Long before hunky Liam Neeson became Ethan Frome, I was forced to read Edith Wharton’s novella in high school. At the time, it seemed waaaay longer than a novella. I can’t say I enjoyed it the first time around.

But Wharton became a very much savored taste by the time I was in college. I devoured almost everything she wrote. There is something so deliciously bleak and thwarted in all of Wharton’s work. I don’t know what it says about me that I like her so much.

The Wharton world of old New York appeals to me. My grandmother and her six sisters (known collectively as ‘the beautiful Miller sisters,’ although I can’t really see why) could have been Wharton heroines—they were all spinsters, divorcees, or those who married late and remained childless— Brooklyn Blue Book society girls who fudged their birthdates in the family Bible in elegant copperplate handwriting and summered in the country. The photos I have of them and their friends in their Victorian/Edwardian finery in front of grand old houses practically scream for Edith.

You may have seen Wharton’s work which was made into popular splashy costume-drama films, The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth. I was surprised to find out that movies and plays were made of her stories in her lifetime, but you can’t find many happy endings.

I’ve been on a non-fiction reading kick, finishing Hermione Lee’s 869 page biography, Edith Wharton. Here’s Edith’s take on writing:

What is writing a novel like?

1. The beginning: a ride through the spring wood

2. The middle: the Gobi desert

3. The end: a night with a lover

What “old school” author do you admire? Any good biographies to recommend? What did you hate to read in high school? What gets you through the Gobi desert when you write? I think that’s enough questions.

If only we’d stop trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time. ~ Edith Wharton

I think my grandmother, the baby of her family, is second from the left. A cautionary tale: always label your pictures. One hundred years later, nobody knows who’s who.