Although they are both psychologically acute chroniclers of the human heart and although I love some of James's books, particularly Washington Square, I think Wharton is the better and more consistent writer of the two. And more accessible, too.
Which makes me think I should instead refer to Henry James as the male Edith Wharton, his greater name recognition aside.
Although Wharton won the Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence, her first great success was the novel The House of Mirth. Its heroine is Lily Bart, a woman born into wealth but no longer wealthy who is also beautiful, charming, witty and perceptive. But at 29 she is still unmarried, a precarious position for a woman in 1890s New York, particularly a woman with extravagant tastes and little money. Thwarted by pitiless opportunists and missed opportunities, as well as her own scruples, Lily is a complex heroine whose growth and descent coupled with Wharton’s exquisite style made this 1905 novel a controversial bestseller and an influential classic.
We'll be discussing The House of Mirth at the next Tuesday morning book group on June 1st at 10 am. Stop by the 3rd floor Readers' Services desk to register for the discussion and pick up a copy of this masterful novel. Or check out one of her other compelling titles which include The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, and Old New York, the latter of which includes the novella The Old Maid, the basis for the classic Bette Davis movie of the same name.
If you've read both Henry James and Edith Wharton, do you prefer one over the other? Do you love both? Or like the John Cusack character in Grosse Pointe Blank, do you still bemoan the English teacher who made you read Wharton's Ethan Frome in high school?