Wharton, Edith. “Xingu.” New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916.
Reason read: June is short story month.
This is a story of contradictions. Even though this story is less that fifty pages long, it packs a wallop of a punch. Though billed as a satire it is also a humorous and witty commentary on human psychology. Some even think it is a cerebral jab at Henry James after he criticized Wharton’s writing. No matter how “Xingu” is perceived or meant to be perceived, Mrs. Roby is my hero.
In a nutshell, a group of snobbish high society women form a lunch group to gather and discuss didactic topics and one-up each other. In their view, the weakest link is Mrs. Roby, a seemingly not-so-bright woman who doesn’t appear to fit in with them. She asks all the wrong questions and clearly doesn’t know societal protocol. When the group invites an even snobbier author to discuss her latest book, “The Wings of Death,” the event falls apart. Osric Dane is even more dismissive than the snobs in the group. It isn’t until Mrs. Roby one-ups them all by mentioning a xingu philosophy. No one has ever heard of xingu but they all, including author Osric Dane, must pretend they know it well. Only after Mrs. Roby and Ms. Dane leave does the group dare to look up the word xingu and discover they have been duped. Xingu is actually a river in Brazil.
Author fact: something I did not know about Wharton is that she was a designer.
Nancy said: if you have never read Wharton Pearl suggested starting with the novella “Xingu” (p 144).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Literary Lives: The Americans” (p 144).
January started off and ended with a head cold (damn you, kisa), a really nice dinner party, a re-commitment to the
houses HOUSE (glutton for punishment that I am), a re-commitment to charities with a big one – training for a 20 mile walk for Project Bread, a huge re-commitment to friendships and huge changes at the library. For books it was:
- Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather in honor of New Mexico becoming a state in January.
- Red Death by Walter Mosely in honor of Walter’s birthday being in January
- Biggest Elvis by P.F. Kluge in honor of both Elvis and P.F. celebrating their birthdays in January.
- Devices and Desires by P.D. James ~ in honor of mystery month.
- The Eleven Million Mile High Dancer by Carol Hill
- Edith Wharton: a Biography by R.W.B. Lewis ~ in honor of Edith’s birthday on January 24th.
- The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman ~ in honor of Barbara’s birthday.
- The Letters by Luanne Rice and Joseph Monninger ~ a story that partially takes place on Monhegan. How could I resist? This is the blog that was plagarized by some dumb-azz.
- 30 pages of Nutritional Wisdom ~ a Christmas gift from my sister.
So I didn’t get a LibraryThing Early Review book in January. That’s not a big deal. I have certainly gotten my fair share over the course of the program so I’m not complaining. I do have to admit, I feel a little guilty. For the first time ever, I am really late publishing the review for the last ER book. Maybe that had something to do with it…who knows?
ps~ I did get one for February, or so I am told! 🙂
Lewis, R.W.B. Edith Wharton: a Biography. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.
I had always know Edith Wharton was gifted even as a child. I think I was 16 the first time someone told me she was of my age when she first published. What they failed to tell me was that her literary voice fell silent for over a decade after that. I thought she had published all along and as a result I have always been impressed by her lifelong success.
Beginning with Wharton’s genealogical background and ending with her funeral R.W.B. Lewis’s Edith Wharton: a Biography is at once both extensive and entertaining. Wharton begins her life as Edith “Pussy” Jones, the daughter of a socially well-to-do family. Her life is surrounded by all the things the culture of 1870s cherished – multiple family estates, social gatherings with citizens of good standing and trips abroad to places like Italy and France. With access to letters, diaries and manuscripts Lewis is able to give animated details to Wharton’s upbringing and subsequent literary career. It is no wonder he won a Pulitzer for his work. It also is easy to see how Wharton was drawn to a writing career when you consider the wealth of influences in that era: Henry James, Theodore Roosevelt, William Vaughn Moody, Charles Dickens, Gustave Flaubert, and George Eliot to name a few. What is amazing is her inability to stay the course of confidence. The slightest criticism could send her career out of commission for months at a time.
On a personal note – because Edith’s marriage failed and she never had kids there was on and off speculation about her sexuality. Rumors ranged from lesbian to frigid and everything in between. Edith did her best to remain privately passionate despite the talk, but I think, in the end, there was some overwhelming desire to prove something to her critics. At least, that is the explanation I am taking away with me when it comes to the incestuous, slightly pornographic appendix C.
Favorite Edith Wharton realization: During World War I, otherwise known as The Great War, Edith started up charities to help displaced refugees and war victims. Some if her tireless crusades were taken up by the Red Cross when they became too much for her.
Favorite passages: “She had learned from Bernhard Berenson…to take a professional librarian’s attitude towards her own private library, and the disposition of books..” (p 4).
“…but at this stage it was almost as important for her that the young Bar Harborites excelled at the art of flirtation” (p 39).
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter, “Literary Lives: The Americans” (p 144).