Classics · Covers · Wharton · writing

Covers: The House of Mirth

This is a tough book. It begins in 1905 New York, in the fashionable world, and as with Wharton’s The Glimpses of the Moon–which follows Americans in Europe–it is a story of the gap between wanting to live a particular style of life and having the financial wherewithal to do it.

The novel has a great description of how society looked at men and women different, a notion that I try to address in some of my own books. What freedom does Elizabeth Geherty get when she turns her back on being in society, a role that would require her to surrender the one thing–the one person–about whom she is passionate?

Wharton (with the observation that she was part of that world and that there are those who say that the expression “keeping up with the Joneses” derives from her family, she being born Edith Jones):

“Don’t you ever mind,” she asked suddenly, “not being rich enough to buy all the books you want?”

He followed her glance about the room, with its worn furniture and shabby walls.

“Don’t I just? Do you take me for a saint on a pillar?”

“And having to work—do you mind that?”

“Oh, the work itself is not so bad—I’m rather fond of the law.”

“No; but the being tied down: the routine—don’t you ever want to get away, to see new places and people?”

“Horribly—especially when I see all my friends rushing to the steamer.”

She drew a sympathetic breath. “But do you mind enough—to marry to get out of it?”

Selden broke into a laugh. “God forbid!” he declared.

She rose with a sigh, tossing her cigarette into the grate.

“Ah, there’s the difference—a girl must, a man may if he chooses.” She surveyed him critically. “Your coat’s a little shabby—but who cares? It doesn’t keep people from asking you to dine. If I were shabby no one would have me: a woman is asked out as much for her clothes as for herself. The clothes are the background, the frame, if you like: they don’t make success, but they are a part of it. Who wants a dingy woman? We are expected to be pretty and well-dressed till we drop—and if we can’t keep it up alone, we have to go into partnership.”

Selden glanced at her with amusement: it was impossible, even with her lovely eyes imploring him, to take a sentimental view of her case.

“Ah, well, there must be plenty of capital on the look-out for such an investment. Perhaps you’ll meet your fate tonight at the Trenors’.”

The cover. This is another one from the Met. Simply entitled A Rose, it is from 1907, by Thomas Anshutz. The museum gives it the following description (there’s an audio description there too):

One of the most gifted American art teachers, Anshutz links the realism of his mentor Thomas Eakins with that of the Ashcan School, some of whom were his students. Perhaps because Anshutz spent so much time teaching, he painted only about 130 oils. Some of the most impressive belong to a series of images of Rebecca H. Whelen, daughter of a trustee of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where Anshutz taught. The woman at leisure and the likening of a beautiful woman to a flower are common themes in late-nineteenth-century American painting. They reflect the contemporary definition of a woman’s proper sphere: the realm of leisure, beauty, and the aesthetic, harmonious domestic environment. “A Rose” reflects Anshutz’s simultaneous appreciation of Eakins’s academic rigor and psychological probing and John Singer Sargent’s painterly freedom. “A Rose” also suggests the influence of Diego Velázquez and James McNeill Whistler on late-nineteenth-century painters, including Eakins and Sargent as well as Anshutz. In portraying the young woman as contemplative and yet intellectually and emotionally alert, Anshutz also anticipates the earthier women painted by members of the Ashcan School and other twentieth-century realists.

Could this be Lily Bart? I think it can.

Classics · Covers · Wharton · writing

Covers: The Age of Innocence

I read Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence years ago and listened to an audio version of it after I completed my A Studio on Bleecker Street. I mention this because in my recent revisit to the novel set in 1870s Gilded Age New York, I realized how many elements of Studio related to elements in Age. Indeed, my characters occupy space that Wharton’s characters occupy at just about the same time.

My Bowman family lives not far from the Archers and Wellands but in one way–and I say this pretentiously–my heroine Clara Bowman does what Wharton’s hero Newland Archer does not do. This makes my story…different and [spoiler alert] not as sad.

That said, The Age of Innocence begins at the New York Academy of Music. Within not many years–and the novel was published in 1920 but set in the 1870s (except for the final scenes)–the Academy would be eclipsed as the venue-of-the-upper-class by the Metropolitan Opera. The opening scene at the Academy is quite alive, combining the novel’s three main characters, most ominously Countess Ellen Olenska.

The cover for this was clear. The American Mary Cassatt did a number of Impressionist paintings at the Paris Opera. So to the Paris Opera it was, and the cover is from 1878-1880, only a year or two after the events of Age of Innocence. A side note: my heroine, Clara, spent time in Paris studying the artists there; turning to art was her means of overcoming the tragic loss of her best friend and of that friend’s brother, who all knew Clara would marry. (Excerpt.)

The painting is one of several set there, but this one, at the National Gallery, is published free of all rights, i.e., a CC0 designation. The National Gallery describes it:

Shown from the knees up, two young women with pale, peachy skin wearing white gowns sit close together and almost fill this vertical painting. The women are angled to our left and look in that direction. The young woman on our right has a heart-shaped face, dark blond hair gathered at the back of her head, and light blue eyes. Her full, coral-pink lips are closed, the corners in greenish shadows. Her dress is off the shoulders, has a tightly fitted bodice, and the skirt pools around her lap. The fabric is painted in strokes of pale shell pink, faint blue, and light mint green but our eye reads it as a white dress. She wears a navy-blue ribbon as a choker and long, frosty-green gloves come nearly to her elbows. She holds a bouquet in her lap, made up of cream-white, butter-yellow, and pale pink flowers with grass-green leaves and one blood-red rose. Her companion sits just beyond her on our left and covers the lower part of her face with an open fan. The fan is painted in silvery white decorated with swipes of daffodil yellow, teal green, and coral red. She has violet-colored eyes, a short nose, and her dark blond hair is smoothed over the top of her head and pulled back. She also wears long gloves with her arms crossed on the lap of her ice-blue gown. Along the right edge of the painting, a sliver of a form mirroring the torso, shoulder, and back of the head of the young woman to our right appears just beyond her shoulder, painted in tones of cool blues. Two curving bands in golden yellow and spring green swiped with darker shades of green and gold arc behind the girls and fill the background. The space between the curves is filled with strokes of plum purple, dark red, and pink. The artist signed the lower right, “Mary Cassatt.”

Classics · Covers · writing

Covers: North and South

As Róisín Campbell is onboard the City of Paris, the steamship that is taking her to America, she is trepidatious about what her fate will be. She can read, and has read romances:

Róisín was not so foolish as to believe a well-bred and handsome gentleman would carry her away, notwithstanding how often it happened in the romances she read and re-read. She knew they were fantasies, and that no man of a good family would marry a farmgirl, no matter how handsome he might think her. To such a family, she would be little better than the poor from the west of Ireland who could barely speak let alone read English. She knew there would be many a man in a good family who would seek to take advantage of her, promising her all manner of things to seduce her and that such a man would be her ruination. There were many such rakes in her books too.

But, really, what was awaiting this woman raised on a farm in County Limerick who’d never seen the sea till she was in Queenstown, ready to board the City of Paris? What she “knew” was what she read in the more serious books:

Still, she feared she would end up in the squalor she read about in other, more serious books set in London and Manchester and prayed that that would not be her fate.

The London reference is to Dickens. And “Manchester” is “Milton,” the northern city, and completely different world, to which Margaret Hale is forced to move after her father loses his position in a calm vicarage in the English south. So the cover for Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel North and South required some thought.

This is the only cover I’ve gotten from the Yale Art Gallery. It is Yes or No by the British artist Sir John Everett Millais. It was painted in 1871, so it is not too out of date for the novel, which was published in 1854. Yes or No? North or South?

I could find nothing about the painting from Yale, but the Met has a description of a drawing made of it:

A contemplative woman stands near an open letter, holding a small picture behind her back. The print reproduces a painting that Millais exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 1871 (no. 1055) (Yale University Art Gallery), where the subject’s black gown indicates that she is in mourning. It was first published in London by Thomas Agnew & Sons in 1873, and this later variation issued a few years later in New York by the Kendall Bank Note Company.

Yes or No indeed.

Classics · writing

Covers: Persuasion

And so we reach Austen’s last, and my favorite, novel. Persuasion.

Anne Elliot is older than the other heroines. She, or at least Miss Austen suggests, has lost some of such beauty as she had in her early twenties, in contrast to her older sister Elizabeth.
She is, of course, a far more attractive woman than her sisters in almost all other respects. Here, I found an 1810 portrait of Mary Fairlie Cooper, from the Cleveland Museum of Art. Again, I know nothing about her and was unable to find anything. As particularly with the portrait that could be Lizzy Bennet, this could be Anne Elliot.

And with this, I conclude with my Austen covers.

Classics · writing

Covers: Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey is likely Austen’s least known novel. Since the heroine Catherine Morland is a dedicated reader, I was looking for a reader.

I came up An Interesting Story (Miss Ray) from the Met. It is actually a miniature, measuring 4 3/4 x 3 7/8 in. It was done in 1806 on Ivory.

The artist is the Brit William Wood. I’ve been unable to find any information about the subject. Nor have I found anything but the dates for Wood, which are 1769-1810.

Classics · writing

Covers: Emma

I have far an away the most information about the two Gilbert Stuart portraits from the National Gallery for Pride and Mansfield than I do for any others. This next one, Emma, happens to also be from the National Gallery but I can find nothing about the sitter beyond her name (and that her daughter may have been the de facto first lady as John Tyler’s sister-in-law after Tyler became a widower).

Emma is not a favorite of mine. For this cover, though, I wanted a mischief maker. I found Julianna Hazlehurst, painted around 1820 by Jacob Eichholtz. I particularly like the slight bit of her teeth showing.

This painting has hung in the chambers of Chief Justice Rehnquist and in the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic in Prague.

Classics · writing

Covers: Mansfield Park

It turns out that the portrait on my Mansfield Park cover is the half-sister of the one who adorns Pride and Prejudice.

I wanted something not too fancy for Fanny Price. I found the simplicity of Gilbert Stuart’s 1804 portrait of Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis (Mrs. Lawrence Lewis). Known as Nelly, she, too, is written of in the National Gallery’s American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century, at pages 237-40.

When she was two and after her father died, she became a ward of George and Martha Washington. She was Martha Washington’s granddaughter and George Washington’s step-granddaughter and adopted daughter. In 1799, she married the Washingtons’ nephew Lawrence Lewis.

The painting shows her to be in the second year of mourning, based on the color of her day dress. In addition to suffering mightily from the death of Martha Washington in 1802, she’d also lost two children. In December of 1804, the year in which the portrait was done, she wrote a friend:

We have both experienced the most severe distress in being deprived of affectionate parents, whose loss can never be repaired. In addition to this, I have lost two children, one of them the most lovely & engaging little Girl I ever saw. I have had very bad health since my marriage until the two last years, I have now recover’d my health, and have two charming children.

In its description, the National Gallery concludes as to Gilbert Stuart:

Stuart’s particular sensitivity may reflect his own ties to Nelly and her family. When he painted President and Mrs. Washington in Philadelphia in the 1790s, Nelly accompanied her grandparents to his Germantown studio for their sittings. The contrast between the vibrant girl whom Stuart had known in Philadelphia and the melancholy young woman he saw in Washington seems to have made an impact on the observant artist.

Nelly Custis Lewis died in 1852.

Austen · Classics · Covers · writing

Covers: Pride and Prejudice

For my conversion of covers to avoid any rights issues, I did searches of those institutions that have Open Access policies, i.e., they allow the use of their images of works in the public domain for any purposes. I searched for portraits in various periods and from various places. This brought up a large number of images, from which I selected a bunch for possible cover use.

Ann Calvert Stuart Robinson (Mrs. William Robinson), c. 1804, by Gilbert Stuart

Elizabeth Bennet is one of literature’s iconic figures. As I went through my little collection, I wanted someone who could be Elizabeth Bennet. Though for some covers I’ve gone outside the time period, for P&P and my other Austens I needed to keep to it.

The painting I use is of a 19 or 20 year-old and it was done in 1804. So, she is Elizabeth’s age and the date is only a few years before the book’s story. The portrait is from The National Gallery in Washington.

We happen to know quite a lot about the woman in the painting. The National Gallery of Art has several pages about her in its American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century (246-249).

She is Ann Stuart, who was born in Fairfax County, Virginia in 1784. Her aunt described her mother about Ann Stuart and her sister in a manner that will sound familiar to P&P readers: “their mother paid scant heed to their education and brought them up as if they were to marry English lords, and I don’t believe they accept the offers made to them.”

That aunt would later write of her:

The eldest of the Stuart girls is a very nice girl, but she now lives quite far away in Virginia. Her father, whom I am sure you remember as an extremely austere and tedious man — completely respectable, but more knowledgeable about the customs of the Greeks and Romans than of today — forced her against her will to marry a man who does not have enough intelligence to make a woman such as she happy. Although she writes me that she is perfectly [content], I do not believe it.

