Monday Morning: Edith Wharton, By Way of Jonathan Franzen

It is early on Monday morning, the next to the last Monday of May 2012.

Self has decided that she will stay home most of the day —  until, that is, her appointment with her dentist.

A tooth fell out on Friday —  can you imagine?  She wasn’t even chewing.

She’s making great inroads in her pile of stuff, though!  At least, the New Yorkers she’s reading now are only three months old!

In the New Yorker double issue of February 13 & 20, she finds an essay by Jonathan Franzen on the subject of Edith Wharton.  This is a matter of no small interest.  Last July, when self was cooling her heels in Bacolod, she had the House of Mirth with her.  Self doesn’t ever remember reading Wharton before (There are huge gaps in her knowledge:  For instance, it wasn’t until she was 25 and enrolled at Stanford University that she read Moby Dick)

Anyhoo, reading Wharton in Bacolod was an experience like no other (the way reading Saramago’s The Cave in December in Bacolod was like no other.  The way reading Tom McCarthy’s Remainder in March in Bacolod was like no other.  The way —  Eeeeek!  Self, get a grip!!)

Self had insomnia, Lily Bart in the House of Mirth had insomnia, it was the insomnia pity party all around! (In the meantime, there was the pretty laundry lady at L’Fisher Chalet who kept visiting self in her room every three days, to tell self she was so fat)

So, FINALLY, here we are at Jonathan Franzen’s essay.  The title of the essay is “A Rooting Interest:  Edith Wharton and the Problems of Sympathy.”

The purport of the article seems to be that Edith Wharton was a snob.  Not only that, she was a rich snob.  Here’s Franzen:

To be rich like Wharton may be what all of us secretly or not so secretly want, but privilege like hers isn’t easy to like; it puts her at a moral disadvantage.

Wharton lived in a “rich-person” precinct, indulged “her passion for gardens and interior decoration,” toured “Europe endlessly in hired yachts or chauffered cars,” and hobnobbed “with the powerful and the famous.” Her one irredeemable disadvantage was the fact that “she wasn’t pretty.”

So she settled down to 28 years of a sex-less marriage to Teddy Wharton.

Her only sexual relationship was with a “bisexual journalist and serial two-timer,” when she was “in her late forties.”

Enough, Mr. Franzen, enough!  Self thinks that none of these salient facts have anything to do with the way reading House of Mirth would reduce self to a pile of quivering jello, all the while she was imbibing Bacolod rum at the Negros Museum Café!  At the end of every day, self would imagine that she was Gillian Anderson, who played Lily Bart in the movie, wandering the back streets of Bacolod (standing in for New York:  self knows that is quite a stretch), heading for her demeaning job at a hat factory.

Self will proceed:

“In her forties,” Wharton “finally battled free of the deadness of her marriage and became a bestselling author; Teddy responded by spirallling into mental illness and embezzling a good part of her inheritance.”

Ugh.  Ugh.  Ugh.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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