June 29, 2007

Review:Madame de Treymes

Madame de Treymes
by Edith Wharton

While at the library on Tuesday I espied a copy of Hermione Lee's biography of Edith Wharton. The House of Mirth is one of my all-time favorite classics, and I've heard good things about Lee's biographies, so I picked it up. And let me tell you, that was a feat. This book has 800 pages.

But last night I was not in the mood to read anymore about the social class of Wharton's parents and I just didn't want to get into the other two non-fictions I'm working on so I scanned my shelves. I pulled out a tiny booklet. It measures 4in. x 5.5in. and only 87 pages in depth. "That's a book I could get through tonight and it still fits with my current reads," I said to myself. (don't you talk to yourself occasionally too?)

Ms. Wharton's work was everything I remember from The House of Mirth but this time I read with more depth having some background into Wharton's childhood and the forming of her politics. It's a love story that can never be consummated. It's about a man of truth and integrity doing what he knows to be right even though it means giving up his own happiness. It's also about a family willing to give up all integrity in order to preserve itself. What is most important in life and how much are you willing to sacrifice for it? That is the question Wharton wants her readers to ask themselves.

Wharton is an expert at drawing clear images of her characters. She brings an insider's view of the "rat race" of the wealthy from the end of the 19th century on into the beginning of the 20th. She shows from different angles just how hard it was to be happy in this environment and how nearly impossible it was to keep ahold of one's personal ethics at the top.

If you would like to read this short story for yourself there are many etexts online, including this one. Project Gutenburg has an audio book version as well.

I will be reading Wharton's Age of Innocence for the Book Awards Reading Challenge. Hopefully by then I will have completed the Hermione Lee biography. I only have 700 more pages left to go.


Carrie K said...

I'll have to read both the short story and the biography. I'm a big fan of Edith Wharton's. Her Ghost Stories went over my head though.

Petunia said...

I'm sure a lot of things go over my head too but now that I've read some of her biography I get a lot more of what is going on. I am fasicated by the world she came from. I only hope I can finish the whole 800 pages before I have to return the book to the library.

Sarah said...

I've really enjoyed the Wharton I've read so far, and have been considering tackling the Lee bio. I envy you your first reading of The Age Of Innocence and will be interested to hear what you think.