Tag Archives: Edith Wharton

Spinster Book Review

The official definition of a spinster is : an unmarried woman, typically an older woman beyond the usual age for marriage.

According the Census from last September, 105 million Americans 18 and older are not married. 53% are female, 47% are male.

In the 1950’s and early 1960’s half of all women were married. The average age of the women who were saying “I do” was 20.

In Kate Bolick’s new book, Spinster: Making A Life Of One’s Own, while writing about her previous romantic relationships, she writes about five noted women writers who chose to be single. The questions she asks about men, marriage, romantic relationships and work are timeless.

The women she writes about include Edna St. Vincent Millay, Neith Boyce, and Edith Wharton.

I enjoyed this book. Ms. Bolick does a nice job of entwining her own personal experience with the women whom she admires and writes about.

I recommend this book.

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The Age Of Innocence Book And Movie Review

Edith Wharton’s classic 1920 novel, The Age Of Innocence, can be described as the clash between personal desire and the driving force that tells us to do what is right and honorable.

Newland Archer is the scion of a well respected late 19th century New York society family. He is engaged to marry May Welland, the daughter of another well respected New York Society family. Newland has always done what is right and proper, never considering his own wants and needs. Then the Countess Ellen Olenska enters his life. Ellen, who is his fiance’s cousin, is attempting to divorce her abusive European aristocratic husband.

Initially Newland looks to help Ellen, who has become an outcast due to the divorce, because she is soon to be his cousin by marriage. But he will soon discover that he and Ellen have a spark and he must decide what he wants from life and who he wants to spend his life with.

In 1993, The Age Of Innocence was made into a movie with Daniel Day Lewis as Newland, Winona Ryder as May and Michelle Pfeiffer as Ellen.

I like both the book and the movie. Certain novels are considered classics because within the story or the characters, there is something we all can relate to, regardless of the time and place that the author set the story in. This novel is no different. What we as individuals need and want versus what the larger society tells us what we should need and want is a struggle that has never ceased.

I recommend both.

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Chick Lit and Post Feminism Book Review

The chick lit genre is usually defined as light and frothy, with just a little bit of drama to keep the story interesting.  The ending is the typical Hollywood ending.

Stephanie Harzewski’s 2011 non fiction book, Chick Lit and Postfeminism,  follows the path of the chick lit genre from it’s earliest foremothers to it’s newest incarnations. Ms. Harzewski starts with two of the genre’s foremothers, Jane Austen and Edith Wharton. Using Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and Wharton’s Lily Bart from the House Of Mirth as models, she compares them to some of the newer characters who inhabit the genre.

I enjoyed this book. I am not a usually a fan of the chick lit genre, but sometimes a light and frothy book with a predictable ending is just what the doctor ordered.  What I specifically enjoyed was that Ms. Harzewski did her homework, but the book was not the boring college textbook it could have been. As both a feminist and a book worm, I was able to appreciate where we as women have been and will be going in the future.

I recommend this book.

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House Of Mirth Book Review

In 1905, Edith Wharton introduced the world to a new heroine: Lily Bart. Lily is the heroine of The House Of Mirth, Edith Wharton’s commentary of the lives of women who were part of the upper classes in the early 20th century.

Lily is the product of her time.  When the novel starts, she is at the height of her power. She has a small income, however, she is very well connected and hopes to receiving an inheritance from her aunt. At the age of 29, Lily knows that she has to marry. She turns down several proposals while having a will they or won’t they flirtation with Lawrence Selden, a barrister with whom marriage is out of the question.

Due to a gambling debt, she accepts money from a friend’s husband who wants more than a thank you for his generosity. Her reputation and her income soon fall. She looses her circle of friends and is forced to find other ways to survive.

I saw the movie last month, I finally got my hands on a copy of the book yesterday.  I loved the movie and I love this book.  Ms. Wharton’s sharp commentary on the very shallow values that dictated society at that time is absolutely perfect. What I also love is that this book makes the perfect case for why Feminism is still needed.

I get the feeling that if Lily had lived in our time, she would have thrived and survived. But, she is from high society in 1905, when an upper class woman’s only choice of profession was that of wife and mother.

I highly recommend this book.

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House Of Mirth Review

Edith Wharton‘s 1905 novel, The House  Of Mirth is about the tradition and contradictions in early 20th century New York.

The 2000 film adaptation of the novel stars Gillian Anderson as Lily Bart. She is the star of the social scene, but foolish when it comes to financial matters. She turns down several marriage offers and has a will they or wont they flirtation with Lawrence Selden (Eric Stoltz). When she innocently accepts money from Gus Trenor (Dan Akroyd), who is married to her best friend Judy (Penny Downie), her social standing begins to fall.

I saw this movie for the first time last night and though I have yet to read the book, I will do so shortly.  Edith Wharton, in this novel is a feminist. She writes about upper class women, who in the early 20th century were expected to marry. Education beyond a certain point and a career was out of the question. Lily is unmarried; a woman’s reputation or lack there of, especially a unmarried woman’s reputation at that time could be her best friend or her worst enemy. Anderson who is best known for her role as Dana Scully on the X-Files, completely breaks with the iconic sci-fi character to play a woman whose life spirals out of control.

The supporting cast includes Jodhi May, Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Linney and Anthony LaPaglia.

I highly recommend this movie.

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The American Heiress Book Review

In 1776, America won the war of Independence against the British. In the 1890’s, wealthy American parents returned to the British Isles, looking for titled and wealthy aristocratic husbands for their daughters.

Cora Cash, heroine of Daisy Goodwin’s novel, The American Heiress is one of the wealthiest young women in America. Mrs. Cash, her controlling mother, is not looking for husband for her daughter among the young men in their social circle.  She requires a title for her daughter, coupled with a large estate.  While riding in the countryside, Cora meets the Duke Of Wareham, known to his family and close associates as Ivo. Their engagement and marriage quickly follows.

But Cora is unaware of the stringent customs and traditions of her new country. Her husband is distant at times, causing Cora to question if she made the right choice.  While Cora is learning about her new life, her free black maid, Bertha is also learning about English customs while being courted by the Duke’s valet.

This book is absolute perfection. It is part Edith Wharton, part Jane Austen, with a dash of Downton Abbey. Ms. Goodwin balances the details of the period with a very entertaining story line and interesting characters.

I highly recommend this book.

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The Innocents Book Review

Edith Wharton’s Age Of Innocence is  a classic. Newland Archer’s inner struggle between personal desire and duty is timeless.

Francesca Segal’s debut novel, Innocence, moves the story from Gilded Age New York to a predominately Jewish suburb in North London. Newland Archer has become Adam Newman. Adam’s life is well ordered and perfect. He is living in the same community he was born into, newly engaged to Rachel Gilbert, his longtime girlfriend and working for Rachel’s father at his law firm.

His world and his decision making is turned when Ellie, Rachel’s independent, rebellious and headstrong cousin returns from New York, running from a scandal. When Adam takes on Ellie’s case, he begins to question if his well ordered and perfect life is really what he wants.

There are some fans who are so cannon (fanfiction term for original script or novel) that any reboot which removes the characters and story line from their original setting seems blasphemous. I am not one of those fans.

However, there is something to be said when a writer takes a risk and tells a new story, instead of retreading the path of another writer. It doesn’t take much to change Ellen Olenska, a woman trying to divorce her abusive European aristocratic husband to Ellie Schneider, a young woman escaping a sex scandal involving a prominent public figure.

Did I enjoy the novel? I can’t say I didn’t, but I look forward to her next novel when she tells a new story instead of re-writing an old one.

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