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The man who missed his life

Michael Wood, 10 February 1994

The Age of Innocence 
directed by Martin Scorsese.
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The Age of Innocence 
by Edith Wharton, introduced by Peter Washington.
Everyman, 308 pp., £9.99, September 1993, 1 85715 202 6
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... these scenes a mocking voice-over – the voice is Joanne Woodward’s – reads some of Edith Wharton’s funniest lines (‘Americans want to get away from amusement even more quickly than they want to get to it’), which complicate and perturb the meaning of these already complicated and perturbing images. Nothing, it seems, is to escape the ...

Henry James’s Christmas

P.N. Furbank, 19 July 1984

Henry James Letters. Vol. IV: 1895-1915 
edited by Leon Edel.
Harvard, 835 pp., £24, April 1984, 9780674387836
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... with his style, which was equally, in a sense, rootless. Consider this sentence from a letter to Edith Wharton (2 January 1908): ‘I have passed here a very solitary and casanier Christmas-tide (of wondrous still and frosty days, and nights of huge silver stars), and yesterday finished a job of the last urgency for which this intense concentration had ...

Making sentences

Philip Horne, 21 November 1991

The Jameses: A Family Narrative 
by R.W.B. Lewis.
Deutsch, 696 pp., £20, October 1991, 0 233 98748 7
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Meaning in Henry James 
by Millicent Bell.
Harvard, 384 pp., £35.95, October 1991, 9780674557628
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... in Selected Letters of Henry James to Edmund Gosse (1988); and Lyall Powers in Henry James and Edith Wharton: Letters 1900-1915 (1990). There’s a terrific load of information and perception that was untapped by Matthiessen in this recent shelf-ful, on top of all that’s in the Colossal edifice; and besides, Lewis, as one of the new set of literary ...


José Harris, 24 July 1986

Wallis and Edward: Letters 1931-1937 
edited by Michael Bloch.
Weidenfeld, 308 pp., £12.95, May 1986, 0 297 78804 3
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Rat Week: An Essay on the Abdication 
by Osbert Sitwell.
Joseph, 78 pp., £7.95, May 1986, 0 7181 1859 6
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... girl, launching herself on society with only her wits and her dress sense comes straight from Edith Wharton. The helpless, boneheaded, inarticulate Englishman, whose life is both redeemed and ruined by a single quixotic fixation, recurs again and again in the plots of Henry James. Events and situations continually arose which seem to cry out for ...

A Man with My Trouble

Colm Tóibín: Henry James leaves home, 3 January 2008

The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1855-72: Volume I 
edited by Pierre Walker and Greg Zacharias.
Nebraska, 391 pp., £57, January 2007, 978 0 8032 2584 8
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The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1855-72: Volume II 
edited by Pierre Walker and Greg Zacharias.
Nebraska, 524 pp., £60, January 2007, 978 0 8032 2607 4
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... brother, moving ‘in a cloud of fine discretions and hesitations and precautions’. She disliked Edith Wharton ‘thoroughly – and morbidly’, as Edel put it, and this meant that Wharton or anyone else deemed disreputable could not be involved in any aspect of the estate. Miss Bosanquet, James’s highly ...

Risky Business

Elaine Showalter, 22 September 1994

Telling Women’s Lives: The New Biography 
by Linda Wagner-Martin.
Rutgers, 201 pp., $22.95, July 1994, 0 8135 2092 4
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... neglect, ‘did some good’, and acknowledges that R.W.B. Lewis’s extraordinary biography of Edith Wharton, the first to take her seriously as a major writer, ‘remains a good book’, her readings of male biographers and critics are generally harsh. She minimises the impact of discreditable information in biographies of men, arguing that ‘only ...

At Manchester Art Gallery

Inigo Thomas: Annie Swynnerton, 27 September 2018

... money. In that ambition she seems to have been mostly successful. James, Rodin, Thomas Beecham, Edith Wharton, Sargent were among her many fans and beneficiaries. In August 1911, James wrote to Alice, his sister-in-law, and explained why he was at Hunter’s house. ‘I am adding day to day here, as you see – partly because it helps to tide me over a ...

