A Feast of Words: The Triumph of Edith Wharton

A Feast of Words: The Triumph of Edith Wharton

A Feast of Words: The Triumph of Edith Wharton

A Feast of Words: The Triumph of Edith Wharton

Excerpt

When people ask how I first became interested in Edith Wharton (now more than twenty years ago), I always respond in the same way. "I had been reading her novels, and one day I walked into my study and found her sitting quietly in the rocker. She wouldn't go away until I had told her story." This answer always sounds contrived—evasive and coy—irritating even to my own ear; nevertheless, there's not much I can do to change it because it is the truth. Not that I entertained an apparition or conversed with a spectral voice (which might even have been helpful). The situation was unplanned and entirely involuntary: I found myself haunted both by Wharton's presence and by the sense that she had assigned me an exacting mission. Edith Wharton wanted me to "tell the essential, private story," to seek out its complex, vital core. She did not want the standard academic exercise; she wanted something for which there was no map or pattern—an expedition into the uncharted zones of feminine genius and creativity.

This account of her life, then, was to be an "inside story." My assignment was not merely to record what Wharton had written, but to explain why she had felt with such urgency the imperative to write—and why, having successfully begun, she had found it so painfully difficult to commit herself to a career. This literary study was to be dynamic: not merely to analyze the fiction in intellectual isolation (or in some bloodless, "artistic" context), but to understand how writing itself had become the crucial key to her strength and growth and happiness. In sum, my assignment was to solve the enigma of her "Triumph" and bear witness.

It is true that the immensity of Edith Wharton's talent and achievement makes her story unique; moreover, the sumptuous luxury of "Old New York," where she grew up, may overwhelm us with an exotic appearance of singularity. However, these are surface trappings which disguise a more profound truth. Wharton's quandaries echo the intrinsic elements of many women's lives, and the laborious journey by . . .

Author Advanced search

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.