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Reader’s Den

The Reader's Den: Edith Wharton's New York Stories

Edith (Newbold Jones) Wharton, 1862, Digital ID 102809, New York Public LibraryHappy New Year and welcome to 2013 in The Reader's Den!

Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was born in Greenwich Village into the wealthy New York Society that she would be famous for depicting in The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence. Although she spent much of her life living in Newport, RI, Lenox, MA, and Europe, especially France, where she spent years in her later life, she is best known for her treatment of the stiff, conformist, aristocratic world of New York that she knew so well.

In addition to numerous novels and novellas, Wharton wrote poetry, books on travel, architecture and decor, including The Decoration of Houses, and dozens of short stories. She wrote prolifically despite the disapproval of her family, mental and physical health issues, divorce, and active participation in French relief efforts during World War I. Her short stories are housed in many collections, including The New York Stories of Edith Wharton

The Washington Arch In Washington Square (Stanford White, Architect)., Digital ID 810001, New York Public LibraryOver the next three weeks, we will be discussing three of these short stories, all of which deal with their New York characters' attitudes towards, and sometimes obsession with, the past. Please leave any responses, thoughts, or questions in the comments section on each post to start the discussion!

January 7th-13th: "The Other Two" (1904): When Mr. Waythorn marries a woman already twice divorced, he doesn't worry about what people might say. Once married, however, he begins to be bothered by the same carefree manner that had attracted him to her. He begins to worry that she is " 'as easy as an old shoe' — a shoe that too many feet had worn."

January 14th-20th: "Autres Temps" (1916): After years of self-imposed exile, Mrs. Lidcote is returning to New York after learning of her daughter, Leila's divorce and remarriage. Horrified, because of her own divorce that cut her from New York's social circles, Mrs. Lidcote is repeatedly told that times have changed, but have they really?

January 21st-31st: "Roman Fever" (1934): Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley, of numbers 20 and 23 East 73rd Street, have been friends and rivals for years. When these two Upper East Side widows vacation together in Rome with their daughters, the mood goes from nostalgic to vindictive, and a shocking secret is revealed.

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