cover image Edith Wharton: The Uncollected Critical Writings

Edith Wharton: The Uncollected Critical Writings

Edith Wharton. Princeton University Press, $60 (312pp) ISBN 978-0-691-04349-4

One of America's most beloved novelists, Wharton cut a niche for herself in American letters as the leading chronicler of upper-crust New York society and the purveyor of a style that mixed the respective strengths of American naturalism and the realism of her colleague and mentor, Henry James. In this fascinating collection of Wharton's critical prose, Wegener demonstrates that Wharton was a far better critic than she realized, and one only regrets, after reading these works, that she was not more prolific in that arena. Wegener's introduction to this collection benefits from being scholarly, readable and cogent. As he suggests, Wharton is simply a good critic, which is justification enough to reprint many of these otherwise inaccessible items. Even where one disagrees with Wharton's assessments (she held low opinions of Lawrence and Woolf) and assertions (the lives of the rich make for better novels than those of the poor), her criticisms remain rooted in an appreciation of novel-writing few today can match. Ably aided by Wegener's careful annotations, lovers of Wharton will be pleased by the variety of assembled material: critical essays, literary and theater reviews, tributes and eulogies, prefaces, introductions and forewords to her writings and those of others as well as several unpublished items. This volume is easily recommended to Wharton fans, scholars and scholarly libraries. (Jan.)