podcasts and Edith Wharton

No one ever mentioned that reading would become a problem in late pregnancy. I don’t mean reading in and of itself, thankfully, but rather, finding a comfortable position to sit and read for any duration of time. Particularly in the evening. I’m used to settling down on the couch or curling up with a book in bed and reading for at least an hour or two each evening, and much to my surprise, this has become incredibly difficult. Mostly because the most comfortable way for me to relax at the moment is to lie on my left side with about a hundred pillows propping me up from every direction. Unfortunately, it suddenly becomes very awkward to hold a book.

Watching a movie, on the contrary, is very easy. My husband and I don’t own a TV, but we love movies and so watch them on a laptop. And we’ve been going through a bunch of Agatha Christie films and shows. Because of this we’ve been having an ongoing debate about David Suchet vs. Peter Ustinov. I think I’m a confirmed Ustinov fan, although I think Suchet is incredible as well. I might be biased, however, by my real-life appreciation for Ustinov, who was an absolute linguistic genius.

Back to the topic at hand – I have managed to do some reading before bed using my Ipod and I’m enjoying a selection of short stories offered by Librivox as well as The Classic Tales podcast. The other night I listened to an interesting short story by Edith Wharton called The Fulness of Life. As the story opened I was at first surprised by Wharton taking up such a metaphysical subject as a woman going to heaven and dealing with happiness in the afterlife. But as the story continued, I realized this story dealt exactly with Wharton’s overall project of marital bliss and difficult choices.

In the story, an unnamed woman dies and goes to heaven. When she arrives, she’s overwhelmed with the beauty of paradise and the chance to experience what she calls, “what it means to really live.” Her conversation with the guardian spirit reveals that she lived on earth in a ho-hum marriage with a man who, although kind, was not her intellectual equal, and that she never experienced true passion. To this declaration, the spirit says:

“that every soul which seeks in vain on earth for a kindred soul to whom it can lay bare its inmost being shall find that soul here and be united to it for eternity.”

As expected, the woman is overjoyed. And soon a man appears – her kindred spirit. They discuss things for a moment, finishing each other’s sentences and getting more and more excited. Until the woman discovers that when the man who was her husband on earth dies, he’ll be alone in paradise to make his way and find his own happiness. The woman realizes that although she was never fully happy with him while they lived, he believed she was his soul mate. So she knows that by leaving him in the afterlife to pursue her own happiness, she’ll be deserting him.

So she is left with a difficult choice. I won’t give away the ending exactly but if you’re familiar with Wharton at all, I suspect you can guess what this woman decides to do. I can’t help thinking it particularly cruel or cynical of Wharton to bring her view of marriage into the ever after. Her heroines never, ever get a break, do they?

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Michelle

Reader, writer, translator, nature-lover, happy expat and concerned world citizen.

10 thoughts on “podcasts and Edith Wharton”

  1. I am the opposite to you when it comes to Poirot preferences! To be fair, I have never seen Ustinov’s portrayal, so it’s not really a fair fight, but I am so enamoured by Suchet! I simply can’t imagine another Poirot!

    I wonder if at times like this an e-reader would make reading easier (due to the lighter weights?)? You’ve certainly dealt with the circumstance admirably, turning to audiobooks, and I’m glad you’re managing to find a way to keep reading!

  2. I had no idea Wharton wrote a story about the afterlife, but it’s so fitting that it’s really just another way of discussing this life. What an interesting concept of meeting one’s soulmate in heaven.Leave it to Wharton to make heaven such a difficult place!

  3. Ooh ooh I know this Wharton story – it’s really intriguing, and you are quite right. Even in the afterlife, her heroines can only mourn their losses and tally their debts.

    I feel for you with your nights of a thousand cushions. I remember it all very well! Still, once you get the other side, the next trick is to learn how to read when breastfeeding. I found this a wonderful way to win some very peaceful reading time.

  4. Have not read this story, but you are right: Wharton never gives her heroines a break. In tales like this, I sometimes feel as though she was punishing herself for the outcome of her own marriage…

    Even I still remember the “nights of a thousand cushions” (oh, that litlove and her way with words 😉 ) You will cope magnificently with that, and with “the other side.” I have faith!

  5. I must investigate this podcast. I have trouble with the short story as a medium for reading, but this might be a way forward.

    Not having children I can’t directly sympathize with your dilemma, but I do remember one of my closest friends having the same problem. She had been so sure that she was going to develop the perfect book support as her pregnancy progressed, but as you’ve found, it didn’t quite work out that way:)

  6. Lilian – My thoughts exactly, I thought it particularly unfair that this woman’s sacrifice followed her into the afterlife.

    Steph – You should really see Ustinov at least once, he doesn’t camp it up like Suchet, but he is wonderful. I particularly like him in Evil Under the Sun – there’s a swimming scene that is just marvelous.

    Dorothy – So true, Wharton definitely pushes the extreme in this particular story.

    Litlove – Mourn their losses and tally their debts is exactly right! I would have loved to meet Wharton, just to see what she was like in everyday conversation.

    DS – I suspect you are right about her own marital sacrifice sneaking into her fiction. It’s a shame she didn’t allow her characters redemption instead. And thanks for the vote of confidence, here’s hoping!

    Ann – I find listening to a short story a lot easier than listening to a novel, for example. I’ve chosen mostly 20 – 30 minute stories and they’re just long enough to get me to sleep without missing the ending.

  7. Stefanie – three weeks until my due date! And I must say I’m getting rather impatient 🙂

    Smithereens – Well, I will continue to amass a nice collection of podcasts then, so I have plenty to begin with 🙂

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