Happy Belated Birthday, Edith! And Top Ten and Teaser Tuesday

Dear Reader:

Edith Wharton is 150

#154) Hermione Lee’s biography of Edith Wharton arrived in the mail with a big 850 page thud today – yes! It was Edith’s 150th birthday recently and in honor of her (I’m NOT going to try to spell that one) centennial and a half I decided to get going on my Wharton reading:

#176) The Mother’s Recompense is, I believe, my first Wharton. My edition was published in 1925 but lists the book as first published in 1924 (Wikipedia says 1925 and that’ll teach you to believe Wikipedia unreservedly). So, my copy of the book is 87 years old. Which gives me pause. It has those fluffly, thick pre-late 1930’s pages and an inscription in the front – “Merry Xmas to Mame from Hugh, 1926” with a Christmas seal (Mame – do some people call their grandmas that…). Sweet, don’t you think? I like that cover, simple, but elegant. This book was written in the last third of her novels (does that make sense, do you know what I mean?).

Ok, so you might want to check out this New York Times piece “For Edith Wharton’s Birthday, Hail Social Climbers.” It has a slideshow of Wharton-related sites (and sights) around New York City. The title and theme is inspired by Downton Abbey mania and the fact that the mother played by Elizabeth McGovern in the series is a wealthy American who married into British royalty. This was a theme in some of Wharton’s work and a fairly common fin de siecle phenomena.

According to the Online Literature Network, Wharton was born into wealth and lived from 1862-1937. The Mother’s Recompense takes place around the time it was written (the early twenties). The narrator, Kate Clephane, married a wealthy, domineering New York City businessman who suffocated her. With her daughter, Anne, still a toddler, she ran away to Europe with a lover. The Clephanes refused to have anything to do with her after this and she was not allowed contact with her daughter even after her husband died. At the beginning of the book, Anne is 20 and her grandmother (who had been her guardian and the force that refused Kate readmittance) has just died – Kate gets a telegram about her death and then, immediately after, a telegram from Anne saying “Dearest mother: I want you to come home at once. I want you to come and live with me. Your Daughter Anne.”

Source: Online literature.com

Kate, still reeling from the loss of her most recent lover Chris (even though the loss was a few years? in the past) is thrilled, begins to treat her 18 years or so in Europe as a temporary interlude and hastens to her daughter’s side. Of course, we know that there will have to be a fly in the ointment – we can’t imagine such a situation moving forward easily – but the first months together are bliss. Anne is enraptured with her mother, Kate is in heaven, all is well. Until Kate’s past comes back to haunt her. We are taken through twists and turns – nothing is obvious and the ending is, in my opinion, original. Kate makes selfish bad choices and unselfish good choices – as we all do.

I loved this book – during those first chapters and months when Kate and Anne were getting to know each other, I was wishing for the book to just go on in that vein without the inevitable fall from grace. But that wouldn’t be much of a novel, would it?

One thing startled me – as I was reading I came upon this: “‘It’s odd,’ she thought, ‘I always knew it would be some one from a distance.'” (p. 85). That’s an unusual turn of phrase, isn’t it? And it reminded me of Dorothy Whipple’s Someone at a Distance. Then I started to think about the two stories – in the Whipple book the father betrays his family and goes off with another woman (spoiler alert!!!!!) by the end it is beginning to look like things might someday come around. In this book, the mother has betrayed her family and now is back and we see how things play out. I wonder if Whipple wasn’t inspired by this Wharton book (published just a few years before Someone at a Distance) and decided to use a variation of this phrase as her title…

Wharton writes beautifully, her perspectives are easy to relate to, her story lines interesting. So many times we think of classics as something we dread reading because they will be difficult, but again and again (James Joyce aside) I don’t find that to be true. I keep being reminded that Wharton (and Trollope, Eliot, Dickens, Whipple, Hull) HAD to be engaging writers or they wouldn’t have been as broadly popular as they were. This was a great Wharton to start with – now I’m excited to move into the Hermione Lee bio and continue reading Wharton’s novels. And, by the way, recompense means “payment.” If you read the book, you’ll understand the title. 🙂

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesday is sponsored by Should Be Reading. The idea is you take a current read, open to a page at random and pick two sentences that you post on your blog (avoiding spoilers) – then you leave a link to your post and a comment on her blog and travel around to the other book bloggers who posted theirs.

