Tag Archives: Edith Wharton

Literary Lives: Real and Imagined

I once heard the children’s non-fiction author Seymour Simon say that library books shouldn’t be labeled ‘fiction’ and ‘nonfiction’ but, rather, ‘true’ and ‘untrue.’* Indeed, many people get the labels mixed up thinking the ‘non’ in fiction means it’s untrue; well, some of it is!

Writers have always been fascinated by famous literary figures and it sometimes follows that they inspire fictional material written in novel form: a biographical novel. As an avid reader, I am intrigued by the possibilities as it allows me to get closer than I ever would to imagined scenes and emotions. Here are a few (along with a biographical non-fiction counterpart, should you desire truth instead of imagination):


Age of Desire by Jennie Fields


Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee

Victorian writer Edith Wharton wrote novels depicting the strict propriety of appearances, the devastating consequences of scandal, and women whose lives were often an entrapment. Age of Desire chronicles a love affair the author had when she was in her mid-forties, a turning point in her unhappy and loveless marriage.


Gatsby’s Girl by Caroline Preston


The Perfect Hour: the Romance of  F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ginevra King, His First Love by James L.W. West

Before The Great Gatsby and before the colorful and infamous Zelda, Jazz Age author F.Scott Fitzgerald met a beautiful socialite named Ginevra King. This is the story of their ill-fated romance.


The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James


Jane Austen by Carol Shields

 Poor Jane. Everyone always wants to believe there was once a long lost love in her single life. Perhaps there was, but we’ll never really know!


*Kind of how I believe that produce should be labeled, say, ‘strawberries’ and ‘chemically-treated strawberries’ instead of ‘strawberries’ and ‘organic strawberries!’


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“Bad” Girls Go Everywhere

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” — Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

“When I’m good, I’m very good.  When I’m bad, I’m better.” —Mae West

Consider the so-called “bad” girl.  Playing by the rules and coloring within the lines are all well and good, to a certain extent.  But what if your dreams and desires just can’t be confined by the contours of a “good girl” life?  What if your vision of the world is bigger than what the world currently has to offer?  What if you just don’t fit into any of the roles society has deemed acceptable for you? 

The “bad” girl shrugs her shoulders and cha-chas forward.  She breaks rules with impunity, fights for what she believes in, and pursues her dreams, no matter what the cost.  She stands up, speaks out, and tears down anything that stands in her way.

Is it any wonder, then, that so many of the women history remembers fondly today were considered “bad girls” in their time?  Here are just a few of the courageous women who pushed buttons and limits, and left a legacy any aspiring “bad” girl can be proud of.

Edith Wharton bit the hand that fed her in the daintiest way possible by satiring the old New York society in which she was raised. Novels like The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence questioned long-held assumptions about love, marriage, divorce, and women’s rights.  In a time when such things just weren’t done, Wharton rejected her own loveless union  for a life of greater social freedom in Paris.  She was also the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature.

Dorothy Day turned Catholicism on its ear by co-founding the Catholic Worker Movement. After reading Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, Day started questioning the social conditions around her and the political structure she believed contributed to them. Day’s long life of activism included housing and feeding the poor, standing up for labor rights, and publicly protesting, an activity for which she served jail time.  In recognition of her efforts to demonstrate that sincere faith and social action are not mutually exclusive, a movement is afoot to have her canonized.

Although Josephine Baker is most frequently remembered for her scandalous singing and dancing career, she also gained fame and renown as a political activist, both in the United States and Europe. During World War II she smuggled intelligence for the French resistance, passing information to the resistance in Portugal via coded messages in her sheet music. She also persuaded officials in Spanish Morocco to issue visas and passports for Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. For an explanation of these and many more colorful stories and actions, check out one of the many biographies written about Baker.

These women’s stories are, of course, just the tip of the iceberg.  For books, videos, and more information on more notable women, ask a librarian.  Oh, and don’t forget to nurture your own unique gifts and abilities, gentle readers. Once you go “bad,” you never go back…and the world is a much better place for it.

–Leigh Anne


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