Happy 152nd Birthday to Edith Wharton

ImageOn January 24, 1862, a daughter was born to Mr. and Mrs. George Frederic Jones of New York City.  Christened Edith Newbold Jones, she would grow up to be a great novelist and short story writer, not to mention poet, dramatist, social satirist, essayist, letter writer, gardener, interior designer, tireless director of French charities and reporter of conditions at the front during WWI, loyal friend, and a great if formidably intimidating hostess.

You can read more about her in the many books and articles that have been written about her since her death (head over to the Edith Wharton Society for some lists), but I just wanted to give her a shout-out here. (And to recognize that the term “shout-out” would have dismayed and amused her, and that she’d have given it to a vulgar character like Elmer Moffatt of The Custom of the Country or Lita of Twilight Sleep to show just how trashy they were.)

The short version of this post?  Go read Edith Wharton.  You won’t be disappointed.

Constance Fenimore Woolson (March 5, 1840-January 24, 1894)

One hundred and twenty years ago this week, on January 24, 1894, an ailing Constance Fenimore Woolson fell to her death from a window in Casa Semeticolo, Venice. Lyndall Gordon’s A Private Life of Henry James contends that this was suicide, but I’m waiting for the publication of  Anne Boyd Rioux‘s new biography of Woolson to settle the matter.

In reading Gordon’s book at breakfast this morning, what struck me was not the manner of her death but Henry James’s reaction to it.  Distraught, he canceled his trip to attend the funeral (arranged by John Hay), yet some months later he moved to Venice, and, abandoning his usual rooms, rented hers for a few months.  Gordon reports that James felt comforted by Woolson’s strong presence there but also suggests that he had both wanted to avoid the publicity of his connection with her (hence not attending the funeral) and to court publicity through his extensive network, something that led to a “his heart is in the grave” piece in a newspaper about him.

MLA Rankings of American Authors

At Commentary, a list of American writers ranked by numbers of publications devoted to them, with rankings from 1947 and apparently 1987. The author notes that “The reputations of Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Twain, Fitzgerald, and Frost have slipped badly. Poor William Dean Howells has fallen out of the top 25 altogether (to be replaced by Richard Wright).”

( 1.) Henry James (3,188 items) [+1]
( 2.) William Faulkner (2,955) [-1]
( 3.) T. S. Eliot (2,659) [+1]
( 4.) Herman Melville (2,579) [-1]
( 5.) Vladimir Nabokov (2,290) [+5]
( 6.) Ernest Hemingway (2,220) [-0-]
( 7.) Edgar Allan Poe (1,958) [-2]
( 8.) Toni Morrison (1,950) [+9]
( 9.) Nathaniel Hawthorne (1,751) [-4]
(10.) Walt Whitman (1,647) [-2]
(11.) Emily Dickinson (1,623) [+2]
(12.) Ezra Pound (1,620) [-3]
(13.) Willa Cather (1,482) [+5]
(14.) Ralph Waldo Emerson (1,326) [-3]
(15.) Wallace Stevens (1,122) [-1]
(16.) Edith Wharton (1,087) [+5]
(17.) Henry David Thoreau (1,076) [-5]
(18.) F. Scott Fitzgerald (1,002) [-3]
(19.) Flannery O’Connor (935) [+3]
(20.) Mark Twain (882) [-4]
(21.) John Steinbeck (823) [+2]
(22.) William Carlos Williams (772) [-0-]
(23.) Saul Bellow (706) [+2]
(24.) Richard Wright (670) [+2]
(25.) Robert Frost (661) [-5]

It’s an interesting relative measure, although it’s a little like ranking movies by opening weekend grosses or like those perpetual “Top 100” books/movies/songs lists that proliferate around the end of the year.

I’m a little unsure about the methodology: this morning’s MLA count of Edith Wharton references totaled 1557, only 10 of which were before 1947, so maybe dissertations and other pieces weren’t counted. But only five women writers and two writers of color made the list, which is a little surprising.  I wonder what a decade-by-decade count of these 25 authors would look like.

Apprenticeship Writings of Frank Norris: Index of essays

If your research involves the work of Frank Norris, you’ve doubtless worked with Joseph R. McElrath and Douglas K. Burgess’s indispensable The Apprenticeship Writings of Frank Norris. It’s a superb volume, and it’s available free at Google Books.

The only thing lacking was an alphabetical list of essays. I made one several years ago and have posted it in .pdf form (typos and all) to the Frank Norris page at the Howells Society site and the American Authors site.