I decided to challenge myself and see if using Susan Wise Bauer’s method of reading a novel might help me get through some of those cool-looking Open Letter Press books sitting on my shelf (and help me meet The Introverted Reader’s books in translation 2012 challenge) and I started reading #120 A Thousand Peaceful Cities by Jerzy Pilch, translated from Polish by David Frick. So far, the Bauer method (and some thoughts from Jillian’s literature profs she’s written up here and there on her blog) are really helping.

So, from A Thousand Peaceful Cities: “I strained my ears, I slowly dressed, and more and more clearly I heard blows that were, admittedly, not irascible, but regular and forceful. An inky glow filled the kitchen. Someone had screwed a deep blue light bulb, left behind by the Germans, into the lamp that was hanging over the table.” (OK, I cheated and made it three sentences, because that blue light bulb caught my fancy). p. 57

This 2009 book is set in 1963 Poland as Mr. Traba plots (rather ineffectually) to assassinate a tyrant – the most affordable assassination is of the Polish first secretary (he’d like to kill Mao, but can’t afford the trip). Told from the perspective of a young boy – ostensibly the author.

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Book Recommendations for a Book Club

Broke and Bookish hosts Top Ten Tuesdays the idea being that every week she asks you to provide ten answers to one question. This week’s question is: What books would be your top ten book club picks?

Great question.

1) Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple.

Anything by Dorothy Whipple (ok, maybe not the Little Hedgehog) should work well for a book group, especially of women. She writes beautifully and thoughtfully and dissects human relationship like a surgeon. This is the first of her books that I read – it is painful, but powerful.

2) High Wages by Dorothy Whipple

I’ve just read this – while it has its share of pain, it is lighter than the other Whipples I’ve read. Plenty of love and clothes and strong women.

3) Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple

This one is longer and it took me a little while to get into it, but when I did, wow, was I caught up with this family, experiencing infidelity, WWI, illegitimate births, what amazing female characters!

4) The Priory by Dorothy Whipple

I’m only one quarter of the way through, but definitely enjoying this one -all together in a falling down mansion – a widower, his young bride, his unmarried sister, his two twentyish runamuck daughters who’ve closed themselves up in the attic, and the servants thanking god no one is asking them to work – how could you go wrong?

5) Heat Lightning by Helen R. Hull

Loved it! A family and its daughter figure out how to live in the face of every modern (and not so modern) challenges.

6) Run by Ann Patchett

Not one I talked about here, but my favorite Patchett – a family and their boys are thrown by their roots and challenged to move forward.

7) The Hotel by Elizabeth Bowen

The first Bowen I read and my favorite – a bunch of folks stuck in a European hotel, trying to keep busy with their own (and everyone else’s) business – gossip, love, chocolates, flowers. Probably the funniest Bowen novel ever.

8) Anything by Alice Munro

One of my favorite authors – Munro is the short story master at illuminating all kinds of relationship.

9) Anything by Sue Miller

I love all of Sue Miller’s books, but I do have to wonder, why are all her books grounded in some sort of sexual transgression? Always a different one… always a different struggle. Her focus is on the thoughts inside women’s heads. She does it beautifully. I think any female book group would get a kick out of discussing a Miller book.

10) The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Ah, the only book by a male. This story of a family and the dog breed they’ve created is so powerful, I never wanted it to end (and it is long). The ending shook me – I’m not sure I agree with the author’s overall point (assuming I captured it), but his characters were unforgettable. If you love dogs, that’s just the frosting on the cupcake.

Happy reading! Ruby



  1. Great choice of teaser! I hadn’t heard of this book before but it sounds pretty interesting. My teasers never stop at two sentences either, I just can’t help myself lol.

