24 January 2012

edith wharton, get out of my life

This must've happened to you before: you learn a new word or hear about a TV show or read an article on an obscure-sounding topic on page D13 of the Chicago Tribune—and then suddenly, that word or TV shows or apparently-not-obscure topic is everywhere in your life.

Did you simply glaze over all of it before because you weren't familiar?

Or, in some odd universe coalescing way, is this word/show/topic now being served up to you on a silver platter, ready for your consumption?

That second question holds a twinge of conspiracy theory in it, and I apologize for sounding suspicious of...the universe.

{Parenthetical Justification for Suspicion: In a world where Google dominates and tracks our every {Internet} move, it's hard to avoid going down the conspiracy theory/someone is stalking me route sometimes.

Example: at work today, I looked up a news story about Senator Mark Kirk {R-IL}, and not too long later, the ads on my Grooveshark were all about asking for donations for Rick Santorum. I hit re-fresh, and they were about donations for Newt Gingrich. In my Google-why-do-I-let-you-know-everything-about-my-life distrust of the Internet, I'm convinced the ads were a direct result of the search.

End Parenthetical Justification for Suspicion.}

I ask all this because I'm going through this experience with Edith Wharton right now.

It's not that I recently heard of her—oh, no.

When I was in middle school, my parents took me to visit her house in Massachusetts, the Mount. I remember seeing her big writing desk in the upstairs sitting room—big windows, lots of light, overlooking the gardens—and thinking that I'd never stop writing if I had that kind of set-up. Or maybe I'd just have very literary-looking photographs of me taken.

The Mount: I would also throw excellent garden parties if this were my house.

Through high school and college, I read several things by her, including her short story "Roman Fever," which has such a twist of an ending that you actually gasp and sit dumbfounded for several minutes afterwards.

If you lived in the Mount and you read that story, you would be forced to take a walk in the gardens {carrying a parasol}, focusing all the time on your breathing and how beautifully blue the sky is, in order to recover from reading it.

So, Edith has been part of my life for some time, but she'd been relegated to the back recesses of my mind, the way things that you did in middle school often are.

Last week, though, she came back.

I was sick and had just finished a book. Standing at my bookshelf with my head tilted, reading the titles to try to find something, anything, that would take my mind off the thumping headache and my self-diagnosis of tuberculosis, I came across my Edith Wharton section.

Edith Wharton? Images of the Mount and me gasping violently {to the consternation of my roommate} after reading "Roman Fever" while curled up in my dorm room bunk bed floated past.

Yes, I could go for some Edith Wharton, I decided, but not any of these that I already own. The next day, when I mustered enough energy to make it to the library {I live half a block away from it, but getting there did involve me changing out of my sweatpants}, I checked out The Buccaneers.

Should you be a visual person who'd like to know what kind of book you're dealing with, here's what it looks like. Now stop judging a book by its cover.

{Parenthetical Downton Abbey Disclosure: This book was recommended for people who like Downton Abbey, and as we know, I'm way beyond like when it comes to Downton.}

In the little sick nest I'd built for myself on the couch—out of Kleenex, antibiotics, pillows, a cuddly pug, and a wool blanket from PEI—I remembered why I like Edith Wharton so much: She makes you feel as if you were in on a delicious secret. And that secret is well-dressed and has a house on Fifth Avenue.

I couldn't stop reading Edith all weekend. The Buccaneers is about American heiresses who go to England in the 1870s to use their Papas' wealth to buy themselves a husband and a title. I assume you're all thinking of Cora Crawley in Downton Abbey now; if you aren't, I obviously haven't done my job of talking about Downton enough.

Yesterday, I made it back to work, and this was waiting for me on our office's Book-a-Day Calendar:

Look closely. Or, you know, click on the image and it will be blown up. Not in the TNT sense.

The Book-a-Day Calendar was telling me to read Edith. I'm way ahead of you, buddy, I told it. Or would have, should I be the kind who talks to paper products.

And then today, Twitter taught me this: Edith Wharton was born 150 years ago today.

Okay, I get it, universe: You want me to pay attention to Edith Wharton.

Or marry an English duke, since she often wrote about that.

I'm sure the message will become clear by tomorrow, when Google will start showing me ads that have to do with visiting the Mount or buying a writing desk to place in my sitting room. {Joke's on you, Google: I don't have a sitting room.}

In conclusion: Happy birthday, Edith Wharton!


  1. Nice! You've inspired me. I just added some Edith Wharton to my Kindle : )

    Yo-Yo Ma taught a master class in town this weekend and he compared part of a cello concerto to Downton Abbey! Yo-Yo Ma watches Downton Abbey!

  2. You should be in my grad program - the director is a Wharton scholar, and you are practically required to be a Wharton fan before you can graduate. I'm happy to know another fan.

  3. Hey Kamiah, have you ever read "Daddy Long Legs" by Jean Webster? While reading this post, I was suddenly struck by the fact that you ARE Judy Abbott. Something about your combination of introspection and enthusiasm. :) P.S. If you love the book, don't see the movie. It is totally different.

  4. Val, I haven't read that book, but you better believe that I'm going to check it out now.

    A mix of introspection and enthusiasm, eh? I'm going to note that down as a good description of me :)

  5. And Erica, I hope you enjoy Edith. Definitely let me know if you read "Roman Fever"!

    Wait, did you actually get to go to this master class with Yo-Yo Ma?!?! That's so cool. And of course, he's even cooler in my mind since he likes Downton!



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