Monday, September 26, 2011

Wharton's Writing

TNC has been writing recently about how great Edith Wharton's prose is. Specifically, he's enamored with The Age of Innocence, which I read in college back before I knew anything about life. I should read it again at some point, but his writings were fresh in my head when I encountered a copy of her novel Twilight Sleep novel at the local library sale, inspiring me to toss down the 50 cents for the softcover.

While i'm only three chapters in, I  already wouldn't characterize it as a great book - the mere fact that it's about the upper-crust of NYC society in the Jazz Age means that it's basically antithetical to what I look for in a book - but my oh my has she presented some great turns of phrase so far. To wit:

"But she had had glimpses enough of the scene: of the audience of bright elderly women, with snowy hair, eurhythmic movements, and finely-wrinkled over-massaged faces on which a smile of glassy benevolence sat like their rimless prince-nez. They were all inexorably earnest, aimlessly kind and fathomlessly pure; and all rather too well-dressed, except the “prominent woman” of the occasion, who usually wore dowdy clothes, and had steel-rimmed spectacles and straggling wisps of hair. Whatever the question dealt with, these ladies always seemed to be the same, and always advocated with equal zeal Birth Control and unlimited maternity, free love or the return to the traditions of the American home; and neither they nor Mrs. Manford seemed aware that there was anything contradictory in these doctrines. All they knew was that they were determined to force certain persons to do things that those persons preferred not to do. Nona, glancing down the surried list, recalled a saying of her mother’s former husband, Arthur Wyant: 'your mother and her friends would like to teach the whole world how to say its prayers and brush its teeth.'" p. 11

"Poor Arthur—from the first he had been one of her failures. She had a little cemetery of them—a very small one—planted over with quick-growing things, so that you might have walked all through her life and not noticed there were any graves in it." p. 25

I'm not sure i'm going to make it all the way through this one, but I've sure enjoyed what I've read so far. What more do you want out of a book?

Cross-posted at Reading, Running and Red Sox.

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