    Thanks for stopping by Book Cover Justice 🙂

    • Hi Tiffany: Thanks to you for stopping by. Yes, there just seems to be that little bit more needed to get the idea… Happy reading, Ruby

  2. Thanks for visiting. You have some excellent books listed here…even a few I would like to read.

  3. Great teaser! And I think sometimes they do need to be longer than one sentence so it’s all good! I love a good tease! Thanks for visiting my TT!

  4. Excellent, teasers and top tens! Like the teaser – and yes I often cheat too and have more than 2 sentences! Thanks for visiting Read@UTS!

  5. Nice teaser! The language is great!

    Thanks for dropping buy my blog(: I won’t be buying a house in Japan, but I might have to rent one from my second year onwards, if the university won’t let me stay in the dorm. And thanks (again) for the encouraging words ^^

  6. Excellent teaser and you have some interesting books on your list.

  7. Sounds like a very interesting teaser! And you’re right, the blue light bulb caught my eye too. Must try this one.

  8. Lovely choices on your list. Your whole blog is right up my alley!

  9. Hola, Ruby! Very nice teaser! And I can see why the blue light bulb caught your fancy!
    Thanks for visiting.

  10. That is a great teaser. Thanks for leaving a comment on my teaser. I just wanted to say that I love my Kindle. I had the one with the keyboard and then I upgraded to the Kindle Fire. If I stop playing games on it and actually read, I may finish books faster lol.

    • Hi: You are welcome – thanks for stopping by! I love my kindle too – for the first couple years that I had one, I no longer want to read hard copy books. But, partly influenced by Book Snob’s features of gorgeous hard copy books and my blog-driven focus on consuming my current library, I’ve returned to paper books and I’m not reading much on my kindle. I haven’t tried a Fire – I have an ipad, it is heavier than the Fire and backlit – I don’t like long-form reading on it, primarily because it is so gosh darn heavy. Happy reading, Ruby

  11. Thanks for stopping by Indie’s Bookshelf. She’s actually a Sheltie, but has that really cool blue coloring that you typically see in Aussies (I’m a proud fur child momma :). Your pets are all very sweet too!

    Though I haven’t read any of the books on this list, they all sound intriguing! I might have to give The Priory a try.

    Best of all, you and I absolutely have the same problem buying too many books. My husband constantly teases me about it, but mostly because I’ve about killed him moving our boxes of books around the country.

    Thanks for visiting!

    • Hi: Ah, yes, a Sheltie. Thanks for the compliments on my gang! Yup – your TBR is bigger than your CBR. Thanks for stopping by! Ruby

  12. I read The Age of Innocence last year, and really need to read more by Wharton. Thank you for reminding me!

    • Hi Sarah: You are welcome – thanks for writing! I’m looking forward to reading more of her too – I saw the movie of Age, now let’s see what the book’s about, happy reading, ruby

  13. I just finished Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women and I hate to say this, but I really disliked this book. Maybe it was my high expectations, or how many wonderful short stories I’ve read by her before but I was SO disappointed. I may have to read another one of her collections as a pick me up.

    • Hi Cassie: Thanks for stopping by – I’m so sorry Girls and Women disappointed you. I’ve read all of Munro – but about 20 years ago for Lives of Girls and Women. I can’t say I can distinguish it from her other work. I’ve liked it all very much, but it does start to blur. I’m sure if I reread it and took notes and savored it more different stories and books would be more distinct.

      It sounds like you didn’t feel it was of the quality of her other work. Do you think this could be because it was relatively early in her oeuvre – perhaps she was still learning her craft? But I’m glad you are sticking with her – she is one of the best, Ruby

      • I’m not sure. I’ve read Runaway. I think maybe it was my expectations, but also the fact it felt like half a novel and not enough poignancy to be short fiction. I was, the whole time, trying to decipher what exactly it was that she was writing – short stories or a novel. It really threw me off. I also don’t think the language is as beautiful and real as in her other books, but maybe I just had higher expectations because I didn’t read this first.


  1. The List « A Year of Actually Reading My Own Books
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