Archive for April, 2010


Mrs. Peniston, The Art of Invitation, etc.

April 26, 2010

I haven’t posted in a while now…but I have been reading!  And I have a lot to discuss.  A lot.  But before I get into my rigorous analysis I’d like to have a moment of silence for Lily’s late uncle, Mr. Peniston and the taunting and teasing he must have endured during early adolescence.


There…now let’s begin.  First let me say that if Mrs. Peniston ends up representing the patriarchy I will quit this book.  Quit it hard. (Unless of course a feminist character enters by the name of Lady Vaginalia De Cosworth).

I thought the following characterization of Mrs. Peniston was quite hilarious:

Mrs. Peniston thought the country lonely and trees damp, and cherished a vague fear of meeting a bull.

It tickled me to think of Mrs. Peniston unable to rest easy during her stay in the country, constantly looking over her shoulder for a random bull sighting.

Here are other lines that tickled my “funny” bone as I ready chapters three and four:

Mrs. Trenor on Lady Cressida:  “Think of my taking such a lot of trouble about a clergyman’s wife, who wears Indian jewelry and botanizes!”

I didn’t realize that “botanizing” was so frowned upon in New York high society.

And Lily’s thoughts of Percy Gryce and Miss Van Osburgh:  “Gryce was handsome in a didactic way–he looked like a clever pupil’s drawing from a plaster cast–while Gwen’s countenance had no more modeling than a face painted on a toy balloon.”


So this book is definitely proving funnier than I anticipated.  But it’s also educational!  For instance, Mrs. Trenor’s How To Guide to Invitations.

Rule Number One:  When Inviting Someone To Do Something Make It As Attractive As Possible

Example her note to Lily:  “‘Dearest Lily, … if it is not too much of a bore to be down by ten, will you come to my sitting-room to help me with some tiresome things?'”

Sold!  Well played Mrs. Trenor.  Well played.

And finally I’ll leave you with my thoughts on our protagonist Lily Bart.  Overall I think she’s a very likeable character and I definitely wish her well…but I think a visit from the perspective fairy is called for.  I realize I shouldn’t judge her experience in early 20th century New York with my early 21st Century Minnesota morals…and I know that life was unfair and hard for women then (and still continues to be even now) but am I really  supposed to feel sorry for Lily?  She could live a frugal single existence…but then she wouldn’t be able to pay her gambling debts and buy new, fancy dresses.  Boo-hoo.  Or she has to marry a boring dude and swim in cash for the rest of her life (not to mention joint ownership of that rockin’ Americana collection).  It does suck that she can’t have both, but I think I’ll save more of my pity for that match girl who froze to death selling matches for Santa Claus (I should note here that I don’t know for certain that “The Little Matchgirl” actually took place in Lily Bart’s neighborhood, and that I, in fact, don’t know the story of the Little Matchgirl at all…except for a vague memory of the made for TV movie version starring Keisha Knight-Pulliam.

What do you think?

Until the next time I can incorporate another YouTube clip tangentially related to the  Golden Girls,



The Mystery of Gerty Farish

April 19, 2010

I agree, it seems to be one character after another after another after another after a bridge game. (Chapter 3 opens with a bridge game. I only mention this to demonstrate that I am in fact reading.)

As I was reading chapter 2 and the first half of chapter 3 I kept finding myself thinking about The Breakfast Club…maybe it was because they both contain critiques of societal expectations and sexual double standards or maybe it’s because I had “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” on repeat on my iPod. I don’t know…

But in any case, I kept thinking Lily Bart is a lot like Molly Ringwald’s character Claire. (By extension the extremely awkward and boring Mr. Gryce would have to be Anothony Michael Hall’s Brian Johnson.) Both are performing their roles as pampered, upper class young women, both feel constrained by society’s expectations, both secretly to throw off the shackles of the prescribed roles and live, damn it!

And then I thought, “Man could this book use Bender.”

And then I thought, “Man, do I need to update my movie references.”

And then I thought, “Don’t you….Forget about me.” (Man, is that a great song!)

