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Submitted by on May 22, 2007 – 4:40 PM20 Comments

Seems like Edith Wharton is having a renaissance — the new biography is out (I've bought it, but haven't dug in yet), and Domino had a piece on decorating in the Wharton style, which I think would please her more than attention paid to her fiction.

It's nice to see her getting her due after spending so many years as a perfunctory post-Henry-James mention, and if you'd like to have read Wharton but don't feature the homework, I'd highly recommend the film versions of House of Mirth and Age of Innocence. The casting of either or both may strike you as counterintuitive, but give it a chance to settle.

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  • Jennifer says:

    I've read House of Mirth several times (and seen the movie with Gillian Anderson — great movie), but never really delved into her other fiction. Age of Innocence (the book) didn't do much for me. Do you have another favorite Wharton book besides HoM you'd recommend?

  • Sars says:

    I liked "The Custom of the Country" ("so you're the one!"). I would also recommend her ghost stories; you can usually find a collection on eBay for a few bucks. Skip "Ethan Frome," which is a good read but not "typical" Wharton.

    I haven't read any of her decor/gardening work but evidently this was what she was most known for during her lifetime.

  • FloridaErin says:

    I adore the movie version of House of Mirth. Fantastic stuff and a shame it didn't get more attention.

  • Kelly says:

    I would say THE CHILDREN is my personal favorite, with HOUSE OF MIRTH a close runner-up (though I'll be the naysayer on the movie– I thought both Gillian, who I love, and Eric Stoltz were bad fits for the characters). I've never been a real fan of AGE OF INNOCENCE but I read all her books in middle and high school and am bemused to see I was fashionable; I was under the impression I was "weird" and a complete nerd for loving Gilded Age fiction. I stuck it out, though– she's still my favorite author! I recommend a trip to Newport, RI for any Wharton fan, it is absolutely like walking into one of her novels.

  • Mcgjgl says:

    I'd recommend "Ethan Frome" if you're feeling a little too optimistic about life. Actually, I read it in high school and hated it, but I re-read it last year and while the content is deeply depressing, I at least enjoyed the read.

  • Lotte says:

    I actually much prefer her short stories. I must have read Roman Fever a hundred times, and the ending still makes me snicker.

  • Maureen says:

    How strange! I just picked up The Age of Innocence yesterday and started to read it. So far I am really enjoying it – I didn't realize I was fashionable.

  • Sean says:

    I also liked The Age of Innocence a lot, both book and movie. You brought up Henry James; I think Wharton was both more comic in her observations and more tender towards her lead characters. I also liked the movie an awful lot, though I think Winona Ryder (whom I normally like) was strangely muted as May. I know May is conventional even next to the Countess, but I thought she was perilously close to wooden. Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer were terrific. And finally, it's one of the few period pieces that doesn't just look at the scenery, but tries to use it to important purpose.

    I liked the book of House of Mirth as well, though it was a tougher read. I couldn't get into the movie, however – Gillian Anderson is just too modern for me to accept in that role.

  • Wolverton says:

    I have to second the love for "Roman Fever". One of the best short stories ever, by any author. Wharton actually has two volumes of surprising, twisted short stories, and I read all of them for my thesis.

    Thanks to Sars for the heads up on the new biography.

  • Allison says:

    The Buccaneers! It was her final novel and I just love it. Read it, and then rent the BBC miniseries of the same name. You won't be disappointed.

  • Kim W. says:

    Another fan of her short stories here; my absolute favorite is one called "Xingu", one that not everyone seems to know but is absolutely deliciously fun. It's a story about a genteel ladies' book club, and how the "black sheep" of the club, the one everyone looks down on, figures out how to lay a brilliant smackdown on all of them. (Disclaimer: I fell so in love with it I adapted it for the stage in 2003; it's been staged once and I'm trying to figure out "what next" for it.)

  • RJ says:

    I loved the books "House of Mirth" and "Age of Innocence"; I also loved the movie version of "Age of Innocence." But I HATED the casting in "House of Mirth." Okay, I hated Eric Stoltz – no offense to those who loved the movie, or Eric Stoltz, but I just couldn't see him in that role. I spent the entire time wanting to punch him.

    Thanks for mentioning the new bio – I've been looking for something new to read!!!

  • Abra Cat says:

    I've been a huge Edith Wharton fan for years, and last summer was my Summer of Wharton– I read as much as I could get my hands on at my local library. I loved The Buccaneers; although Wharton died before finishing it, another author finished it using her notes. I also loved A Mother's Recompense, which was rather heartbreaking. Ethan Fromme and Summer are both big favorites as well, although not typical of her work. Still working on tracking down her ghost stories…

  • Jessica says:

    Sars, say a bit more about The Custom of the Country? Because I picked it up about twelve years ago (during the last Wharton craze, you could say) and read it thinking, "There is a point to staying with this horrible heroine, isn't there?… Isn't there?… Guess not."

    I remember thinking that some of the set pieces, descriptions, passages, etc., were fantastic. And I think I didn't realize at the time that you were supposed to feel like slapping Undine Spragg. Still, it just didn't seem like a very rewarding book to me.

  • Beth says:

    I loved The Custom of the Country I even like The Reef and The Age of Innocence. I love her writing so much, I"m glad she's finally getting a bit of attention. Apparently I now need to find her short stories as well.

  • Those who like EW's style but find her plots overinvolved (or just don't want to take on a whole novel) might try Old New York, which is a really great set of novellas set in New York during different decades.

  • sarahb says:

    When The House of Mirth didn't come up during the course of my oral exams, I actually requested they go on a bit longer so that I could talk about it. Lawrence Selden: Worst Villain in American Literature.

    Undine Spragg (The Custom of the Country) is the GREATEST name ever concocted for an anti-heroine.

    I really like the novella Summer. Some very hott sexual repression going on in it.

  • Tori says:

    "The House of Mirth" may be my favorite novel of all time (and the movie really won me over…I really expected to hate it) and I adore "Summer" as well. I'm so glad Wharton is being appreciated once more.

  • Faith says:

    I've loved everything I've ever read of hers. "Custom…" and "Age…" are at the top of my list, but "Summer" and "The Reef" follow closely behind.

    I'd forgotten about the short stories until Lotte mentioned "Roman Fever" up there. GOD I loved that story!

    Edith got pushed aside once I started reading Jane Austen, but I still credit her with all my early knowledge of what life in upper class America was like for women at the turn of the century. (And even though I can understand where Scorcese was headed with his direction of the actors in the film version of "Age," I still can't stand to watch it much. Day-Lewis's portrayal of Newland made me want to cringe most of the time. And don't even get me started on Ryder as May. AUGH!)

  • Becs says:

    heh I actually just finished writing my undergrad thesis on Wharton … I focused mainly on the Great War influences, and "A Son at the Front" was really compelling in an odd way. I wouldn't recommend it to everyone, but I'm really interested that era so it was fun :) "House of Mirth" is definitely my other favorite, although my lit-major friends think I'm nuts.

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