At the V&A

Rosa Lyster: Fabergé in London, 27 January 2022

... which the mahout would sit. Lots of pretty things that might be described as ‘cunning’ by an Edith Wharton character. A little box in the shape of a piano, a cigar cutter in the shape of a fish, a match striker in the shape of a toad, a tiny pink Cinderella carriage with rock crystal windows, gold-stemmed chrysanthemums, a powder puff in the shape ...

Fie On’t!

James Buchan, 23 March 1995

The Oxford Book of Money 
edited by Kevin Jackson.
Oxford, 479 pp., £17.99, February 1995, 0 19 214200 3
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... knocked his socks off. We trudge through acres of Balzac, Dickens and, forgive the impropriety, Edith Wharton; but the problem is crystallised in Jane Austen. She gives her admirers little frissons with her guineas and annuities: such insight into the economic prisons of her heroines! In reality, Jane Austen frames her stories with precise sums of ...


Stephen Fender, 3 April 1980

The London Yankees: Portraits of American Writers and Artists in England, 1894-1914 
by Stanley Weintraub.
W.H. Allen, 408 pp., £7.95, November 1979, 0 491 02209 3
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The Americans: Fifty Letters from America on our Life and Times 
by Alistair Cooke.
Bodley Head, 323 pp., £5.95, October 1979, 0 370 30163 3
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... James took the figurative mode to greater heights: ‘My hands are dripping with blood,’ he told Edith Wharton. ‘All the way from Chelsea to Grosvenor Place I have been bayoneting, my dear Edith, and hurling bombs and ravishing and raping.’ Only George Santayana kept his head, neither underestimating the ...

How to do the life

Lorna Sage, 10 February 1994

Writing Dangerously: Mary McCarthy and Her World 
by Carol Brightman.
Lime Tree, 714 pp., £20, July 1993, 0 413 45821 0
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... enough, Wilson may have made a good guess right at the beginning, when he wrote his ‘Homage to Edith Wharton’ (who died in 1937); certainly, as Brightman says, there is ‘something eerie’ in Wilson’s account of how Wharton ‘began writing serious fiction during the period of a nervous breakdown, in the midst ...

‘Come, my friend,’ said Smirnoff

Joanna Kavenna: The radical twenties, 1 April 1999

The Radical Twenties: Aspects of Writing, Politics and Culture 
by John Lucas.
Five Leaves, 263 pp., £11.99, January 1997, 0 907123 17 1
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... a bastion of pan-European culture which had proved devastatingly permeable. Beyond Britain, Edith Wharton used the same image when she described a ‘final trumpet’ sounding through Paris: ‘we shall never summer in that house again.’ The question this generation of writers laboured to answer was what to do with apocalypse: how was it to be ...

The Most Wonderful Sport

James Salter: Those Magnificent Men, 6 November 2014

The Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World War 
by Samuel Hynes.
Farrar, Straus, 322 pp., £17.99, November 2014, 978 0 374 27800 7
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... separated from his formation somehow and never made it back. Teddy Roosevelt wrote to his friend Edith Wharton: There is no use of my writing about Quentin; for I should break down if I tried. His death is heartbreaking. But it would have been far worse if he had lived at the cost of the slightest failure to perform his duty. In the autumn as the war ...

Making doorbells ring

David Trotter: Pushing Buttons, 22 November 2018

Power Button: A History of Pleasure, Panic and the Politics of Pushing 
by Rachel Plotnick.
MIT, 424 pp., £30, October 2018, 978 0 262 03823 2
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... In novels by William Dean Howells, Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris, Kathleen Thompson, Henry James, Edith Wharton and others, the encounter with technology is a small step taken, often regardless, on a journey defined by an ever-shifting horizon of expectations and disappointments. Only in retrospect do we understand that it has unobtrusively shaped a ...

Out of the Closet

Richard Altick, 20 August 1981

The Private Case: An Annotated Bibliography of the Private Case Erotica Collection in the British Library 
by Patrick Kearney.
Jay Landesman, 354 pp., £45, July 1981, 0 905150 24 4
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... the more so now that we know that not only Pierre Louÿs and Swinburne but women as different as Edith Wharton and Anais Nin wrote – what? Wharton: erotica? Nin: pornography? (Hers, like the French police official’s, was ‘bespoke’.) Some day an alert or lucky explorer of erotica will identify the ‘scrofulous ...

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