Thursday 14 May 2015

The Reckoning by Edith Wharton

I can't believe it's 20 years already since Penguin put out their last batch of special little classic books.

Back then it was 60 Penguin classic books (with black spines) and 60 Penguins (with an orange spine). I loved them.

I quickly collected my own smaller hand-picked favourites from the two sets. I also discovered many new favourite authors as the bite-sized excerpts at a fabulous price encouraged me to try the great unknown.

Sadly, these little gems did not survive my last move. I gave them to a friend who I knew would love and adore them too.

Earlier this year I was delighted (and slightly dismayed) to learn that Penguin were about to celebrate their 80th anniversary (where did that last 20 years go?) by releasing 80 Little Black Classics.

"Woman at the Window" (1822) by Friedrich
The cute little bite-sized books have lured me in once again.

And once again, I have hand-picked a few from my favourite authors (that I don't already have) as well as selecting a few authors that I've been meaning to try for a long time. One of my delights has been two new (to me) short stories by Edith Wharton - The Reckoning (1902) and Mrs Manstey's View (1891).

Two little gems for the price of one inside Little Black Classic No. 48:
From the great writer of turn-of-the-century New York, two devastating portraits of lonely widowhood and an unconventional marriage.
By the by, my personal preference to describe the end of one century and the beginning of the new is the lovely French phrase fin de si├ęcle. It sounds so much more glamorous, exotic and, well, French! And also seems more in keeping with Edith Wharton's proclivities.

Mrs Manstey is a lonely, almost house-bound elderly widow. Her main joy is the view from her window. She watches every tree and shrub for changes in the season and she knows the inhabitants of every backyard. When her view is threatened by a neighbour's renovation, her response is unexpected.

The Reckoning is a curious tale of a younger married couple. They advocate for the rights of couples no longer in love to have no-fault divorces.
This is, in fact, her second marriage and these radical new ideas allowed her to leave her first husband with very few qualms.

But as time has gone by, she finds that she no longer embraces these ideas. She is deeply in love with her new husband, feels that they are perfectly suited to each other and that supporting such radical ideas is no longer something that reflects their love.

Both stories are lovely examples of Wharton's attitude towards women's rights and society life in New York.

Wharton personally struggled with the narrow confines of a married women's role in American society, especially that of an intelligent women who wrote. She felt so strongly about this, she eventually moved to Europe permanently.

Most of her short stories and novels highlight and compare life for women in Europe versus America.
Sadly, America fell short, in her eyes every time. However, this didn't stop her from feeling nostalgic about certain aspects of American society or from seeing the faults of some European behaviours.

Wharton's description in MMV of the New York seasons was written with genuine affection:

In the very enclosure did a magnolia open its hard white flowers against the watery blue of April? And was there not, a little way down the line, a fence foamed over every May by lilac waves of wisteria? Farther still, a horse-chestnut lifted its candelabra of buff and pink blossoms above broad fans of foliage; while in the opposite yard June was sweet with the breath of a neglected syringa....
I have always loved Wharton's writing - I hope you are enjoying your time with Wharton this month too.


  1. I saw those little black books at Berkelouw Books last weekend - hadn't seen them before but I still wonder where the last 20 years went to. I was so pleased to discover Edith Wharton a few years ago.

  2. Anonymous30/5/15

    I have The Reckoning on my pile of Little Black Penguins too :) I am looking forward to it. I have review two books for #Whartonreview - i think you've spotted the reviews already.

    I read Summer -

    and Custom of the Country -

    thanks for hosting this again.


This blog has now moved to Wordpress.
Please visit This Reading Life to comment.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.