Anyway of the characters we’ve met (and you listed a good many of them in your last post) we still have not the increasingly mysterious, Gerty Farish. The wily Ms. Wharton does drop an interesting hint. While Lily is internally debating whether or not it is worth following the dictates of society or to rebel and refuse to play the empty-headed flirt to find a husband. Lily questions:

“It was a hateful fate–but how escape from it? What choice had she? To be herself, or a Gerty Farish?”

What exactly did Gerty do?

I don’t know. But I want to.

So I shall read on.

One closing question: Was I the only one who thought “Playing Bridge” might be a euphemism of the “Make Cattleya” variety? Turns out, no. It’s just playing cards. Ho-hum.



Daisy Chains and Americana

April 14, 2010

Ah we’re back to the “this character is not like Justin” trope! Justin is not like Lenina Crowne because she has lupus and coral teeth while Justin doesn’t have lupus and his teeth are merely slightly coffee-stained. Justin is not like Mrs. Treadwell because he’s not on a ship (let alone a ship of fools). Justin is not like Toad because he fears nature…and is not a toad. And so on and so on. All right Justin how about finding us a character that actually resembles you (for your consideration: Swann’s Way‘s Bloch….or Dorothea Brooke from Middlemarch–meanwhile I’m more of a John from Brave New World… our names are the same and we’re both noble outsiders…or maybe Ponyboy….wait not Ponyboy! Black Beauty…we’re both elegant and fleet of foot)

I’ve finished chapter two and I’m starting to feel like Wharton’s exposition is a daisy chain of character introductions…at the train station Lily meets Selden, while leaving his apartment she runs into Rosedale (!!!) and when she catches her train who is on it but Percy Gryce and while she’s conversing with him (about his sexy, sexy Americana collection–more about that later!) who should enter the carriage but Mrs. Dorset?! Convenient that Lily just happens to run into each of these major (?) characters on a single afternoon…maybe a little too convenient.

Now on to the Americana. I guess I didn’t realize that Americana was the Macarena of the early part of the 1900s, but for goodness sake it is all that these people can talk about…or at least all that Lily Bart can talk about–she’s probably carting around arrowheads, election buttons, and some apple pie in her travel kit.

To recap: We’ve met a lot of characters. We know Lily feels shackled in the patriarchy (because of her metaphor heavy wearing of bracelets) and apparently an Americana craze is going to play a pivotal role in the action of the book.

Well let the mirth begin!



Kindle-ing My Interest

April 12, 2010

Let me tell the fact that the book started in a train station and I started the book while standing in a train station struck me as a beautiful piece of symmetry. In fact, I am quickly coming to the conclusion that I actually the complete antithesis of Lily Bart–the tailside the Lily Bart coin if you will. I know, I know you’re thinking that on 1 1/2 chapters in this might be a bit premature to say, but stay with me.

Just look at the evidence:

Lily: Female
Justin: Male

Lily: Stands in a bustling train station looking for a familiar face to stave off boredom.
Justin: Stands in a bustling train station contentedly reading a book while swaying slightly to the folk inflected pop songs of an underground troubadour.

Lily:  Off to a day of leisure.
Justin: Off to work.

Lily: New York
Justin: Boston

Crazy, huh?

As for my search for Smurfing parallels: Well so far this quest has been a bit of fool’s errand. I agree you could equate Lily Bart to Smurfette, but Brainy Smurf, young Mr. Gryce is not. But never fear, I am going to shoehorn my theory no matter what so look forward to some tenuous connections and outrageous interpretation of symbolism.

As I mentioned I am reading this book entirely on my Kindle, and one draw back is not being easily able to flip back. I had rippin’ good post on all in mind, but I could not be bothered to hit the “Prev Page” button more than twice and my insightful reading was lost forever.

Well, I guess that makes Book 2 – Kindle 0.



Asterisks and Life Nuggets

April 5, 2010

Oh twin you were saved by the astericized note at the end of your last post…I was getting ready to give you the “what for” in regards to anachronisms (“I believe Edith Wharton would be considered Edwardian not Victorian…and really neither is appropriate since she isn’t British” “The first underground subway opened in 1904, one year before this novel was published–zing!”).

