Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thorsday Double Book Review

A while back, a column in the Wall Street Journal recommended a book by Edith Wharton.  I don't recall exactly why, nor which book.  I downloaded two for the Kindle, and read one; I then found in my always surprising book collection another, which I also read.  I'm reviewing both today.

by Edith Wharton

I enjoy reading books written around the turn of the 20th century; life is so similar to ours in many ways, and yet so different in others. So this book, written in 1913, seemed right up my alley. It's the story of Undine Spragg, who is around 18 or 20 at the beginning of the story. She has browbeaten her father into moving from Apex, somewhere in the midwest, to New York City, so she can enjoy the "right" people and an "exciting" life. I spent the entire book despising Undine, marvelling at her husband, who was "to the manor born," and therefore had a familial allowance of $3000 per year, and didn't work (Ford paid about $30 per week, or $1500 per year, at that time). Undine's father was required to give an allowance to her husband, as well, to pay for her upkeep, and she never thought anyone ever gave her enough. The book follows her through New York, Italy, Paris and back. It was well written, and fast enough paced, but the world was so foreign to me, and Undine so spoiled and selfish, that I just didn't enjoy it. 2/5.
by Edith Wharton

Despite my dislike of the previous book written by Edith Wharton, I decided to read this one, in no small part because it was an attractive little volume.  It was published during the early 1900s, but my copy must have been printed during WW2, because there's a brief biography of old Edith in it, stating that she died in 1937.  She was also born to wealth and married wealth, and wrote and published books anyway, which people of "her class" really disliked.  I suppose that explains her subject matter.

This book felt to me like People Magazine without pictures.  All kinds of references to social strata abound; people not believing that the Mingotts could do this thing, or if the Van der Luydens accepted that person, then everyone else should.  It's the story of Archer Newland, newly engaged to and ultimately marrying May Welland, her cousin Countess Oleska, who is socially shocking because she ran away from her Polish countess husband, blah, blah, blah.  I don't entirely know why I continued to read it, given my dislike of gossipy crap (for the record, I've never read People magazine, not even when bored to tears in a doctor's office; I bring a book everywhere).  At the end, though, given what Archer did, I felt sad.  The book sat on my table for a couple of days while I contemplated it; no one in this day and age would forego his own happiness, whether perceived or attained, for the sake of what is right.  And sometimes, doing what is right, regardless of whether one might be somewhat or even greatly happier, is what one should do.  The ending significantly improved my opinion of the book.  3/5

And, the Vernal Equinox officially came to my little corner of the world at 12:57 this afternoon.  It still is muddy and chilly outside, but some day it will be warm.  So, Happy Spring, everyone!


Big Dude said...

I don't know how you find time to read - you are one busy person.

Pam said...

Hmmm. I don't care for snobby, spoiled, and gossipy characters either. I don't know if I would have finished reading the books... good for you for doing so & I am glad the ending of the second book was more satisfying for you.

Sue said...

I read something by her but it must not have impressed me much because I can't even remember the title or story. Too many good reads to bother with so so ones.

SissySees said...

What Sue said. The name is familiar to me, but clearly, it didn't make a strong impression... I'm impressed you finished both books.

altadenahiker said...

I think she wrote the potboilers of her day. I've read Ethan Frome (ugh) and The Buccaneers (better, but florid). Henry James covers similar territory, but the difference is, he's a genius.

Dexter said...

That's a double pass for me.

Mango Momma