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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January 17, 2013

Only {mis}connect: Edith Wharton and Henry James

...Cabins were booked on the Cedric, and Edith, addled with fatigue, sailed from New York with Teddy in the first days of December. Teddy would have preferred to go straight to Italy, for he had come to dislike England rather irrationally. But Edith was determined to stop over for a while in London, where, she said to Sara Norton, 'I hope to see a few people.'
      Much the most important of those few people was Henry James, who came up from his home in Rye in mid-December to have lunch and spend the afternoon with the Whartons in their hotel in Brook Street. ... 'He seems in good spirits ... and talks, thank heaven, more lucidly than he writes.'
      It was a meeting that had been delayed for more than fifteen years. In A Backward Glance, Edith Wharton tells of two earlier occasions when she and James had been guests at the same dinner party, on neither of which did James even notice her. The first, in 1887 or thereabouts, was in the Paris home of Edward Boit, a watercolorist from Boston whom Teddy had known years before.Edith wore her best dress to the dinner, a Doucet gown, but James scarcely glanced her way, and Edith was too frozen with shyness to address a word to him.
      The second non-meeting took place in Venice around 1891, at the Palazzo Barbaro on the Grand Canal. The Barbaro was owned by Daniel Curtis, a Boston gentleman who had been involved in a fracas several decades earlier, as a result of which he had removed himself and his family from America permanently and settled in Venice. Believing himself to have been gratuitously insulted by a perfect stranger, he punched the other man (who turned out to be a magistrate) in the face and broke his glasses. Suit was brought and Curtis was sent to jail for three months, released, and in a towering fury, Curtis put America behind him forever.
      His son Ralph, a gifted if dilatory painter and a man of great personal zest, had known both Pussy Jones and Teddy Wharton in the old Newport and Boston days, and he was aware that Edith wanted nothing more than to meet Mr. James. This time she counted on a new hat to attract the great writer.
     ....I was almost sure it was becoming, and I felt that if he would only tell me so I might at last pluck up the courage to blurt out my admiration for Daisy Miller and The Portrait of a Lady.  But he noticed neither the hat nor its wearer -- and the second of our meetings fell as flat as the first.

from Edith Wharton, A Biography, by R.W.B. Lewis

{Doucet gown, perfectly posed and found here}


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