If you want to be more chronologically accurate you could always imagine taking Ms. Wharton to Subway…I’m sure the mix of really big sandwiches, great tastes and low prices would fill her with the wonder that you mentioned. (N.B. This post is in no way sponsored by Subway–but if you’d like it to be I can definitely find ways to incorporate your product in to any classical book! Example: Do you know what would cheer up that dreary old Madame Bovary? A cold cut trio!–seamless)

I actually have started reading this new novel and I can tell you that, ironically, the book starts in a train station. And the first chapter starts off well–lots of little paragraphs and dialog to make you happy. I was surprised by how witty the interaction between Lily and Selden was–I surprised myself by chortling aloud.

P.S. In my head I’m picturing Selden as a young George Sanders. (i.e. very witty and a little on feminine side of the masculinity spectrum).

After reading just most of the first chapter I don’t think you’ll have any problems coming up with comparisons between HoM and the Smurfs…just as Lily is shackled to the early 20th Century patriarchy (with bracelets!) so too was Smurfette constantly hitting the glass ceiling in the “Papa”-triarchy of Smurf Village (One day a young Smurf girl will wear the red hat of power!).

After chapter one the character I’m most interested to learn more about is the wonderfully named Gerty Farish (by the way I’m loving the names Wharton uses in this book Gwen Van Osburgh, Cressida Raith). Why isn’t she marriageable? (ugliness? sexual ambivalence towards men?)

Well twin I’ll leave you with that question and a closing life nugget about Ms. Wharton.

Life Nugget #1: In 1865 Edith “Receives gift of spitz puppy, beginning a lifelong passion for small dogs.” That didn’t come from Hermione Lee’s biography (I’m only at her birth in that book) but rather from a chronology of Wharton’s life at the back of my copy of the book. Is that a weird thing for a life chronology?

Well until next time,


P.S. I’ve been reading a hilarious blog recently that is also about reading. The Comics Curmudgeon–Here’s a recent post that literally had me laughing out loud in my office while reading it over my lunch break. I think you’ll enjoy!


Edith Wharton on the Subway

April 3, 2010

First some quibbles to clobber:

1. I was looking at the comment string to your last post and I couldn’t help but notice that glibly state “Justin has picked another downer.” Well, my pessimistic doppleganger perhaps it is you who fails to look at the sunnyside of things. Perhaps this book is not a joy-filled narrative full of hand-holding and hootnannies, but instead of saying, “Justin has picked another downer,” to differentiate between my picks and yours you might just as easily have said:

  • Looks like Justin picked another book with a comprehensible and linear plot


  • It looks like Justin picked another book with paragraphs.

Both of your two most recent picks have lacked both of these elements.

Quibble to clobber #2:

2. You stole my “Mirth” joke. I mean, I picked the book doesn’t that by rights give me dibs on the obvious title puns? (Doesn’t it?) Instead you’ve left me scrambling and working on a rather labored play on the title as “House of Smurfs” but because I haven’t actually started reading the book I haven’t been able to develop this, but I know it must have the following 3 elements:

1. It must mention Gargamel (extra points for Azriel, but not essential.)
2. The just must contain one interval of “La-la-la-la-la-la” (sung to the Smurf singing tune.)
3. It has to be really smurfing!

Okay, now that that is taken care of I thought I might get to actually tying this post to its title. So, I had plans for  Edith Wharton (and by extension, The House of Mirth) could be my subway buddy for the next few weeks. Partially because my imagination sort of ran away with a vision of an aristocratic Victorian author approaching the subway platform and exclaiming “My, oh my, underground steam locomotives! Before you know it everyone will be driving around in horseless carriages!* And partly because I thought it would be a good opportunity to read the book.

And then the rains happened, and because I am jumping into the 21st century and reading this book totally in electronic format I was a bit hesitant to take my e-reader into the maelstrom. (Book 1, E-reader 0).

So long story short (well, sort of), I haven’t started reading. Sorry, that ain’t smurfing.



*I realize my flight of fancy is somewhat anachronistic as Edith Wharton lived well into the age of mass transit and the auto, but it’s my imagination, so if you don’t like it, hard cheese.