Literary Sunday

Francis MorroneOn the 151st birthday of Edith Wharton, I joined Francis Morrone, architectural historian and tour guide extraordinaire, to see her neighborhood through her eyes.






Unusual for New York, her birthplace is intact…well, except for the facade which was originally brownstone and the Starbucks, which is installed in place of her father’s library.   But Francis said, it could be worse.  StarbucWharton birthlaceks was founded by 2 Melville addicts, naming the chain after the Moby Dick character, and Melville was Wharton’s second cousin.

Anyway, you can imagine home-tutored Edith as a girl, lying on her stomach, reading a book in front of the fireplace.  Think of her as you put cream in your coffee.

She wrote about the cream of society, which she knew well.  Born a Jones, her extended family was the source of the phrase “keeping up with the Jones’s.”

She played in nearby Madison Square, my favorite park, with Teedy (don’t call him Teddy) Roosevelt.  Francis’ fantasizes’ about these lifelong good friends in the park, while neighbor Henry James sat reading on a nearby park bench, as neighbor Herman Melville walked through the park to his work at Gansevoort Pier.  It could have happened, and what a literary geek I am to thrill about it, too.

Across from the park is where Delmonico’s was and where Edith attended the “Patrician Balls” held there during the season, which ran from December to April.  She might have eaten Eggs Benedict, Lobster Newburg, or Chicken Ala King–all dishes invented at Delmonico’s for the eight course meals eaten there by the elite.
James gave Wharton the advice to “go New York,” rather than write about exotic locales, and she was off.  Scribners, the handsome building at right, became her publisher, Francis joked, because they were right just around the corner from her birthplace.  What New Yorker wouldn’t want to go to work just around the corner?

House of Mirth sold more copies for Scribner’s than any book previously.  Wharton did not receive any inheritance from her father; it went to her brothers.  She built her mansion The Mount in Lenox, MA and her New York townhome based on her own earnings.  Way to go, girl!

Also love this view of the Flat Iron Building, which has absolutely nothing to do with Edith Wharton.  But after all, iFlatiront was an architectural tour, too.  This was taken on 23rd Street, just across from Wharton’s birthplace.  She lived opposite the swank Fifth Avenue Hotel.  It and her birthplace provide the setting for New Year’s Day, part of the Old New York trilogy, none of which I’ve read.

As we continued toward Gramercy Park, that lovely, locked park no one is ever in and the setting for another book in the New York Trilogy The Old Maid, we passed by one of my favorite trucks, which always is worth a look.  Have you seen it around downtown?  Olde Good Things.  Very good indeed!

Olde Good Things









We ended in front of the National Arts Clubs, one of the first great places I visited after National Arts Clubmoving to New York.  I hadn’t noticed the five busts of literary greats on the facade at ground level.  Click on this picture to enlarge it.  Maybe you can make out Shakespeare.  In the center is Ben Franklin.

You think you have a lot of books?  The railroad lawyer who lived here originally had so many books that he bought the house next door, just for his library.  He then hired an architect to join the two houses and create a facade to make them appear as one house.  Well done!

Francis wanted us to see this building because Martin Scorcese used its interiors for filming “The Age of Innocence”–particularly the ball scene.  Can’t wait to rewatch it, with that in mind.

Well, I’m off to find the New York Trilogy, so I can continue seeing New York through Edith Wharton’s eyes, much easier to do after an afternoon with Francis.