3 ways reading Edith Wharton is like a dementor attack

If you’ve spent time reading Edith Wharton, amiright?


Full disclosure: I haven’t read Wharton’s most well known novels, The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth. I think I was assigned the former, at some point, and the latter, well, I’m guessing there’s little actual mirth involved.

My experience of Wharton is limited to Ethan Frome, Tales of Men and Ghosts, and the short story “Roman Fever.” Each is so shudder inducing in its own way that I’m a bit wary of tackling one of her longer works. Though her writing is so beautiful. I don’t know. I’m torn.

I read “Roman Fever” last month and can’t stop thinking about it. It’s the story of two very different upper class New York broads sitting together on a balcony overlooking Rome. While their daughters gallivant around the city, the ladies reminisce about their younger days doing the same. It all seems very civilized from the outside, though each is thinking snarky thoughts about the other.

Then comes the last line, which is best described as an epic bitch slap. And you have to go back and reread the whole story because that last line changes it. It’s like some deadly ninja stealth move. Or a dementor attack.

I used the dementor analogy recently to describe reading Ethan Frome. Today, I’m prepared to elaborate on that analogy. Here are the three stages of reading Edith Wharton, or being attacked by dementors:

First, a midnight blanket descends.

This is followed by an intense cold stealing over you. The kind of cold that penetrates deeply into your bones and makes it impossible to warm up.

It’s like all hope and happiness have been drained out of the world.

It’s like you’ll never be cheerful again.

Wait, that’s four things. *shudders*

Thinking of something ridiculous, like the ginormous mutton chop sleeves or the two furious little dogs on Wharton’s lap, might help chase away the terror.

Edith Wharton

Or, maybe not. Those dogs look pretty demonic, now I think about it.

demon hounds

This version where they’re sitting on her shoulders does not help at all. It worries me that those hellhounds are so close to her face.

Edith Wharton with dogs

Chocolate. That’s what we need. The biggest bar we can find.

This should do nicely.