In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

REVIEWS Lewis, R. W. B. Edith Wharton: A Biography. New York: Harper & Row, 1975. 592 pp. Cloth: $15. Edith Wharton's liking The Great Gatsby should not surpriseanyone familiar with the world she captured in her best known fiction, the imaginative reflection of the New York society she moved in. She had, after all, been born in 1862to an enchanted land near the one which Gatsby yearned for in the early twenties. One of the major services R. W. B. Lewis performs is to confirm and document conceptions long shared by students of Edith Wharton's world. He serves up a feast of details and gossip about her and her contemporaries during late Victorian and Edwardian periods, theGreatWar, the twenties, even the thirties. Edith Wharton crosses the Atlantic some sixty times, speeds in her Panhard with Henry James across the English and French countrysides, and presides over her elegant architectural and decorative achievements in Lenox, Massachusetts, Paris, and the Riviera. Lewis offers full treatment of her relationship with James, her fluctuating and ambivalent attitudes toward America, her senseofstyle, her generosity, philanthropy, and occasional nastiness. The American and European backgrounds are realistically evoked, and a justly sympathetic picture is painted of her frustration and ennui as a young society matron chasing from New York to Europe and back home to Newport. Here are recorded the doings, the witty and occasionally stunningconversations ofthe inner-sanctum: James, Howard Sturgis, Gaillard Lapsey, Percy Lubbock, and a host of others. Teddy Roosevelt, Henry Adams, Andre Gide, Bernhard Berenson appear and dissolve. Perhaps the conventional image is adequately captured in Bay Lodge's account of the scintillating conversation between Edith and Walter Berry, "whose keen little minds crackle and sparkle together unremittingly . . . reminding one, for sheer continuity of sharp explosive wit, of some endless string of small, prompt firecrackers" (p. 170). This is the sort of conversation Jay Gatsby and most of us might only listen to, be awed by, rarely if ever participate in. But Lewis's elegantly written biography is more important for the misinformation it corrects and the revelations it offers. Sincethe late sixtieshehas enjoyed exclusive access to the Wharton papers at Yale, where in 1923 she received her only degree, an honorary doctorate, in the same commencement which made bachelors of F. O. Matthiessen and Walter Blair. Mr. Lewis and his staffhavesupplemented thestartling material in thepapers with what has to be some of the most exciting and rewarding scholarly detective work in the past quarter century. I suspect that the hard information they have turned up and begun to evaluate here will bring our understanding of Mrs. Wharton and her worlds in heretofore inconceivable directions. The most important revelations concern the erotic dimensions of her character and life. What Lewis offers will indubitably give rise to new critical sensitivities to the autobiographical resonances in her fiction. I must emphasize that Lewis marshalls compelling evidence in his discussion of Wharton's eroticism. He and his assistants have followed apath clearly markedby EdithWharton. Heis notindulging inamateurFreudian speculation, the recurring virus in twentieth century criticism. A major bit of misinformation that has long been central to the Wharton myth is that Walter Berry and she were lovers. Lewis doubts they ever were. While Berry might have played a key role in her intellectual and artistic development and liberation, he was 122Reviews probably temperamentally incapable of a "total" relationship (Edith's euphemism). But she certainly was not. In her mid-forties, after twenty years of sexually maladjusted marriage to the gentle, kind, and simple Teddy, Edith Newbold Jones Wharton discovered, just in the nick of time, that life is for living (Noel Coward's euphemism). Happily, her illumination is rendered as more graceful, sensitive, and joyous than that of Coward's Mrs. Wentworth Brewster. Rather than young sailors from Messina, Edith's mentor was Morton Fullerton: clergyman's son, Harvard graduate, Paris correspondent for the London Times, freelanceand sexual adventurer. Five feet six, trim, well-mustached and dapper, Fullerton held a long record of amorous encounters when hewas introduced, probably by James, to Mrs. Wharton. He finally enhanced the intellectual and platonic levels of their relationship with Eros and kindled the sparks of passion which had been...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 121-122
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.