Article Expert Appendix A. B, C, & D from House of Mirth

Curtis Harty

House of Mirth: Appendix A, B, C, & D

Main Ideas/Content

  • Appendix A: This sections contains reflections from Edith Wharton on writing the novel. She focuses mainly on the city of New York as a setting, New York Society as her subject and the reception the novel received.
    • She talks of writing the novel that, “[she] held…two trumps in my hand. One was that New York society in the nineties was a field as yet unexploited by any novelist who had grown up in that little hot-house of traditions and conventions; and the other, that as yet these traditions and conventions were unassailed, and tacitly regarded as unassailable” (372).
    • “The fact is that Nature, always wasteful, and apparently compelled to create dozens of stupid people in order to produce a single genius, seems to reverse the process in manufacturing the shallow and the idle. Such groups always rest on an under pinning of wasted human possibilities and it seemed to me that the fate of the persons embodying these possibilities ought to redeem my subject from insignificance” (373).
    • “[G]reat was my astonishment when the story which I had conceived as a simple and fairly moving domestic tragedy, was revived with a loud cry of rejection and reprobation…it proceeded from the very group around whom I had lived my life and situated my story” (375).
      • “This supposed picture of their little circle, secure behind its high stockade of convention, alarmed and disturbed the rulers of Old New York” (375),
      • “But here was a story written by one of themselves…[one] of a young girl of their world who rouged, smoked, ran into debt, borrowed money, gambled, and—crowning horror!—went home with a bachelor friend to take tea in his flat!” (375).
      • “Less than twenty years later, if I had offered the same story to the same readers as a study in social corruption, they would have smiled instead of shuddering, and would have wondered why I had chosen the tame and blameless Lily Bart as the victim of avenging moral forces”(376).
    • “Ah, the golden days for the novelist were those in which a lovely girl could besmirch her reputation by taking tea between trains at a bachelor’s flat!” (376).
  • Appendix B: In this section, Edith Warton relates how she went about writing the novel and how time constraints—do to a change in publishing dates—caused the novel to form itself, in a way.
    • “The first chapters of my tale would have to appear almost at once, and it must be completed within four or five months! I have always been a slow worker, and was then a very inexperienced one, and I was to be put to the severest test to which a novelist can be subjected: my novel was to be exposed to public comment before I had worked it out to its climax” (379).
    • “It was good to turn from a drifting amateur into a professional; but that was nothing compared to the effect on my imagination of systematic daily effort…when the book was done I remember saying to myself: ‘I don’t yet know how to write a novel; but I know how to find out how to.’” (379)
  • Appendix C: This section is comprised of letter both to and from Edith Warton about publication and responses to the novel.
    • My favorite quote from this section, “I must protest, & emphatically, against the suggestion that I have “stripped” New your society. New York society is still amply clad, & the little corner of its garment that I lifted was meant to show only that little atrophied organ—the group of idle & dull people—that exists in any big & wealthy social body” (384).
  • Appendix D: This section is comprised of review from the time the novel was written from publications such as Independent, Outlook, Times Literary Supplement, Literary Digest and so on.
    • The reviews in this section are mostly positive but have interesting correlations. The critic from Independent doesn’t like the novel and calls for an ending where Lily is able to escape, where the critic from Literary Digest says the novel will be liked by all those except sentimentalist who want a happy ending—drops mic.

These sections, more than any other articles I have read this semester, have drawn out the author from the dark and murky depths of something signified and untouchable to someone who is real with concerns, problems and a certain amount of humility and humorous self-depreciation but with very apparent intelligence—she kind of reminds me of Lily Bart.

Why does this novel still resonate with readers today when the social conventions which led to Lily’s downfall had disappeared even in Wharton’s time?

And the age old question, should the author’s views be considered when analyzing this novel?


Mark Twain Gives Advice on Conference Presentations

Optional, and just for fun: Mark Twain on giving a paper. Happy Halloween!

Donna M. Campbell

These excerpts from the new Autobiography of Mark Twain address “a new and devilish invention–the thing called an Authors’ Reading”  rather than a conference presentation, but Twain has some great advice about what not to do. These are from pages 383-384 in the print version, but you can read it online as well.

