'How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare that after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.' No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement. — from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
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January 29, 2012

Sunday reading: a sunny midwinter day, 1866



George Frederic [EW's father] enjoyed strolling along New York streets, and by the time she was four, Edith regularly accompanied him. She dated the birth of her identity from a promenade up Fifth Avenue on a bright, sunny midwinter day in 1866. Dressed in a warm wool coat and pretty satin bonnet trimmed in tartan plaid, she looked out on the world through a filigreed veil of Shetland wool covering her eyes and cheeks, her small, mittened hand lying inside the 'large safe hollow' of her father's warm hand. Along the way, they met her cousin Daniel Fearing. An outgoing little boy, he lifted her veil and planted a bold kiss on her cheek. She was thus 'wakened to conscious life by the two tremendous forces of love and vanity.' A web of sensations formed around this event -- the feel of winter cold, the slanting sunlight seen through the filigreed veil, the little boy's kiss, her father's large, warm hand, and the wide avenue lined with brownstones. Possessing an acute visual memory and a delicate sensitivity to customs, manners and emotional atmospheres, Edith later re-created Old New York in stories and novels by drawing on her earliest experiences. Walking with her father up Fifth Avenue that winter morning, she was already seeing the world through the eyes of a storyteller.


from No Gifts of Chance:  a biography of  Edith Wharton,
by Shari Benstock


{Knowing, from other reading, that EW's childhood and young womanhood was not idyllic, it's comforting to have this glimpse of a moment that was.}

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