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E. A Solinas
- Publié sur Amazon.com
America and Europe of the 1800s were stiff, gilded, formal place, full of "old" families, rigid customs and social transgressions.
And nobody chronicled them better than Edith Wharton, who spun exquisitely barbed novels out of the social clashes of the late nineteenth century. "Three Novels of New York: The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, The Age of Innocence" contains some of the best work she ever did, exploring the nature of infidelity, passion, social-climbing and a woman's place in an unfriendly world.
"Age of Innocence" is a pretty ironic title. Newland Archer, of a wealthy old New York family, has become engaged to pretty, naive May. But as he tries to get their wedding date moved up, he becomes acquainted with May's exotic cousin, Countess Olenska, who has returned home after dumping her cheating count husband. At first, the two are friends, but then they become something more.
After Newland marries May, the attraction to the mysterious Countess and her free, unconventional life becomes even stronger. He starts to rebel in little ways, but he's still mired in a 100% conventional marriage, job and life. Will he become an outcast and go away with the beautiful countess, or will he stick with May and a safe, dull life?
"The Custom of the Country" takes whatever is biting about Wharton's other works and magnifies it. Undine Spragg is a mesmerizing beauty from a tiny town, who wants the best of everything, more than her family can afford. She begins marrying "old money", leaving divorce, death and broken hearts in her wake -- and hiding a then-shameful secret. The only way to succeed lies in the one man who sees her for what she is.
But the mockery in "House of Mirth" is not meant to be funny, but saddening and eye-opening. Lily Bart is on the prowl for a marriage to keep her in luxury and affluent circles. But her schemes and plans start to collapse, as she rejects all her adoring suitors, and a nasty society matron decides to deflect attention from her adultery by accusing Lily falsely. Her life rapidly descends into a spiral of wretched unemployment and poverty.
Wharton tended to pay attention to three things: human nature, society, and how the two often clashed. These four books are, in fact, crammed with the societal clashes of the time: infidelity, divorce, the impact of "new money," and what it took for a person to break out of the bounds of society -- and the cost it had.
Her writing is striking even now -- it has the formal, detailed quality of nineteenth-century prose, but it isn't nearly as stuffy. Instead, her writing is lush, perfumed languid and shimmering with repressed emotion -- even "Custom of the Country," with its nasty shallow anti-heroine, has moments of pure lyrical beauty, although they usually come from someone else.
And her characters come to life with startling reality. Wharton never resorts to sentimentality or cheap tricks to make us react to them -- stuffy "aristocrats" of the New World, the nouveau riche, and bright bohemians. The more brilliant, appealing characters like the tragic Lily and the free-spirited Countess are easy to feel liking for, but Wharton even makes the less appealing characters -- like the wishy-washy Newland -- realistically complex.
These three novels are among the best that Edith Wharton ever penned -- intricate looks at society and human nature, wrapped up in beautiful writing. Utterly exquisite.