"Genius is of small use to a woman who does not know how to do her hair."
- Edith Wharton, from The Touchstone
In her essay, "Not Pretty," the Los Angeles Review of Books, Victoria Patterson takes Jonathan Franzen to task for his strange contextualization of Edith Wharton in his recent New Yorker essay.
In a recent post, I highlighted the Franzen essay, pointing to his comments on the relationship between desire, character and sympathy.
Patterson pursues his odd comments on Wharton's looks and sexual life.
Here's the opening paragraph:
After reading Jonathan Franzen’s essay in the New Yorker about Edith Wharton, I couldn’t sleep. I admire Franzen’s work and usually appreciate his commentary about social media, eBooks, etc., but his depiction of Edith Wharton was so mean-spirited and off-key that I tossed and turned. Why would he link her husband’s mental illness with her success? Why claim that she was only interested in male friendships? And worst of all: Why would he focus on her physical appearance, claiming that she was unattractive? He’d taken a literary hero and written about her as if ranking a Maxim photo spread.
I love Patterson's spirited defense of Wharton, her life and work, - and, women writers in general.
I agree with Lionel Shriver when she said in an interview, “For feminists, there is no better reading than Edith Wharton.”
Shriver also wrote:
"I was born after the heavy spade work of female emancipation was done. But 100 years ago, Edith Wharton’s drive, independence, willfulness, and autodidactic mastery of the English language were extraordinary, and I bashfully claim her as a kindred spirit."
And I’d like to add: I don’t give a shit what she looks like.
To read the essay in its entirety, click here.