Queries Page: 2001

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Date of Composition of "Bunner Sisters" "Roman Fever" in Public Domain?
Relationships in The Age of Innocence Edith Wharton allusion in The Bandwagon
Changing Names in The House of Mirth Edith Wharton's reading  and Biblical allusions
Edith Wharton's Ghost Stories Edith Wharton and Bananas for Breakfast?
Story about Wedding Night (X) Wharton's Style
Lady Angelica du Lac in Age of Innocence Recording of Wharton's Voice?
Date of "Bunner Sisters"

I was wondering if anyone had any concrete evidence as to when Wharton actually composed "Bunner Sisters."  Though it did not appear until 1916 in Scribner's, its style is much earlier.  I have found a few allusions to such in the criticism, but no consensus.  Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Randolph F. Handel 

Shari Benstock (in NO GIFTS FROM CHANCE) gives the date of composition of "Bunner Sisters" as 1893.  However, in a letter to Edward Burlingame dated Nov 25 1893, Wharton alludes to "Bunner Sisters" as a story that she sent to Burlingame "a year or two ago."  Wharton continues:  "You then pronounced it too long for one number of the magazine,and unsuited to serial publication, but you spoke otherwise very kindly of it, and though I am not a good judge of what I write, it seems to me, after several careful reading, up to my average of writing."

Sorry that I do not have a record of the first correspondence on the story.

--Sharon Shaloo 

Relationships in The Age of Innocence
QUESTION: I have a question about The Age of Innocence: What relation would Aunt Medora Manson really be to Ellen? Is this the daughter that Mrs. Manson Mingott, Ellen's grandmother, married to a marquis? If so, why would her last name be Manson, which was presumably the first name of Mrs. Mingott's late husband (and probably Mr. Mingott's mother's maiden name)? Thanks very much.
Claire Keaveney, ckeav@aol.com
QUESTION: As far as I can tell, Catherine (Mrs. Manson) Mingott must have had at least five children:  Lovell Mingott, Augusta (later Welland, May's mother), the unnamed daughter she married to a Marquis, the unnamed daughter she married to an English banker, and an unnamed son who is Ellen's father.  I base this on the fact that Ellen is Catherine's granddaughter and her maiden name is Mingott.  

Also, because Medora Manson's mother was "a Rushworth," Medora cannot be Catherine's daughter, so she must be Ellen's maternal aunt.  Thus Medora and Ellen's mother shared a maiden name, not known.

However, in the book Medora was criticized for wearing a veil that's too short while in mourning for her brother, and at the same time Ellen, a child, isn't dressed in black though she should have been in mourning for her parents.  This makes it sound as though Medora's brother is Ellen's father -- but that can't be.  A mistake on Wharton's part?  A reference to a brother of Medora's who just happened to die not long after Ellen's parents died?

Also puzzling to me is the relationship between Medora, Catherine Mingott, and Regina Dallas Beaufort. Regina is referred to as Medora's (and Ellen's) "cousin," which could indicate any number of blood or marriage relationships, and she is Catherine Mingott's grand-niece. 

The book says that the Mingotts are related to the Dallases "through the Thorleys."  So the scenario I came up with is that a sister of Manson Mingott (Catherine had no siblings) married a Thorley, then had a daughter who married a Dallas, a union which produced Regina.  That would make Regina Catherine's grand-niece as indicated, and would make her Ellen's second cousin and Medora's first cousin by marriage once removed (I think)!  But I'm not sure about the nature of the Thorley connection. 

NAME: Tess Avelland,  tess@midnight-muse.com

Changing Names in House of Mirth

QUESTION: I've noticed a character name change in House of Mirth between editions. Could someone tell me why Bertie Van Osburgh is sometimes named Freddie Van Osburgh, depending on the date of the edition? I'm looking at several recent editions, including the Modern Library one (Bertie) and the Bantam Classic (Freddie).
 1/14/01        CJD 

Very observant! The answer, according to R. W. B. Lewis (from his intro to an edition of The House of Mirth; see below for reference) is that at some point during her revisions, Wharton renamed "Bertie" to "Freddy;" the manuscript shows "Bertie," whereas "Freddy" appears instead in all but two places in Scribner's first edition. So, essentially, it was a typo. Most "scholarly" editions replace the two instances of "Bertie" with "Freddy," since that was apparently Wharton's intention.

Lewis, R. W. B. ed. The House of Mirth. By Edith Wharton. 1905. Boston:Houghton, 1963.

Joan Petit
Western Carolina U

Just to add to the point of revisions in "The House of Mirth": Wharton's  change of the name of "Bertie" to "Freddy" appears as a handwritten change to  the galleys for the Scribner's edition of the book of "The House of Mirth,"  which are located in Princeton University's Firestone Library, although these  galleys only cover the concluding chapters of the novel.
    Incidentally, there are other small but intriguing changes in these galleys--for example, when Selden discovers Lily's checkbook after her death,  it originally contained "five and thirty dollars," but Wharton changes this to a "few" dollars. More interesting is the change in the word Wharton chooses for Selden when he goes to see Lily on the day of her death: 
Originally Wharton has him "striding" down the street, while in the revisions he is described as "hastening."
    These and other revisions are discussed in my essay "Textual Hermeneutics  and Belated Male Heroism:  Edith Wharton's Revisions of The House of Mirth  and the Resistance to American Literary Naturalism." Arizona Quarterly 51.3 (Fall 1995). 

Richard Kaye
Hunter College
City University of New York

Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton
NAME: Elizabeth N. Raupers

QUESTION: I have recently finished "The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton" and I am wondering what kind of approach Wharton is taking in these writings.  Both Henry James and Edith Wharton were said to have thought the  spiritualist movement to be entirely ridiculous, so what then motivated her to write a colection of ghost stories during this time?  Is she writing it to show psychological implications, because of some long-ignored belief, or simply because of the attention given to spirit mediums, and ghost encounters??  What is she trying to show? 


Story about Wedding Night
I have a strange question, but it is something that I have been trying to find for 10 years without success.  I was once given a photocopy of a short story, or piece thereof, in which Edith Wharton describes an evening between a new bride and husband, in which he apologizes for taking her quickly for the first time, but explains that it allows for a more sensual and feeling consumation of the marriage subsequent.  I don't know if it falls into her short story, romance, or (perhaps?) erotica classifications, but I am extremely curious to learn the name of this piece of work.  I know that this is very little information with which to work, but would you have any idea of what I am describing?
Thank you for your kind attention,
 Kimberly Manthy 
I believe that the piece you may be referring to is Beatrice Palmato. It was a fragment that Edith Wharton did not finish, and did not want published.  It is actually a story about a father with his daughter (who had just been married to another man).  I found the story in Cynthia Griffin Wolff's book, A Feast of Words on page 300.  I hope this is what you were looking for! 

Katy V.

Lady Angelica du Lac in Age of Innocence
Does Gainsborough's "Lady Angelica du Lac" (from the Age of Innocence) actually exist?  Is this picture misnamed, or did Wharton make an error? Thanks in advance for your response. 
According to Candace Waid's edition of the work (see above), this is "a fictitious portrait" (33, n. 1).
"Roman Fever" in Public Domain?
In rummaging through some on-line Websites containing information of Wharton and her works I noticed that the story, "Roman Fever" appears on many various pages throughout the web in full text form.  Are these sites posting her work illegally or is it public domain? I've emailed some of the sites directly and have yet to get a response.  My interest in this anomaly is as a fellow Wharton devotee and a fellow writer as well.
sincerely,  rc
According to the Watkins Loomis Agency, "Edith Wharton's 'Roman Fever' does not enter the public domain until 2029."

Daniel Hefko
University of Illinois 

[Note: Technically, these would not be legal editions unless the person who posted the story had received permission from the Watkins Loomis agency, which handles permissions for Wharton's work. In general, all work published after 1923 is subject to copyright laws; "Roman Fever" was first published in November 1934.--D. Campbell]

Edith Wharton's Reading and Biblical Allusions
 I am doing some work on Wharton's use of biblical quotes and inscriptions, particularly in House of Mirth.  If you know of any articles or texts that address this, please let me know.  Also, are there any compiled
lists of Wharton's reading?  This would be very helpful.       Pamela Francis, albigensian@hotmail.com
There is no single, definitive list of Wharton's reading, but here are some resources that deal with Wharton's reading
and her use of allusion. (To site visitors: Please send other suggestions ).

Helen Killoran, Edith Wharton's Art of Allusion
Carol Singley, Edith Wharton: Matters of Mind and Spirit
George Ramsden, Edith Wharton's Library: A Catalogue. Settrington, Stone Trough Books, 1999 With a foreword by Hermione Lee. 25 x. 16.5 cm. xxxiii, 153 pp. Numbered edition of 350 copies. ISBN 0 9529534 5 5

Edith Wharton Allusion in The Bandwagon
 Before I begin, I would like to say that (for me) this is a serious inquiry. I am a producer in Boston who is involved in reconstructing a 1931 musical revue entitled "The Band Wagon".  In one of the skits, there are a couple of lines that make no sense at all to me.  It takes place between a salesman of bathroom fittings and a rather upstanding customer.  The salesman says, "Very simple, madam.  That's our motto --everything for the bath." and she reponds, "I see.  Everything.".  The salesman then says, "Absolutely everything."  And then the female customer says, "Have you that new book of Edith Wharton's?"
I'm assuming that this is clearly this is a cryptic joke about something that Ms. Wharton either wrote or did in 1931, but the only thing I can find is that she did some work on "Ethan Frome" and a book entitled "Certain People". Still, not knowing either of these works well, I am not able to explain the joke.  Can someone elucidate me about this?  I'm would be eternally grateful.
Brad Conner    Conner@law.harvard.edu 
I realize others on the EW discussion list may already have gotten to your note, but I would say here that you may want to consult a chronology of works by Wharton. I bet you could find this on the web; you also could see Shari Benstock's biography, No Gifts From Chance; chronology begins on p 468.  Certain People, incidentally, is a collection of short stories; it's possible one of the titles might resonate for you.  I don't think it would be a reference to Ethan Frome, a novella she would've     published several years prior to that.  It's also possible that the "new book" is a reference to her novel Hudson River Bracketed (1929), which takes its name from an architectural style.  I wish I could be more helpful. Please let us know if you find anything.

Best wishes,
Emily Orlando            9/20/01
I can't give you a specific reference, but I would be willing to bet the joke has something to do with whether or not the bath suite includes a bidet, an appliance common in Europe at the time but virtually unknown on this side of the Atlantic until more recent times. --Gerald Everett Jones 

 Someone has just written me and said that maybe it is a sly reference to the length of her books and that it is a humorous reference to providing "reading material".  Is there a common knowledge about the length of her novels?  --Brad Conner   9/20/01

 The bidet theory works for me because the humor pays off, and it's consistent with Wharton's attitudes. She was a member of the American aristocracy at a time when they were very eager to be identified with European culture. For example, in the late 19th century, American painters were not hot commercially until they had a reputation in Paris. Wharton traveled extensively in Europe, and eventually made it her permanent residence.

So, the fact that the American salesman has no idea what makes a fine lady's bath suite complete is a put-down of his unsophistication (and also of his cluelessness as a male). Inherent in a bidet reference would be both toilet humor and sexual innuendo.

That's my guess, anyway.          --Gerald Everett Jones    9/20/01

Edith Wharton and Bananas for Breakfast?

