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“Xingu” by Edith Wharton (thoughts)

September 24, 2008

Edith WhartonI love Edith Wharton, and her short stories especially. So when I started drawing up my ‘A to Z’ short story list, I knew she’d be in there somewhere. And when I found out she had a title that started with an ‘x,’ well, that was that.

And as it turns out, “Xingu” (click to read the full story) is not only hilarious, but rather appropriate to a book blog discussion!

Why? Because it all centers around a Lunch Club, indeed “an association composed of … indomitable huntresses of erudition.” They occasionally host distinguished visitors, and soon a famous author is arriving, so most of the scenes we see resemble a book club. And what a club! Here’s an excerpt from their discussion of the author’s, Osric Dane’s, latest book Wings of Death (could Wharton have been giving James a bit of a poke with that?):

“Oh, but don’t you see,” exclaimed Laura Glyde, “that it’s just the dark hopelessness of it all–the wonderful tone-scheme of black on black–that makes it such an artistic achievement? It reminded me so when I read it of Prince Rupert’s maniere noire . . .the book is etched, not painted, yet one feels the colour values so intensely . . .”

But within this happy group of women, who all discuss things in that rarified air of intellectual superiority, sits the decidely un-rarified Mrs. Roby. Mrs. Roby explains that she has in fact not read Wings of Death, being too caught up in Trollope. And when she further explains that she reads Trollope because he amuses her, well, she gets the rebuke she deserves:

Mrs. Plinth and Mrs. Ballinger exchanged scandalised glances, and
the latter said: “I should hardly advise you to read ‘The Wings of Death,’ in that spirit. For my part, when there are so many books that one HAS to read, I wonder how any one can find time
for those that are merely amusing.”

And this is just the preliminary discussion. Things get much, much better when Osric Dane arrives, and Mrs. Robbs shows herself to be a particular expert in the field of ‘Xingu’ (or is it ‘the Xingu’?). I don’t want to give away too much, but this is a wonderful, sparkling story. It has none of that life-ruining bitterness that sometimes accompanies Wharton. Instead, it’s a sharp satire of the intellectually pretentious that is as relevent today as it was one hundred years ago. And it’s funny enough to hold its own against a Wilde play! There was so many epigrams, I was tempted to quote at least half the story. But really, it just makes sense for you to go read it and then come back and share your favourite line. :D

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2008 3:17 pm

    Nice post, Eva. We’re heading up to the Berkshires this weekend and are planning on visiting The Mount, Wharton’s home, if we can!

  2. September 24, 2008 4:33 pm

    ==> “It was only the fact of having a dull sister who thought her clever that saved her from a sense of hopeless inferiority.”

    (I have always wished I had a sister…)

  3. September 25, 2008 7:01 am

    Great review! I have been stressing over my X title for the A-Z challenge, but your post has convinced me to choose this one :)

  4. September 25, 2008 8:48 am

    Ted, I’m so jealous!

    Care, I loved that line too. ;) I have a sister, but she’s anything but dull!

    Joanne, thanks! This is a short story, so if you need an actual book, you might want to see my review of The X in Sex.

  5. September 27, 2008 8:26 pm

    I love Wharton, too, and this one sounds wonderful. Thanks, Eva, I’m adding this one to my list!

  6. September 29, 2008 7:32 am

    Eva, thanks for pointing out your review of X In Sex!
    When I started reading your review I was thinking “ugghh this sounds really scientifically schoolish” but then I came to the part where you jotted notes about calico cats, hemophilia and royalty – this sounds so interesting! I am a sucker for weird factoids :)

  7. October 1, 2008 7:56 pm

    JenClair, I hoep you enjoy it!

    Joanne, no problem. :) Seriously: almost the entire book is weird factoids, and it’s really short. Definitely not too schoolish!

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