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August 16, 2011


As you've now read the book "The Age of Innocence", it might be safe to watch the film, which I thought was reasonably well done. I don't know if I buy Michelle Pfeiffer as Olenska, just because I associate her so much with her role as Batwoman, but the film is well acted.

Gail Godwin is an interesting modern novelist, whose academic themes in her writing can be more approachable than Byatt's. I found Pearl Buck to be an wonderful surprise too. I must have read The Good Earth two dozen times when growing up--beautiful descriptive language within a morality tale.

Happy reading!

What a treat to be reading Wharton for the first time. I do agree that Hermione Lee is heavy going. Too much information!

I meant to say, have you read Willa Cather? I had that same reading experience when I came across her only about a year ago - another beautiful writer - and I'd no preconceptions about the books.

I read Edith Wharton as an adult, too, and also very much appreciated The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth. Thanks for the reminder!

I am just like you in terms of reading old rather than new - and why spend a lot of money on a brand new modern novel which takes only 3 hours to read, when a closely printed triple decker is so much better value for money - not to mention the food for thought enclosed within. Having specialized in English rather than American literature, I haven't read Edith Wharton either - but this summer I have been getting to grips with Wilkie Collins' back catalogue - and wondering why it has taken me so long - real pageturners!

Pomona x

Aw, Pomona - I too love a bit of Wilkie Collins. Gripping stuff! x

If no-one reads new books, they're never going to make it onto the canon!

Edith Wharton, what joy! Try 'Ethan Frome' for a very different but equally brilliant read, far away from New York high society.

Another vote here for Wilkie Collins; perfect autumn/winter early-to-bed reading.

Ahhh, it's good to start thinking about the pleasures of autumn without hurrying our mottled summer along.

Beautifully reassuring photograph of well-worn classics, Jane.

"The House of Mirth" is one of my all-time favourite novels but I thoroughly recommend "The Custom of the Country" and the collection of short stories in "Souls Belated" are beautifully observed (and not a little scary in places).

Yes! So glad you fell in love with her! You MUST read Ethan Frome - it's very short and will break your heart. Also The Custom of the Country is very good. I have the Hermione Lee bio too but haven't quite worked up the courage to open that behemoth yet - perhaps once I've read a couple more of her novels.

I heartily agree with you regarding classic novels - all of these modern bestsellers are here today, gone tomorrow and line charity shop shelves for a reason - they're not keepers. There is something profound about the classics that keep us coming back to them - they get to the heart of human nature in a way that is timeless and continues to speak across the generations.

If you haven't read Willa Cather yet, I agree with Mary above - you'd love her. Lucy Gayheart is my favourite so far - it blew me away.

What a lovely way to discover Wharton, with novel in one hand and biography in the other, as it were.
And another vote for Wilkie Collins from me too.

Willa Cather is even better than Wharton, or perhaps not better, but so different.

My Antonia is wonderful, but try Death Comes for the Archbishop!

I am a faithful if mostly silent reader of your blog, and always enjoy your thoughts and beautiful photos.

I picked up Wharton's The Buccaneers last week and just fell into it. She died before she finished it, but it is well worth reading. There's a current novel out that attemtps to cover similar ground, but Wharton Rules! She was there, after all. The RWB Lewis bio is still standard.

I've read all of Wharton. Summer, Age of Innocence ... always a good read. Wilkie Collins, Trollope, so many greats to choose from ...

I'm with you. As soon as I read Dickens in high school I was hooked. There was nothing better. And it seems like I'll never run out PLUS the classics are so good that re-reading them after a few years is just as wonderful.

Have you tried Willa Cather yet? When I read My Antonia I couldn't put it down. I had to read the whole thing in one sitting. I can't even remember why it was so gripping which I guess means it is time to read it again! Yay!

How extraordinary! I'd just carried my daughter's copy of The House of Mirth down from her old room to my bedside bookpile when I came online and found you all extolling Edith Wharton. However, Lily Bart must wait until I've finished re-reading about Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont. I used to get my Elizabeth Taylors and other Virago authors from charity shops but now it's all either sport or chicklit. Claire

I love the photo... I always look for well-worn Penguin editions at the second hand shops. I always associate them with England and other happy reading (although perhaps not classics) in the Rumpole series. It's a little bias that's been with me since I was a child and my mother had a bookstore.

I've only started in on novels in the past few years - always reading history and biographies before that. Many of the books I've read came to me through your book, The Gentle Art of Domesticity. So, you have become a sort of reading guru for me!

All the best,


What excellent taste you have. Wharton is also a favorite of mine, as is Cather (mentioned above), whose work I've been re-reading for the last year. And no one beats the Victorians for thoughtful wordiness -- Trollope and Hardy in particular. Audiobooks of their work (with the right reader) are good for many an inch of tapestry weaving.
Do Byatt and Drabble not count as they're still alive?

Thanks so much for all that you do.

Try Eudora Welty as well. She's published by virago. Another good American author.