Twain had been asked to speak and foresaw disaster: “The introducer would be ignorant, windy, eloquent, and willing to hear himself talk.  With nine introductions to make, added to his own opening speech–well, I could not go on with these harrowing calculations.”

1. It takes a long time to create a readable short paper.

“My reading was ten minutes long.  When I had selected it originally, it was twelve minutes long, and it had taken me a good hour to find ways of reducing it by two minutes without damaging it.”

2. Time your presentation. Even…

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Lily Bart’s New York in Films, 1896-1905

Strictly optional but may be of interest to you all — Donna

Donna M. Campbell

A few links that let you see the New York of Lily Bart in Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, with a few additional links just because they’re interesting.  I’ll keep adding to this post as I find more.   Several of the individual films are available on DVD from such collections as Treasures from the American Film Archives.

  1. Visual Tour of New York 1896-1901, with added street sounds:

The “Visual Tour” has an extended sequence of a man with a snow shovel, possibly looking for work in a way reminiscent of what Hurstwood saw in Dreiser’s Sister Carrie.

2. Oldest Footage of New York with maps of today:

3. This Was New York has Hester Street, Ellis Island, and other locations:

4. via Irene Gammel @MLC_Research on Twitter: Audio recording of a dinner party in London, October 5, 1888, addressed to Thomas Edison:

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An Overview: Donald Pizer’s “The Naturalism of The House of Mirth”

In “The Naturalism of The House of Mirth,” Donald Pizer argues that while “[i]n recent years” critics “often endorse” that “The House of Mirth can be best be read as a form of Naturalistic fiction” (241), there are some critical points “absent from almost all of this reexamination of The House of Mirth” (242). These are:

• “An effort to reconcile Lily Bart as naturalistic victim of her world” (242)
• And, “Wharton’s bold concerted attempt, at the close of her work to modify, an interpretation of this kind” (242)

Pizer further asserts, “The rediscovery of Wharton as a naturalist…has also led…to the redeployment of the critical assumption that American naturalism…is an unqualified representation of social determinism in action” (242). He challenges this assumption. To do so, Pizer first examines several examples of where Wharton uses social determinism within the text; he then argues that “[t]oward the end of the novel…Wharton juxtaposes this conscious deterministic theme of victimization by one’s familial social environment…with two striking alternative forms of belief and value” (242):

• Nettie’s “triumph” over the circumstances she is born to—representing “victim to victory” (244)

o Nettie’s “powerful will” in combination with “providential actuality of a man willing to take a chance on her” (244)

• Lily’s death

o Though Lily dies, when she goes to bed, “something live[s] between” her and Seldon, “like an imperishable flame…it was the love his love had kindled” (245)
o Lily dies imagining she is holding Nettie’s child (245)
o Seldon at Lily’s bedside, “it was this moment of love, this fleeting victory over themselves, which had kept them from atrophy and extinction (246)

Pizer asserts that these examples are textual evidence that Wharton is doing something not commonly done among the naturalists; Wharton’s The House of Mirth (Pizer also refers to Dreiser’s Sister Carrie) concludes, “Life seemingly defeats the human effort to believe in a spiritual force in life, but in fact that belief transcends defeat both in its functional force during life and in its permanence despite the transience of life” (246).

• “The naturalism of The House of Mirth is therefore different from and similar to Wharton’s Principal naturalist contemporaries” (246-247)
• “Wharton was…not committed to a doctrinaire or prescriptive notion of determinism” (247). “She…is adding to this premise [human life is…conditioned]…men and women also gain strength and derive meaning from their desires, hopes, and faiths” (247)

Pizer’s argument is well laid out. He carefully follows each point of he makes with strong textual evidence and frames that evidence within the context Wharton wrote the novel in.
Question: Can you think of other examples from the naturalist works we have read that conclude belief “transcends defeat in life and in its permanence despite the transience”?

