By August 10, 2010 0 Comments Read More →

The Year of Edith Wharton

I’m very excited.  Life Readers, the library book group I belong to — as a member, not as the leader — has announced its reading schedule for the coming year, and the focus will be the works of Edith Wharton, one of my favorite authors.

Life Readers is a program for people interested in reading the sort of serious longer classic novels that the group leader describes as “bricks.”  She feels that many dedicated readers want to approach these books, but need the encouragement of an informed leader and the support of a committed group of  like-minded folks who will actively join in the discussion and analysis.  The study focuses on a close textual examination of the assigned works over a period of several months, supplemented by biographical, historical, and critical information related to each book and introduced by the leader.  At the final meeting of the year, the group invites a literature expert to speak.

In previous seasons, Life Readers has studied War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy; Middlemarch, by George Eliot; The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope; the world of Fyodor Dostoevsky, including his short novels The Double, Notes from the Underground, and The Gambler, as well as The Brothers Karamazov, considered to be the culmination of his art; and the strange and phantasmagoric works of Nikolai Gogol (including The Overcoat and Dead Souls) and Mikhail Bulgakov (the dazzling philosophical and satirical extravaganza, The Master and Margarita).

Last year, the group discussed the stories of E.T.A. Hoffman and Thomas Mann, leading up to a full-scale exploration of Mann’s classic The Magic Mountain.  The leader of the group is a former professor of Russian literature, who does extensive preparation for the meetings and brings many useful handouts to share with participants.  Group members are asked to read about 200 pages for each meeting; the group meets monthly, for an hour and a half.

We are fortunate to have such a group in Arlington Heights, particularly one led by such a lively and knowledgeable individual.  In the coming months, we will share a fascinating journey, I am sure, moving through Wharton’s novels, novellas, and nonfiction, bridging the literary worlds of two continents and two centuries.

As many of you know, Edith Wharton’s rigorous intelligence took note of the pretensions of Old New York families guarding their dwindling wealth and clinging to the prestige inherited from their Dutch forebears.  She skewered the social climbing and vulgar display of the new millionaires who were jostling to replace the “old guard.”  Wharton moved from the drawing rooms of Fifth Avenue mansions to modest side-street brownstones to fashionable summer resorts, seizing material that served her well during a lifetime as one of the most successful and admired novelists of  her era.

During “The Year of Edith Wharton,” we will read and discuss The House of Mirth, Madame de Treymes, Ethan Frome, Summer, and The Reef  from September through December, and then, after a break in January, we will resume our study with discussions of The Custom of the Century, The Age of Innocence, and Old New York, ending in May.  The leader also intends to explore Wharton’s time as an expatriate in France for the three decades before her death in 1937, when she included among her many distinguished friends such celebrated individuals as Henry James, Theodore Roosevelt, Kenneth Clark, and Andre Gide.

You can no doubt see why I am so eagerly looking forward to this opportunity to learn more about this fascinating literary figure and her highly regarded works.  It promises to be a great experience!



About the Author:

Ted Balcom lives in Arlington Heights, IL and conducts workshops on leading book discussions, about which he has also published a book: Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader’s Guide (American Library Association, 1992).

Post a Comment