Thursday, May 14, 2009

American Stories

C-Span has produced two series about American writers. All of the educational resources generated by the series are archived for your convenience at

Fun and useful.


The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton
Book One
Chapter One - Episode 3

They turned into Madison Avenue and began to stroll northward. As she moved beside him, with her long light step, Selden was conscious of taking a luxurious pleasure in her nearness: in the modelling of her little ear, the crisp upward wave of her hair--was it ever so slightly brightened by art?--and the thick planting of her straight black lashes. Everything about her was at once vigorous and exquisite, at once strong and fine. He had a confused sense that she must have cost a great deal to make, that a great many dull and ugly people must, in some mysterious way, have been sacrificed to produce her. He was aware that the qualities distinguishing her from the herd of her sex were chiefly external: as though a fine glaze of beauty and fastidiousness had been applied to vulgar clay. Yet the analogy left him unsatisfied, for a coarse texture will not take a high finish; and was it not possible that the material was fine, but that circumstance had fashioned it into a futile shape? 

As he reached this point in his speculations the sun came out, and her lifted parasol cut off his enjoyment. A moment or two later she paused with a sigh. 

"Oh, dear, I'm so hot and thirsty--and what a hideous place New York is!" She looked despairingly up and down the dreary thoroughfare. "Other cities put on their best clothes in summer, but New York seems to sit in its shirtsleeves." Her eyes wandered down one of the side-streets. "Someone has had the humanity to plant a few trees over there. Let us go into the shade." 

"I am glad my street meets with your approval," said Selden as they turned the corner. 

"Your street? Do you live here?" 

She glanced with interest along the new brick and limestone house-fronts, fantastically varied in obedience to the American craving for novelty, but fresh and inviting with their awnings and flower-boxes. 

"Ah, yes--to be sure: THE BENEDICK. What a nice-looking building! I don't think I've ever seen it before." She looked across at the flat-house with its marble porch and pseudo-Georgian facade. "Which are your windows? Those with the awnings down?" 

"On the top floor--yes." 

"And that nice little balcony is yours? How cool it looks up there!" 

He paused a moment. "Come up and see," he suggested. "I can give you a cup of tea in no time--and you won't meet any bores." 

Her colour deepened--she still had the art of blushing at the right time--but she took the suggestion as lightly as it was made. 

"Why not? It's too tempting--I'll take the risk," she declared. 

"Oh, I'm not dangerous," he said in the same key. In truth, he had never liked her as well as at that moment. He knew she had accepted without afterthought: he could never be a factor in her calculations, and there was a surprise, a refreshment almost, in the spontaneity of her consent.

No comments: