I discovered Edith Wharton in one of my high school English classes when we were assigned The House of Mirth as summer reading. Out of the books we had been assigned, it had the most impact on me by far. I remember rereading many of the paragraphs because I liked them so much. Her poetic style enthralls me and her sharp wit continues to take me pleasantly by surprise.
I’ve read three books by her so far, the most recent being the Age of Innocence. The following excerpt was one of my favorites. It’s from Chapter 4 and it’s a commentary on one of the characters, Mrs. Mingott:
The immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middle life like a flood of lava on a doomed city had changed her from a plump active little woman with a neatly–turned foot and ankle into something as vast and august as a natural phenomenon. She had accepted this submergence as philosophically as all her other trials, and now, in extreme old age, was rewarded by presenting to her mirror an almost unwrinkled expanse of firm pink and white flesh, in the centre of which the traces of a small face survived as if awaiting excavation. A flight of smooth double chins led down to the dizzy depths of a still–snowy bosom veiled in snowy muslins that were held in place by a miniature portrait of the late Mr. Mingott; and around and below, wave after wave of black silk surged away over the edges of a capacious armchair, with two tiny white hands poised like gulls on the surface of the billows.
See what I mean?! It’s magnificent and at the same time withholds nothing. A beautiful and utterly amusing description. Here’s to the day when I can say that I’ve read all of her stories.