‘Never Travel Alone’: Naturalism, Jack London, and the White Silence

“Never Travel Alone”: Naturalism, Jack London, and the White Silence

Jeanne Campbell Reesman

Main Ideas

  • Reesman suggests that London—in his attempts to master the great “White Silence” that is the hostile environment produced by winters in the Yukon—is making a statement about what it means to live and what it means to survive in is story “To Build a Fire”.
  • London is champion at expressing that characters need to be adaptable to survive, as seen in the majority of his stories. Since “fitting into a community” also seems to be a theme in many of his works, adaptability to a community (regardless of the size of that community) often means survival (whether it be physical or social survival).
  • Reesman also suggests that London, through his exploration of community in many of his stories, attempts not only to become a part of a community, but to know it “from within”. This is not to say that he “particularly admired any one community” (39), but rather chose to explore what made up said community and explore how mankind interacts within the dynamic.
  • Reesman advises readers of London to read “To Build a Fire” in a new way, denouncing former speculations that this story was London’s most pessimistic and deterministic texts, as well as the idea presented by Charles E. May that London doesn’t deal with anything but the “things of life” (in his claim that London’s story lacks any real significance). The author suggests, instead, that we as readers consider what London is saying about our connections to community and to mankind, as well as explore the relationship between intellectual knowledge vs. experience/practical knowledge.

Re-reading “To Build a Fire”

  • In the 1908 version of the story, the theme of man vs. nature is more complicated than it is in the 1902 version; in the 1908 version, London introduces three relationships that he explores more extensively than in the 1902 version (the man and the dog, the man and the boys at camp, and the man and the “old timer”).
  • The protagonist, who is a newcomer to the land, is attempting to overcome nature instead of finding the value in adapting to it.
  • The protagonist has an “assumed distance” from nature, which leads to his downfall. His theoretical knowledge of the wild and his practice are in opposition.
  • Reesman notes the importance of recognizing London’s technique with irony (43). The protagonist is attempting to distance himself emotionally from his situation (he is always remaining “calm” or “cool” and does not panic) by obsessing over those details which can be quantified (Reesman notes his fixation with the number of twigs and matches he has and the way by which he obsesses over the hours and miles of his journey). All these little fixations, disguised as survival knowledge, serve as a means of distracting himself from the idea of death.

Relevant Quotes

  • “It must seem to the reader of such naively naturalistic descriptions that if London ever managed to write a good story it was merely by accident. Certainly he could not have meant to write anything but trash, and he could not have had the talent and energy to do otherwise” (35).
  • “London’s naturalism consistently contains and implies manifold beliefs: Transcendental, Romantic, mythic, religious” (37).
  • Dale H. Ross is mentioned as having stated “novelists like London, Norris and Dreiser display in their work a kind of eclecticism, seeming sometimes to be behaviorists, at others determinists, and at still other times almost neo-romanticists” (37).
  • “London was always an outsider: poor boy, hobo, socialist, Westerner, correspondent, wayfarer in many worlds—but because he wanted to belong he vigorously entered into any community he encountered by describing it convincingly in his fiction… This does not mean he admired a particular community, just that he wanted to know it from within” (39)
  • “Every word London wrote was an attempt to combat the White Logic and to reply to the White Silence; the belief in spirit (meaning) is in London’s mind a belief first in himself and his efforts and second in humanity as a vast community spanning time and space…” (38).
  • “Indeed, even in London’s most “classic” naturalist stories we find these three important elements: the search for spirit, the desire for community, and the need to address the Other“. (39-40)
  • “Although he may think in mechanical or technological images, he is not separate from Nature and able to quantify it: his body is Nature, as twigs/fingers, branches/wrists” (43).
  • On the relationship between the old timer and the protagonist, Reesman suggests that “In spite of his arrogant determination to travel his way, the man at last has not traveled alone, if only in his dying moment” (45).

Questions for Discussion

  1. In what ways does London’s story “To Build a Fire” (1908 version) demonstrate the use of intellectual knowledge vs. practical knowledge, and the importance in distinguishing between the two?
  2. How is the theme of “man vs. nature” presented differently in the 1902 version and the 1908 version of “To Build a Fire”? In exploring these differences, what textual evidence can we extract from each version?