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review 2020-04-07 14:20
Tales of Men and Ghosts
Tales of Men and Ghosts - Edith Wharton

by Edith Wharton


Victorian-style literature takes a bit of patience to enjoy. It is written in a distinctively wordy style that I often enjoy, but can easily become tedious in some books.


Ghost stories were a holiday tradition in Victorian times and it seems some authors known for genres other than Horror lent their talents to this sub-genre, including Edith Wharton. The thing about these Victorian ghost stories is that they are seldom actually scary, but with a few exceptions, generally have an amenable ghost involved who behaves with Victorian manners and even becomes part of the family or just a minor irritation.


I can't say that Wharton's stories are the most stimulating that I've read. Some of the ten stories in this collection don't even have proper ghosts, but more a concept of ghostliness. One entitled The Eyes is the only one of the collection that I would describe as a proper ghost story, though that one was rather good.


Overall I wouldn't think of this collection first if I were going to recommend a book of Victorian ghost stories, but the one story justifies adding Edith Wharton to the list of women authors who can turn their hand to the spooky.

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text 2020-04-01 18:31
Reading progress update: I've read 35 out of 352 pages.
The House of Mirth: (RED edition) - Edith Wharton

This one is going back on the shelf with Hilary Mantel. I'm giving in to my need for easy reads.

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text 2020-03-27 16:02
#FridayReads 3.27.2020
The Burning Room - Michael Connelly
The Mirror and the Light - Hilary Mantel
The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton



I decided to go back to my Boschverse read. I got bogged down with The Gods of Guilt, which is one of Connelly's Mickey Haller books. I am not so much of a fan of those books, so I finally decided to just DNF it and move on. I'm back with Harry, and much happier!


I'm also still reading The Mirror and the Light, but this obviously is not the book I want to be reading right now, because I find myself avoiding picking it up. It's not that it's not a good back - it's just not what I'm in the mood for.


Which also goes for my reread of The House of Mirth. I love Lily Bart, but this is also one that I've been avoiding picking up. I'll probably try to focus on it over the weekend.




On tap for tomorrow is the buddy read of Patricia Wentworth's second Miss Silver book, The Case is Closed. I may also move on to Mr. Brading's Collection, which is the 17th Miss Silver, and is also the book that I am up for reading next.


Let's see your #fridayreads!



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text 2020-03-07 17:29
Reading progress update: I've read 35 out of 352 pages.
The House of Mirth: (RED edition) - Edith Wharton

This is a reread of one of my favorite books of all time.


This is my cover - I bought it on Abebooks and I LOVE it so much. That's all I have to say right now, although I am sure that I will have more to say about this amazing book as I reread it.

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review 2019-09-08 18:40
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Ethan Frome - Cynthia Griffin Wolff,Edith Wharton

Despite the author’s literary skill, I didn't think much of this novella. In its brief page count, it chronicles the tragedy of Ethan Frome, a struggling young farmer hastily married to a cousin who constantly insists upon her unspecified ailments; while yearning for a better life, Ethan falls hard for his wife’s penniless young cousin, Mattie, who has joined them as a sort of servant.

There is merit here: the clear but artful language and descriptions of the New England countryside (where it is apparently always winter); the nuanced portrayals of everyday events and the characters’ emotional states; a story that moves relatively quickly and builds emotion as it goes. I suspect it’s a rare reader who doesn’t have an emotional reaction to the book, which is short enough and compelling enough to read in a single sitting.

But for many readers – myself included – the predominant emotional reaction is likely to be frustration. This is the second Wharton I’ve read, and both books follow characters who refuse to take available options to solve their problems, and finally conclude (or appear to conclude) that death is the only answer. These books are apparently meant to demonstrate how society limits the individual’s choices. But, to put it rather crudely, I think what this book really demonstrates is how being a pussy limits Ethan’s choices. Why doesn’t he stand up to his wife? Why doesn’t he abandon the farm to his creditors, go to the nearest city and get a job? Why does he feel he could only leave if he could afford to get to California, at a time when new immigrants were arriving and surviving on the East Coast every day? It’s hard for me to feel for a character whose real problem seems to be that he doesn’t have the spine to stand up for himself and the woman he claims to love. Mattie’s problems are somewhat more legitimate, but the story is told so much from Ethan’s perspective that we don’t quite know her; I was left wondering whether she in fact loved Ethan, or just saw him as her only protector; even she might not know the difference.

The other thing that rubs me the wrong way is Wharton’s introduction, in which she explains that the story is short because her poor rural characters are “simple” people with simple emotions: “but half-emerged from the soil, and scarcely more articulate.” This is so condescending and lacking in empathy that I wonder how qualified she really is to write about these characters. Just because someone is poor, half-educated and hasn’t been raised to consider their emotions worthy of analysis and discussion, doesn’t mean they don’t have complicated emotions, or that their life isn’t a long and complicated saga. This book is short because all of the set-up happens before it starts, leaving us to follow the characters only for some quick rising action up to the climax, and then we skip a couple of decades and get all the denouement in a quick retrospective. From a literary standpoint this works well. But the shortness and simplicity comes not from the fact that the characters are incapable of experiencing more, but because Wharton is incapable of imagining them doing so.

I don’t regret reading this: it’s short, well-known and an interesting story. But I definitely wouldn't recommend assigning it to teenagers; even as an adult, it’s a little hard to sympathize with these characters. And let’s keep in mind that while Wharton – without the benefit of today’s social science – fell for the common human fallacy of believing that members of out-groups have emotions less meaningful and complex than our own, we shouldn’t do the same.

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