I recommend this gem to anyone and everyone. It’s so easy to read – give yourself a couple of hours and you’ll knock it out. I’m not sure whether the characters are likeable or even people we should feel sorry for, but I’m still thinking about them nearly 24 hours later. They’ve definitely made a dent in my blackened heart!

And if the characters aren’t enough to entice you or the crazy ending, just know that Wharton’s writing is top notch. Her ability to paint a landscape is genius particularly with so few words. You have nothing to lose here, folks, and everything to gain! Win-Win.

Bonus: 

That pickle holder or whatever it was ended up quite the symbol. Crafty little bugger.

Book Review: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton rules the world.  After reading House of Mirth a couple of years ago I immediately ran out to purchase The Age of Innocence knowing that I would love it.  Of course, since my to-read bookshelf is approximately 100 books long – it took a while for me to pick up Innocence, but the wait perhaps made my reading even better!  I am now a certifiable Wharton stan.  Please do not judge this book by its first sentence:

On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.

Ok, so we’re in 1870s New York at the Opera.  Newland Archer is our protagonist and has just become engaged to May Welland.  Before their engagement can be announced, May’s exotic European cousin, Ellen Olenska, arrives at the Opera – word on the street is that she’s practically a ruined woman – husband cheats on her, she leaves husband and cheats on him, and now she’s back in the States.  Bam! Love triangle.  And you thought Days of Our Lives had all the drama!

In a more symbolic reading, Innocence is a novel about feeling trapped and feeling a desperate desire to escape.  The characters are trapped in Old New York society, in customs, rituals, and traditions that dictate every move they make – from what flowers they buy, to the clothes they wear (always two seasons old!), and even to what time they should arrive at the opera (fashionably late!).  New York City is this stifling box of life – Newland believes he wants to escape personified by his enchantment with Ellen – but actually he never does anything to free himself because he is so perfectly suited to the life he is currently living.  Such an interesting character study.

While listening to a podcast about the book, a participant made a really great point that hadn’t occurred to me.  The Age of Innocence isn’t so much a book about an affair; rather it’s a book about a marriage.  Throughout the novel, May is perceived as be simple, ordinary, and dull – a normal, all-American wife.  But in the end, May is the woman you will be left astounded by, not Ellen.  You’ll be left pondering her relationship with Newland and almost forget that Ellen even existed – and you’ll never see it coming until the last few pages!

If you’re willing to put in the time, Edith Wharton is a writer that will only add to your reading experience.  You’ll learn about the society and customs of the Gilded Age of New York, you’ll visit the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, and you’ll meet male and female characters that will live inside of you long after the last sentenced has ended.

If you are interested in the podcast I listened to, please visit http://www.neabigread.org/.  You’ll find podcasts dedicated to many novels, including my current read – The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.

Rating – 5/5

Published – 1920

Pages – 307

Also highly recommended – The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton or start with her novella Ethan Frome or even a short story!

P.S. – Martin Scorsese adapted the novel into a film!  I haven’t watched, but hope to soon.  See the trailer below: