The Gods Arrive continues the story of Vance Weston and Halo Spear Tarrant of Hudson River Bracketed. At the end of Hudson River Bracketed, Vance's wife Laura Lou has died and Halo, although married to the aristocratic Lewis Tarrant, acknowledges her feelings for Vance. In The Gods Arrive, Tarrant refuses to give Halo a divorce. Halo, however, has just inherited from her relative, Elinor Lorburn, the Hudson River Bracketed house called the Willows, along with an independent income. Halo and Vance--who has just published a successful novel--are thus financially enabled to travel to Europe together. Leaving behind the hypocrisy and hollowness of New York publishers and Greenwich Village artists, they live together in France and Spain, but the question arises: have they deserted one hypocritical artistic community for the one where they live for a time in Paris?
Their relationship peaks, then deteriorates as Vance becomes increasingly self-centered, restless, and distracted from his writing. When he does write a Ulysses-like novel entitled Colossus (the parodic treatment of the James Joyce novel is readily apparent), he deserts Halo, leaving her miserable for a time. She then pulls herself together, leaves Vance, discovers that she is pregnant with his child, decides to ask Tarrant for a divorce, and returns to the Willows along the Hudson River.
The ending of this novel has caused a great deal of speculation. After a return home to Euphoria, Illinois, and a self-immersion in the Wisconsin woods, Van returns to the pregnant Halo and kneels at her feet. Readers and critics have suggested various interpretations that give rise to numerous questions: Has Vance learned his lesson or does Wharton present his "rebirth" with a certain amount of skepticism or irony? Will he write again? Will Halo write? Has Halo capitulated or grown stronger? The ambiguity of the ending continues to intrigue the readers of this remarkable treatment of changing views of art as well as the relationships among men and women.
Discussion Questions/Ideas to Consider:
1. The Parisian artistic milieu depicted in this novel is the one to which such writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and James Joyce belonged. How would you describe Wharton's view of this aspect of Paris in the 1920s?
2. If you are familiar with James Joyce's Ulysses, compare its impact on contemporary literary society with the one Wharton gives to Vance's Colossus.
3. Critics have suggested that the name Elinor Lorburn sounds similar to the name Edith Wharton. Do you see a similarity between this character and her creator? Why do you suppose Wharton so pointedly associates her with a library?
4. Wharton has said that she was educated in her father's library. If you have read her novel Summer (1917), contrast Wharton's depiction of Charity Royal and her library with that of Halo and the library she inherits at the Willows.
5. While in Europe, Vance befriends a young artist named Alders. How do you view the relationship among Vance, Alders and Halo?
6. Do you see a function for the death of Chris Churley, Vance's young artist friend?
7. Grandma Scrimser seems to be the one factor in Vance's midwest background not satirically or ironically treated by Wharton. Or do you think Wharton created her character with tongue-in-cheek as well?
8. Wharton had begun writing her memoir, A Backward Glance, before she received the proofs of The Gods Arrive. Do you see elements of autobiography in The Gods Arrive? In Hudson River Bracketed?
9. Do you find Vance more appealing or less so in this sequel to Hudson River Bracketed?
10. The title comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem, "Give All to Love," which closes with the line "When half-gods go, / The gods arrive." To what or whom do "half-gods" refer to?
Suggestions for Further Reading:
Helen Killoran, Edith Wharton: Art and Allusion, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1996; Julie Olin-Ammentorp, "Wharton Through a Kristevan Lens: The Maternality of The Gods Arrive, " in Wretched Exotic: Essays on Edith Wharton in Europe, Katherine Joslin and Alan Price, eds., New York: Peter Lang, 1993; Penelope Vita-Finzi, Edith Wharton and The Art of Fiction, New York: St. Martins, 1990; Abby H. P. Werlock, "Edith Wharton's Subtle Revenge? Morton Fullerton and the Female Artist in Hudson River Bracketed and The Gods Arrive," in New Essays on Edith Wharton, Alfred Bendixen and Annette Zilversmit, eds., New York: Garland Press, 1992.
--Contributed by Abby H. P. Werlock, Edith Wharton Society