You are the English, female version of Harold Bloom :)
And oh, Lily Bart. I read it two years ago and I'm still heartbroken.

I, too, devoured "The House of Mirth"this summer. I liked it more than "The Age of Innocence" in which I felt the author's passing judgement on her characters in a heavy-handed way. By contrast,Lily Bart is such a unique,richly drawn character.

I could not agree more about the classics.

Here is a bit of Wharton in the Berkshires

Ethan Frome is my favourite by E.W.

The man in my life came with me to the flicks to see 'The House of Mirth'. He looked stunned when we came out, I asked him why...."I thought it was a comedy. It is called the House of MIRTH"

Brece: Have you visited The Mount? It is lovely - and in great proximity to Shakespeare & Co, Tanglewood, Chesterwood, and so many other wonderful venues.

Jane: So exciting for you to have "discovered" Edith Wharton. May you continue to enjoy her work.

Jane, I'd like to reinforce the recommendation for the film of The Age of Innocence. First, it's Martin Scorsese and he brings his forensic dissection of gangs to bear on the elite of New York exposing the viciousness just as effectively without the blood. Second, Daniel Day Lewis is not chewing up the screen. Third the beautiful title sequence is Saul and Elaine Bass and the lush score is by Elmer Bernstein - cinematic greats. Sixth, there is the most fantastic dinner scene where people are framed by tall candles. Seventh, you get to hear Miriam Margoyles say 'Your name was Beaufort when he covered you in diamonds and it's got to stay Beaufort now he's covered you in shame'. And finally, it's a perfect knitting film AND leaves plenty of time for more reading! PS. I always buy yellow roses because of AoI and have done since I read it in my early 20s


Not sure what happened to four and five above but I think I've communicated my enthusiasm for this film!

I too love classic novels and Penguin books. Most books in your picture I have. Quite frequently they have been the only books I've wanted to read. But of course there are good things among our contemporaries as well. This year, recently, I have been reading some contemporary authors and I have been discovering some worthwhile reads. For instance, I would earnestly recommend Philippa Gregory's historical novels. They are lovingly well written.. the Cousins War trilogy is a good place where to get started. I have also been appreciating the novels of Haruki Murakami greatly. You could start with Norwegian Wood, a very special love story. Other contemporary authors I have discovered recently are John Banville and Margaret Drabble. Margaret Drabble's The Millstone and The Needle's Eye are so readable and fun! Personally.. it might be a silly whim, I like to read the classics better in autumn and winter, and lighter contemporary stuff in the summer. So I am kind of looking forward to the autumn to get hold of Charlotte Bronte and Samuel Richardson!

I forgot to say.. The Age of Innocence is also one of my favorite films, though I also have misgivings about Pfeiffer as Madame Olenska. And have sometime been wanting to get hold of Wharton's The Decoration of Houses. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Decoration_of_Houses

Your comment about the ending of classics being well known reminded me of an incident only recently. My daughter is reading Wuthering Heights for the first time. We were on a train returning from a family visit and the lady opposite my daughter, seeing her reading the book, checked how far she was and then proceeded to tell her the remaining story. Unfortunately, we weren't sat together or I would have told the kindly but interfering woman not to spoil it for her!

Thanks for this! I used to consider myself pretty well-read because I was up on the current novels of the day. And then I realized how many classics were missing from my life! It's such a treat to be an adult reading them for the first time.

I have a collection of Edith Wharton's ghost stories that I love. It includes "Afterward," "Mr. Jones," and "Pomegranate Seed" among others. Great, scary stuff!

I'm glad to see someone else put a plug in for Summer - "the hot Ethan" as I remember it called. Summer is my favourite of Wharton still. Along with The Old Maid out of the Old New York collection - emotionally haunting. Sigh...you are all making me miss my books back in home in the states! Can't wait to ship them over and reread my lovelies.

I love Edith Wharton's novels. They are so grand but yet full of passion. In a way I prefer the American classics to many of our own. And I will back up those who urge you to read Willa Cather. I read My Antonia recently. I had no idea about the author just the synopsis on the back caught my eye and I was truely moved by it in SO many ways.

Make sure you read Edith Wharton's The New York Stories - penniless gals in the big apple. Also there is a film version of Ethan Frome with Liam Neesan and Patricia Arkett although the book is one of my favourites as it is truely tragic.

I concur with the recommendation of Wharton's The Custom of the Country: one of the most delightfully selfish central characters you'll ever meet winds the novel around her little finger. And DO NOT (do not, do not) miss the stories "Roman Fever" and "Xingu." You'll never forget either one.

You should try to visit her estate in Massachusetts some (summer) time: it's been restored and is lovely!

I agree with you about new books, I've been reading more & more 19th century novels lately. Even my favourite mystery writers just aren't enticing at the moment. I love Edith. I read lots of her novels one summer & I have a shelf full of her books. As well as the better known books mentioned above & her wonderful short stories, I'd recommend The Mother's Recompense & The Reef. Age of Innocence (book & film) is one of my favourites.

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