So You Want to Read… (Edith Wharton)

Posted 7 October, 2015 by Lianne in Lists / 6 Comments

So You Want to Read… is a new monthly feature here on eclectictales.com in which I recommend books by particular authors to readers who have never read a book from certain authors and would like to start. I’m always happy to recommend books and certain authors to my fellow readers and bloggers! šŸ™‚

For this month’s So You Want to Read… I decided to go with Edith Wharton. I got around to reading her books a few years ago after hearing so much about her works. Since then she’s quickly become one of my favourite classic authors and while I recently came across a few titles of hers that I didn’t love as much as others, I still find her to be a stellar writer with such a wonderful grasp of language and understanding of human motivation and feeling. I understand that people can be a little ambivalent towards her as many had to study her novel Ethan Frome in high school; I read it earlier this year and I can see why people might be apprehensive to try her other works as omg that book was especially depressing.

So without further ado, here are some of her books that I’d recommend if you’re planning on checking out her books for the first time:

  • The Age of Innocence (review) — This and The House of Mirth tackle some rather hefty issues and the relationships overlap and connect in complex ways, but I still find this novel to be of lighter fare compared to the latter. There’s also the love story, but I thought the social commentary and the representation and status of women were the far more interesting elements.
  • The House of Mirth (review) — This is my favourite novel by Edith Wharton and normally I recommend it first, but you honestly have to be in a particular mood to read it as it can be depressing. You can’t help but feel for Lily as things go from bad to worse, and it’s just heartbreaking, but Wharton’s prose is magnificent and her observation so astute, I found myself identifying with some of the deeper themes that the novel presents.
  • The Bunner Sisters (review) — It’s shorter and thus it’s not as fleshed out as the first two titles but it’s still much more accessible than some of her other stories. Plus, the premise was interesting in that the two main characters featured are sisters; one sister more than the other, but it still has different features compared to some of her shorter works. It also has some similar running themes you’d find in her other novels, but if you’re looking for one of her shorter works to check out first, then either this or the following will work.
  • Summer (review) — Rumour has it they’re planning on adapting this novella into a movie? Anyway, I can sort of see it happening as compared to The Bunner Sisters the characters and motivations are much more fleshed out. It can still be a dark novel as it deals with the subject of a fallen woman, as well as borderline taboo issues, but again Wharton writes with such clarity as readers gain a glimpse into what the main character Charity is going through.

I hope this list helps if you’re interested in reading Edith Wharton’s books! What’s your favourite novel by Edith Wharton? Which would you recommend for first-time readers? Or which books have you been meaning to check out?

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6 Responses to “So You Want to Read… (Edith Wharton)”

  1. But I really don’t want to read Edith Wharton. šŸ™ I’ve tried Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence, and though I appreciate how different they were were stylistically and think Wharton has great flexibility as a writer…I really didn’t like either book.

    • Totally understandable! If you didn’t enjoy The Age of Innocence, yeah, I don’t think you’ll like any of her other books as they usually run the same vein (though I find the tragedy in TAoI lighter compared to, let’s say The House of Mirth or Summer).

  2. I still haven’t read very many of her books just yet but I love Edith Wharton! šŸ™‚ My favourite of her works that I’ve read is definitely ‘The Age of Innocence’ which I absolutely loved. I adored the beautiful, rich and evocative writing, the biting dark wit and the razor-sharp Jane Austen-esque social commentary. And the bittersweet, wistful love story between Archer and Ellen gave me all sorts of feels. I also loved the Martin Scorsese adaptation of that book (Daniel Day Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer were both wonderful in it) and Wharton’s ‘Summer’. I wasn’t actually expecting all that much from that one since it’s one of Wharton’s lesser-known works but the sensual descriptions of the New England countryside knocked me out and the relationship between Charity and Mr Royal and the characters themselves fascinated me. I really, really hope that that film adaptation of the book gets made. *sigh*

    The only other Wharton book that I’ve read is ‘The House of Mirth’. I hate to say it (since I know you’re such a big fan!) but I honestly didn’t enjoy that book very much because I had a hard time connecting with Lily Bart. I certainly don’t think she deserved everything that happened to her in that book – omg no! – but I had a hard time understanding her decisions and I became frustrated with her.

    There are quite a few Wharton books that I still want to check out: The Glimpses of the Moon, The Reef, The Buccaneers, Madame de Treymes, Roman Fever, A Son at the Front, those other Wharton works that you mentioned (Ethan Frome and The Bunner Sisters) and, eventually, The Custom of the Country.

    • Agreed re: Summer; I don’t remember what I was expecting of it coming into the book but I was quite impressed by it! And her observations about society and overall social commentary in The Age of Innocence is quite astute, I had a lot of fun reading that. Haha, aww, that’s okay about The House of Mirth! I can see how Lily can be a frustrating character as a lot of the tragedy that happens to her is of her own making, but I guess therein lies my empathy for the character, the fact that she can’t seem to find a way out of her own decisions/preferences/whatever-you-want-to-call-it-as-the-word-escapes-me-right-now-lol šŸ˜‰

      I think my review for Madame de Treymes is going live towards the end of the year but yeah, I have a number of her shorter stories that you mentioned on queue right now šŸ™‚

  3. Kimberly

    I enjoyed reading your recommendations. As someone who has only read Ethan Frome but who recently visited The Mount, I have been wanting to read something more by Edith Wharton but didn’t really know where to start.

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