Latest from the Blog

A Late Bloom

In these days of creative writing courses and self-publishing it's rare to find a talented writer who hasn't been tutored, just as it is commonplace to find an untalented writer whose taken advantage of the many routes into the world of Kindles, Nooks and Ipads. Mainstream publishers don't like to gamble too heavily. Self-published authors have … [More...]

Caught in the Rye

Unless we're talking about a troop of monkeys with a typewriter each and an infinite amount of time – a statistical proposition that surely needs updating – authors are people. If that seems obvious enough, you're missing the point. Which is that people are generally different; they have varying approaches and motivations. They have egos, … [More...]

Epistles from the bar

There are times in the history of literature when certain important figures just can't fail to make your teeth grind. Filled with their own self-importance, friends, colleagues and admired peers became little more than a means to an end, typically a next meal or, if they were either efficient or moderately ambitious, a living for the next month. Or … [More...]

Shakespeare, Hughes and Lawrence – a very English line of beauty.

Ted Hughes had a theory about Shakespeare, one that came to him from reading two early pieces, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrecia. The essence of that theory was continuously examined in Hughes' 1992 book Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being and runs something like this: all the plays of the master playwright are instilled with a … [More...]

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Edith Wharton – overcoming guilt

With a healthy income, more than a room of her own and access to an extensive family library, Edith Wharton more than fulfilled Virginia Woolf’s set of requirements for a woman in the world of writing. Yet for all that, it wasn’t these set of requisite factors that made Wharton one of the best American authors of the twentieth century. What mattered more were the circumstances she found herself in and the decisions she made for her life.

But that was for later. In her early short stories and novels, Wharton looked to comment on social affairs and, to some extent, on economic circumstances. Bunner Sisters, written as early as 1890, though not published until 1916, took as its topic the deprivation of its two protagonists, showing how the disadvantaged fared in a burgeoning economy. The House of Mirth, arguably her best novel, shows how Lilly Bart, an attractive and eloquent member of her social set, is also defined and made to fall by her financial insecurity.

The change came just after the publication of The House of Mirth when Wharton entered into a relationship with Morton Fullerton, a Times correspondent. The affair was not long-standing and was not publicised – evidence only came to light in 1988 when her letters to Fullerton were revealed – but the change in Wharton’s novels was evident, even if the reason wasn’t. Novels such as Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence dwelt on infidelity and social stigmas, in essence recounting her own guilt and exploring the outcome should her own affairs become public.

Of course, all that is easy criticism. Through all her difficulties, Wharton retained her intellect and the result was a corpus that can be read in many different ways. Whether its the nod towards modernity in The Reef or a backwards glance at classical philosophy in The House of Mirth, Wharton consistently demonstrated not just her incessant reading but also her abilities as a writer in the first half of the twentieth century.