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The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Jun16

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

I just reread Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth for the fourth or fifth time in preparation for a book discussion class about the book in my “Women’s Words” series. As I said to my son before I began reading the book again, each time I start this book I hope that it will turn out to have a different ending. But, as you already guessed, it did not. The beautiful Lily Bart still wends her way through the perils of high society in turn-of-the-twentieth-century New York, still wavers between what she has been trained to do – find a rich husband – and what her heart tells her, and still follows a downward trajectory. Poor Lily! Or maybe not. My class participants didn’t feel a great deal of sympathy for her as they watched her make one after another bad decisions. Did our dear Lily ever have a chance? As she says of herself, she has been trained since birth to be an ornament. What hope does a woman like that have alone in the world if she does not marry? It seems that Lily had no marketable skills.  And that, while her instinct told her she didn’t really want to be married to any of these dull wealthy men, she continued to pursue them – when the book begins Lily is at the ripe old nearly spinster age of 29, and has been pursuing this goal since her coming out in society at age 18 – and yet she isn’t able to bring herself to marry the man she loves, because his income won’t keep her in the style to which she is accustomed. She might become what she and her mother believe to be the worst of sins: dingy. Edith Wharton herself was brought up in the New York society about which she writes. She wrote later that her mother was cold, and not supportive of young Edith’s bookish inclinations. She moved her daughter’s coming out up to have it earlier, hoping Edith would then have less time to read and write.  Wharton’s mother even deprived her daughter of a regular supply of writing paper, hoping that would discourage her.  There seems to be quite a strong tendency in the late 19th century, both in fiction and in real life, to keep women from writing by taking away their implements! Wharton did marry, but she and her husband did not get along very well and never had children, which left the well-off Wharton to launch a writing career, and to befriend other writers, including Henry James, who spoke very favorably of her work. She won the...

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What to read in these times
Jun05

What to read in these times

The country is in unheaval. The people who take my classes want to know what to read. They want books about anti-racism. I love that their instinct in these upsetting and confusing times is to reach for books. Those of us with an attachment to books use reading to learn about and understand the world. And that is what we need to do now: to learn how to take action to make the world a better place. As my friend, author Susan Barr-Toman says, we don’t want to read about racism – that is passive, sitting on the sidelines reading. We want to read about anti-racism: what we can do, how we can take action, and support the actions of others. The most-requested book at bookstores now is How to be an AntiRacist, by Ibram X. Kendi. If you read ebooks, download it, because stores are selling out fast. And here is a list of Anti-Racism Resources provided to me by the American Booksellers Association, which includes books as well as articles, podcast, videos, TV, and film. Find the list HERE. In addition to books on that list, go back to some literary classics — you may even have them on your shelves already. I just pulled out my Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston, Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place, and a collection of poetry by Langston Hughes. See if you can find Passing by Nella Larsen and then compare it to Brit Bennett’s new novel about passing, The Vanishing Half. I just pulled another title off my shelf, Your Heart is a Muscle The Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa. It’s not specifically about racism, It’s about protest. The story takes place around a protest in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, which is meeting in the city (this actually happened in 1999). During the afternoon the story takes place, 50,000 people come out to protest, and we meet several of them and follow their stories. It’s a powerful novel about how world events impact our lives on a personal level. We can find people’s stories in books and hopefully come to understand each other...

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Awakening to Kate Chopin
May29

Awakening to Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin started writing her novel The Awakening in 1897, and it was published in 1899. Chopin had only begun her writing career about ten years prior to this, and she had built a good reputation for her short stories, publishing them in places like Vogue and The Atlantic Monthly and in several published collections.  She had also published one novel, called At Fault, but it did not attract much attention.  Chopin was born Catherine O’Flaherty in St. Louis in 1850, raised in a relatively well-to-do family, and well-educated. Her heritage on her father’s side was Irish, and through her mother, French Creole. In 1870, she married Oscar Chopin and moved with him to New Orleans. Between 1871 and 1879, she gave birth to six children. Meanwhile, Oscar ran his commodities business into the ground, and in 1879, they moved to the countryside and became the managers of a general store. Oscar died of malaria in 1882 and left behind considerable debt. For two more years, Kate tried to maintain their business. She also allegedly had some romantic flings, including one with a married farmer. (You will know that this is relevant once you read her work!) Finally, she succumbed to her mother’s urgings to move back home to St. Louis, although, shortly after she returned, her mother died. In the early 1890s, a family doctor friend suggested she take up writing as a career. He suspected she would be good at it and thought it might be a good way for her to earn some income. Imagine that: becoming a writer to earn money – ha! It’s also fascinating, to me at least, to note that this doctor encouraged Kate to write. In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s well-known story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” published in 1892 and therefore overlapping with the time of Chopin’s work and available to Chopin to read, the female protagonist is strictly forbidden by her doctor to write, and this deprivation leads to her descent into madness. The doctor in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is based on the real-life doctor S. Weir Mitchell (a Philadelphian), whose famed “rest cure” for women prevented them from doing much of anything, lest it trouble their little heads. It’s a novelty to find that Chopin had a medical mentor who encouraged writing, and points to more of the novelty that appears in Chopin’s writing. The Awakening tells the story of Edna Pontellier, a well-off young wife summering at Grand Isle, an island off the coast of Louisiana. Edna is originally from Kentucky, but has married into her husband’s wealthy Creole world. During the course of the novel, she has her awakening,...

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Lit Chat Book Club Happy Hour
May27

Lit Chat Book Club Happy Hour

The Lit Chat Book Club Happy Hour is a special private event for book clubs. During this one-hour virtual literary happy hour, Lynn Rosen provides an entertaining and interactive book club update and refresh. It’s a fun way for your book club to convene, stay connected virtually during this time of quarantine, have a new experience, and discover new books! The event includes: General literary news of interest to book clubs:A presentation of 10 forthcoming titles specifically chosen for your book club;General tips for successful book clubs, as well as (if needed) suggestions for ways to refresh your group and how to ask good questions that generate a stimulating discussion;A literary trivia contest, complete with prizes!Follow up after the event with a tailored list of titles recommended specifically for your book club. This event is led by author/teacher/bookseller Lynn Rosen, a long-time book publishing industry professional. For more about Lynn see HERE. The cost for the event is $10 per person, with a minimum of $100. For more information and to schedule the event for your book club, contact Lynn Rosen:...

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Women’s Words: Feminist Literary Highlights
May24

Women’s Words: Feminist Literary Highlights

In this lecture by Lynn Rosen, we will take a look at some literary highlights of literature by women. The talk will start with a look at the very first women authors, going back as far as the 11th century, and move through important works over the centuries. You’ll find familiar names as well as hopefully some news ones, from Mary Wollstonecraft to Virginia Woolf to Gloria Steinem to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Womens’ Words LectureFeminist Literary Highlights from Virginia Woolf to Gloria Steinem – and more!DATE: Tuesday, June 9thTIME: 7pm – 8:30pmWho are our feminist literary foremothers? You may be surprised to know that their work dates back as far as the 11th century, and that even in eras dominated by male writers, they were busily “scribbling” out important works of literature. This lecture is an overview of some significant feminist literature over the past centuries. COST: Per class: $30Sign up for the series: $110 (See HERE for the complete Women’s Word series.) Sign up...

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