Rachel Marie Stone – Writers on the Classics #12

March 22, 2013 — Leave a comment

 

Page 2: Rachel Marie Stone on the Classics

The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton
(1905)

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Perhaps I have a weakness for this novel because its title comes from Ecclesiastes (“The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth,” 7:4) another book I tend to favor. Lily Bart, raised in luxury, wants to marry “well” (into a great deal of money) but is torn by her desire for a relationship based on true love. Her love of money, though, combined with her relative innocence, leads her into complicated social situations in which her good name is sullied. I won’t give any spoilers, but hers is a story that prompts us to ask–and then, I think, to celebrate–the seemingly small things that make for a good life.


A Girl of the Limberlost
By Gene Stratton-Porter
(1909)
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This novel was widely popular and hailed by the New York Times as ’eminent’ when it was published. Elnora Comstock, living in the Limberlost swamps of Indiana, is an almost too-perfect heroine: intelligent, resourceful, and kind. Desperate for an education, Elnora overcomes stereotypes about what pursuits are suitably ‘feminine’ to reach her goals in spite of a mother who is perhaps overwrought in her negativity. Again, there’s also a satisfying love story.

Understood Betsy

By Dorothy Canfield Fisher
(1916)

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Perhaps not a ‘classic’ in the way classics are often reckoned, this children’s (we might categorize it as YA–Young Adult–today) novella by Dorothy Canfield Fisher may be thought of as something of an American version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (which is another classic I return to again and again!) Elizabeth Ann (an orphan, of course) arrives at her relatives’ farm in Vermont fearful and diffident, having been raised by other relatives to believe herself weak and incompetent. On the farm she is transformed in ways that Henry David Thoreau and Maria Montessori would approve: she grows strong through exercise in the fresh air, confident as she learns to do things for herself, and joyful as she discovers pleasure in connection with creation and with others.

Summer

By Edith Wharton
(1917)

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Like Edith Wharton’s other, more-famous New England novella Ethan Frome, Summer is a tragedy beginning with a bored teenager and ending with her sexual awakening and its complicated aftermath. I won’t offer spoilers, but it is perhaps enough to say that the novel transcends trite morality tales and dimensionless characters to leave you reflecting and questioning for long after you finish.

[ Click to continue reading Rachel’s list on Page 3… ]