The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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November 15, 2010

The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton

I don't read children's books very often (although sometimes they're very appealing), but when I read a few months ago that a new biography of Edith Wharton had been published to good reviews, I was enchanted. If my nieces were younger, I would have bought this for them in a heartbeat, without even reading it. That's because to me, she is a fascinating (and yes, brave) woman as well as a great writer...but on the other hand, it was (it still is) a little hard to see her (and her circle of friends) as figures of interest for a 12 or 13 or 14-year-old girl.  Edith comes across (as she always has for me) as an old soul.

But Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge made a brave effort to make her one, and I'm so happy about that! The title of the book comes from the premise that Edith, even as a young girl, 'escaped' from the rigidity and stifling conventions of old New York Society to create a new kind of life for herself.  At the end of the book, the argument (a more nuanced, more persuasive one) is that 'in her lifetime, Edith Wharton managed to live properly in society while escaping from the restrictions that might have kept her from writing.' 

I remember reading my way through the shelf of children's biographies in my elementary school library (when I was admittedly a little younger than the intended reader of this book), and I'm sure that whatever facts I learned about Florence Nightingale or Eleanor Roosevelt were uplifting, positive and highly moral. So I found it interesting that this book didn't shy away from touching on Edith's wedding night or her affair with Morton Fullerton.  It also tells some of the stories that I've always loved, about Edith and her love of motor cars to Henry James' grumbling about buying a wheelbarrow with the proceeds of his last novel and having it painted with the money from the next one. It presents interesting information (I think) about old New York and about war work in Paris during the World War I, and it's filled with wonderful pictures. That's almost the best part of all.

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Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

This definitely looks to be right up my alley -- I love Edith Wharton, and am planning a review soon on Ethan Frome, which I just finished on Sunday. I'll be putting this book on my list as well!

Many thanks!

Vintage Reading said...

I wonder how this biog escaped my radare? I'm a huge admirer of Edith Wharton and enjoyed your review of the book. Stunning picture of EW in the snow.

Thank you for visiting!

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