I am a social historian of Latin America writing  a book about bananas, including their material and symbolic consumption in the United States.  A  couple of years ago, I came across a wonderful Wharton quotation in which she described with some disdain her experiences at a new summer resort somewhere in the Berkshires.  After describing the "crass manners, crass food, crass landscape" she concludes by saying something to the effect of
"how sad for a nation to not have a sense of beauty  and to be eating bananas for breakfast."  (a rough paraphrase)
What I need, is the citation for this statement. I believe it dates from the late 1920s/early 1930s. This really is a serious inquiry and I will gladly 
send a copy of my article to anyone who is interested in this rather unusual aspect of Wharton. (incidentally, around the same time, Faulkner and Wallace Stevens penned works with banana imagery.)

Thank you,

John Soluri
Dept of History
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh PA 15213

Wharton's comment appears decades earlier in an August 19th, 1904 letter to Sara Norton (reprinted in Lewis's Letters of Edith Wharton, p.92-3).  Hope this helps.


Noel Sloboda 
This quote comes from a letter Edith Wharton writes to, I believe, Sally Norton.  I have always wanted to write an article taking off from it -- "Bananas for Breakfast:  Edith Wharton's Other Argument with America" was what I imagined it to be.

You are right on target about what it suggests about the exoticism of bananas at the time and cultural acceptance of or denial of those suggestions.  If you haven't already, I would take a look at the advertisements for bananas that were appearing the magazines in which EW was being serialized in the 20s.  They are always presented with cereal as a breakfast food.  Light always bright sunshine pouring in over them.  V. interesting....
[. . . ]
--Sharon Shaloo

Sharon Shaloo, Executive Director
Massachusetts Center for the Book

Wharton's Style
 I am a scholar in the social sciences and have become enchanted while
jogging listening to Flo Gibson read Whartoniana.  Can you offer several
references, book chapters or articles, that analyze the structure of Wharton's sentences, e.g., parallelisms, counterpoints, ironies, etc.  She is far more sophisticated than Henry James in structure and his heaviness should not be equated with profundity.

       I would also be interested in how her style reflects the values of
the Edwardian Age at the turn into the twentieth century and the decade
following.  Comparing  Wharton with Hemingway, for example, is an adventure in contrastiong Zeitgeists;

       Many thanks.  Richard M. Huber 

Recording of Wharton's Voice?

QUESTION: Was Edith Wharton every recorded reading her work or talking about  her work? Does any audio recording of Wharton exist?  Alex Lubertozzi, alex.lubertozzi@sourcebooks.com 

Wharton scholars have discussed this informally, and no one seems to have heard of a recording of her voice, nor is such a recording referred to in her biographies. If anyone has different information, please contact this site.

Queries from 1999-2000

  • Wharton's "Hymn of the Lusitania" 
  • Social Role of Women
  • Meaning of Inscription on Wharton's gravestone (X)
  • Discussion questions for Summer (X)
  • "Keeping up with the Joneses" (X)
  • Edith Wharton quotation (X)
  • "Amor Fati" (X)
  • Critical edition of The Age of Innocence (X)
  • Edith Wharton's Verses (X)
  • Edith Wharton's "Terminus" (X)
  • Sales Figures for Age of Innocence (X)
  • Authoritative Wharton biography (X)
  • Wharton Stories Set in Italy (X)
  • Play Version of House of Mirth (X)
  • Edith Wharton and E. Nesbit (X)
  • Edith Wharton's Library (X)
  • Edith Wharton for Children (X)
  • Old New York: Publication History (X)
  • Edith Wharton Quotation on Italy
  • Meaning of the pelican in "The Pelican" (X)
  • Ending of The House of Mirth (X)
  • EW Quotation on Age (X)
  • Dramatic Adaptation of "Xingu"(X)
  • Serial Version of The House of Mirth (X)
  • Movie Version (2000) of The House of Mirth (X)
  • Edith Wharton and the Gothic
    Wharton's Creativity
    New York Divorce Laws in 1913