Ann Stuart wrote to a friend in 1807:

You would be surprised to see what a change has taken place in my taste, instead of reading or writing all day and being out of humor when interrupted I am quite active about the Farm and garden and very solicitous to do something in that way to entitle me to become a member of the agricultural society.

She had two children, boys, and is thought to have died in 1823. She was thirty-nine.

Classics · writing

Covers: Sense and Sensibility

I’ll start with Miss Austen today and her first novel, Sense and Sensibility. It’s the only one of her novels in which I think that there are more than one lead, in this case Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. (I named an MC “Elinor” after the former, who is I think the only Austen MC who doesn’t end up marrying money.)

So this is a rare two-person portrait.

The Cleveland Museum tells us–and one wonders whether their personalities are as varied as are Elinor’s and Marianne’s; “Charlotte (left) and Sarah were 19 and 21, respectively, when this portrait was painted [in 1801] on the occasion of Sarah’s marriage to the topographer Daniel Lysons. The sisters wear fashionable gowns and jewelry, but their affectionate posture conveys a sisterly tenderness that transcends glamour.”

writing

Lights and Shadows of New York City

In writing Róisín Campbell, I came upon—I don’t know how—a PDF version of the book The Lights and Shadows in New York City by James D. McCabe, Jr. It was published in 1872. I have taken a copy from Project Gutenberg and converted it into both paperback and hardcover versions on Amazon.

It proved invaluable in providing details of life in the City at the time. In particular, there is a chapter on women’s clothing that was the basis for a major theme of my novel. In the book, McCabe quotes an unidentified person: “It is almost impossible to estimate the number of dresses a very fashionable woman will have. Most women in society can afford to dress as it pleases them, since they have unlimited amounts of money at their disposal. Among females dress is the principal part of society. What would Madam Mountain be without her laces and diamonds, or Madam Blanche without her silks and satins? Simply commonplace old women, past their prime, destined to be wall-flowers. A fashionable woman has just as many new dresses as the different times she goes into society. The élite do not wear the same dresses twice. If you can tell us how many receptions she has in a year, how many weddings she attends, how many balls she participates in, how many dinners she gives, how many parties she goes to, how many operas and theatres she patronizes, we can approximate somewhat to the size and cost of her wardrobe.”

He proceeds to list over six pages the inventory of one woman’s wardrobe that was filed in court when an insurance company balked at paying a claim that that wardrobe was worth $21,000. He notes, further, that the needs of fashion often outran the family’s resources, resulting in “ruin”:

If they have not wealth they will affect to have it. They could not counterfeit good birth, or high breeding, but they can assume the appearance of being wealthy. They can conduct themselves, for a while at least, in a manner utterly disproportioned to their means, and so they go on, until their funds and credit being exhausted, they are forced to drop out of the circles in which they have moved, and the so-called friends who valued them only for their supposed wealth, instantly forget that they ever knew them. No more invitations are left for them, they are not even tolerated in “good society,” and are “cut” on the street as a matter of course.

Not a year passes but records the failure of some prominent business man in New York. His friends are sorry for him, and admit that he was prudent and industrious in his business. “His family did it,” they tell you, shaking their heads. “They lived too fast. Took too much money to run the house, to dress, and to keep up in society.” Only the All Seeing Eye can tell how many men who stand well in the mercantile community are tortured continually by the thought that their extravagance or that of their families is bringing them to sure and certain ruin; for not even in New York can a man live beyond his actual means. They have not the moral courage to live within their legitimate incomes. To do so would be to lose their positions in society, and they go on straining every nerve to meet the demands upon them, and then the crash comes, and they are ruined.

This was the Genesis of that portion of the novel that dealt with the financial reversals for one of the families:

“I was such a fool,” he said to his youngest daughter. “Thank God McNabb took Mary on. By then, it was too late. I couldn’t afford how we were living. Mary’s clothing alone began to eat into my capital. You were the sensible one.”

“But what of my year abroad?”

“That was costly, true. But I did not have to pay for all the gowns even you would need in New York. No. You were the sensible one. Mary was not. And I wasn’t. Or the boys. Only your mother. Bless her. I would not have gotten as far as I have, pitiful as that may be, without her support. I do not deserve her.”

He took another gulp. “She is ‘magnificent,’ as someone once called the house. I do not tell her often enough.”