Friday, October 18, 2013

EDITH WHARTON: KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES

When the saying “keeping up with the Joneses” originated, it referred to the family of the author Edith Wharton. Born into money and privilege, Edith Newbold Jones (1862-1937) married well-to-do Teddy Wharton and the two of them had a life of travel and leisure.  What made Edith different from the rest of her social class was that she was an acute observer of society and a fabulously talented writer. 

Edith Wharton wrote about the age she knew, the turn of the century. She was an insider who often wrote stories about the upper class and its foibles. Many of her novels have become American classics that remain popular with contemporary readers.  Several of her titles have been made into movies. She also wrote poetry, short stories and books on decorating.  Her home in Massachusetts called the Mount, which she decorated herself, was literally her castle. The Monrovia Public Library has more than 20 different Edith Wharton titles in its collection.

Some favorites include The Buccaneers, The House of Mirth and Ethan Frome.  The Buccaneers is about a group of wealthy young women whose family’s new money is considered gauche and go to Europe to meet and marry lords, earls and dukes who have royal titles, but no funds. Lily Bart, in The House of Mirth, is a beautiful young woman from a good family and is doomed by the fact she is poor and must depend on wealthy relatives.  Her only out seems to be marriage to a rich husband, a plan that does not work out well.  Edith Wharton stepped away from the wealthy to tell the story of Ethan Frome, a New England farmer with a loveless marriage and a crush on his wife’s young cousin who comes to live with them.  The ending is one of the most heartbreaking in American literature – and no, there are


no spoiler alerts. You’ll have to read it for yourself.

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