A Backward Glance [NOOK Book]


Years ago I said to myself: "There's no such thing as old age; there is
only sorrow."

I have learned with the passing of time that this, though true, is not
the whole truth. The other producer of old ...
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A Backward Glance

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Years ago I said to myself: "There's no such thing as old age; there is
only sorrow."

I have learned with the passing of time that this, though true, is not
the whole truth. The other producer of old age is habit: the deathly
process of doing the same thing in the same way at the same hour day
after day, first from carelessness, then from inclination, at last from
cowardice or inertia. Luckily the inconsequent life is not the only
alternative; for caprice is as ruinous as routine. Habit is necessary;
it is the habit of having habits, of turning a trail into a rut, that
must be incessantly fought against if one is to remain alive.

In spite of illness, in spite even of the arch-enemy sorrow, one CAN
remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is
unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in
big things, and happy in small ways. In the course of sorting and
setting down of my memories I have learned that these advantages are
usually independent of one's merits, and that I probably owe my happy
old age to the ancestor who accidentally endowed me with these

Another advantage (equally accidental) is that I do not remember long to
be angry. I seldom forget a bruise to the soul--who does? But life puts
a quick balm on it, and it is recorded in a book I seldom open. Not long
ago I read a number of reviews of a recently published autobiography.
All the reviewers united in praising it on the score that here at last
was an autobiographer who was not afraid to tell the truth! And what
gave the book this air of truthfulness? Simply the fact that the
memorialist "spared no one," set down in detail every defect and
absurdity in others, and every resentment in the writer. That was the
kind of autobiography worth reading!

Judged by that standard mine, I fear, will find few readers. I have not
escaped contact with the uncongenial; but the antipathy they aroused was
usually reciprocal, and this simplified and restricted our intercourse.
Nor do I remember that these unappreciative persons ever marked their
lack of interest in me by anything more harmful than indifference. I
recall no sensational grievances. Everywhere on my path I have met with
kindness and furtherance; and from the few dearest to me an exquisite
understanding. It will be seen, then, that in telling my story I have
had to make the best of unsensational material; and if what I have to
tell interests my readers, that merit at least will be my own.

Madame Swetchine, that eminent Christian, was once asked how she managed
to feel Christianly toward her enemies. She looked surprised. "Un
ennemi? Mais de tous les accidents c'est le plus rare!"

So I have found it.

Several chapters of this book have already appeared in the "Atlantic
Monthly" and "The Ladies' Home Journal." I have also to thank Sir John
Murray for kindly permitting me to incorporate in the book two or three
passages from an essay on Henry James, published in "The Quarterly
Review" of July 1920 and the Editor of "The Colophon" for the use of a
few paragraphs on the writing of "Ethan Frome."
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Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940013740488
  • Publisher: WDS Publishing
  • Publication date: 1/5/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 640,218
  • File size: 279 KB

Meet the Author

Wharton was born to George Frederic Jones and Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander in New York City. She had two brothers, Frederic Rhinelander and Henry Edward. The saying "Keeping up with the Joneses" is said to refer to her father's family. She shared a lifelong friendship with her Rhinelander niece, landscape architect Beatrix Farrand of Reef Point in Bar Harbor, Maine, and often traveled with Henry James in Europe. Wharton combined her insider's view of America's privileged classes with a brilliant, natural wit to write humorous, incisive novels and short stories of social and psychological insight. She was well acquainted with many of her era's other literary and public figures, including Henry James and Theodore Roosevelt.

In 1885, at 23 years of age, she married Edward (Teddy) Robbins Wharton, who was 12 years older than her. From a well-established Boston family, he was a sportsman and a gentleman of her social class and shared her love of travel, although they had little in common intellectually.[citation needed] From the late 1880s until 1902, he suffered acute depression, and the couple ceased their extensive travel. At that time his depression manifested as a more serious disorder, after which they lived almost exclusively at The Mount, their estate designed by Edith Wharton. In 1908 her husband's mental state was determined to be incurable and she divorced him in 1913. Around the same time, Edith was overcome with the harsh criticisms leveled by the naturalist writers. Later in 1908 she began an affair with Morton Fullerton, a journalist for The Times, in whom she found an intellectual partner.

In addition to novels, Wharton wrote at least 85 short stories. She was also a garden designer, interior designer, and taste-maker of her time. She wrote several design books, including her first published work, The Decoration of Houses of 1897, co-authored by Ogden Codman. Another is the generously illustrated Italian Villas and Their Gardens of 1904
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Customer Reviews

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( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 23, 2012

    The writing life, uncloseted

    In this orderly collection of autobiographical sketches Edith Wharton - generously and with nearly photographic recall - begins by inviting readers into her early life in nineteenth-century New York. We are treated to its cast of characters, old New York, country life up the Hudson River, the clothes, the houses, and the remarkable (and unremarkable) personalities - Washington Irving was a friend of the family - as well as the sensibilities of a sociable, bright, and wonderfully observant little girl.

    Edith began to read so early that it surprised her upper-class (but unintellectual) family. Before long she became an "omnivorous reader," happiest plowing through the volumes of the classics in her father's library. She soon found that she required time alone - to invent characters, to make up stories. She knew that she had to write fiction - from childhood on, despite realizing by young adulthood that "in the eyes of our provincial society authorship was still regarded as something between a black art and a form of manual labor." Of the social imperative to closet one's writing urges she elaborates: "My father and mother were only one generation away from Sir Walter Scott, who thought it necessary to drape his literary identity in countless clumsy subterfuges, and almost contemporary with the Brontes, who shrank in agony from being suspected of successful novel-writing." The idle rich, Wharton makes clear, were intended to stay idle - and not busy themselves with writing, especially for (horrors!) pay. Her descriptions of her early popular successes are memorable.

    In subsequent chapters Wharton lays out her well-thought-out opinions regarding childhood, self-discovery, the formation of the writer's imagination and intellect, and the importance of finding one's own way - as an intellectual and as a social being. There is dry humor, too. She treasured good literature and good conversation - and pursued (and found) them throughout her life. She loved beautiful things and places, too. Finally, she describes her sojourns abroad (mainly England, France, and Italy) and the relationships and places that sustained her and nurtured her creativity, her productivity - and her soul.

    Lifelong friends play a central role in much of this memoir. She describes people well, without breaches of privacy or confidences. This is not at all limiting. She writes tenderly of the blossoming of her friendship with "American gentleman" Egerton Winthrop, a man of "cultivated intelligence," a shy, physically awkward man whom Wharton considered "the most perfect of friends." Others were George Cabot Lee, Vernon Lee, Howard Sturgis, Geoffrey Scott, Percy Lubbock, and most of all, Henry James, who is drawn wonderfully (and not uncritically) in this book. Of her friendship with James she remarks "The real marriage of two minds is for any two people to possess a sense of humor or irony pitched in exactly the same key, so that their joint glances at any subject cross like interarching search-lights."

    I loved this memoir, and greatly admired Wharton's ability to reveal herself and her world so fully and well.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2013

    Never read it

    Never read it. Hope it is a good book!!!

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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