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Twilight Sleep by Edith Wharton
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Twilight Sleep (1927)

by Edith Wharton

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300859,265 (3.51)37
This early work by Edith Wharton was originally published in 1927 and we are now republishing it with a brand new introductory biography. 'Twilight Sleep' is a best-selling satirical novel about a woman's attempts to alleviate the boredom of life. Edith Wharton was born in New York City in 1862. Wharton's first poems were published in Scribner's Magazine. In 1891, the same publication printed the first of her many short stories, titled 'Mrs. Manstey's View'. Over the next four decades, they - along with other well-established American publications such as Atlantic Monthly, Century Magazine, Harper's and Lippincott's - regularly published her work.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Wharton's a dab hand with the Gilded Age, but this take on the Jazz Age comes off as a pale imitation of Evelyn Waugh. ( )
  amanda4242 | Oct 11, 2015 |
The Twilight sleep of the title of Edith Wharton’s 1927 Jazz age novel, is a form of anaesthesia used (and recommended by one of the characters in the novel) by women during childbirth. It further represents the ceaseless search for a cure for boredom that seemed to have been the daily occupation for the women of certain sections of New York society.

Edith Wharton wrote three ‘jazz age’ novels; Glimpses of the Moon, (1922) The Children (1928) and this one. I thought Glimpses of the Moon was readable but as a Wharton novel a bit frothy and insubstantial, but I really rather liked The Children. For me Twilight Sleep falls somewhere between the two, not just chronologically, it has far more substance than Glimpses of the Moon. It is a little slow to get going – but having settled into it I did enjoy it, although it is a long way away from the sheer unadulterated brilliance of some of her more famous novels, it still contains some superb writing. What Twilight Sleep does give us is a slightly satirical examination of the fatuous, empty lives of the young (and not so young) wealthy inhabitants of 1920s New York society. The characterisation is sharp and while I didn’t much like most of these characters (that never matters to me as reader though) I was fascinated by them.

“Lita was on the lounge, one long arm drooping, the other folded behind her in the immemorial attitude of sleeping beauty. Sleep lay on her lightly, as it does on those who summon it at will. It was her habitual escape from the boredom between thrills, and in such intervals of existence as she was now traversing she plunged back into it after every bout of outdoor activity.”

Mrs Manford and her extended family are at the heart of this novel. Married to Dexter Manford, her second husband, Pauline Manford’s days are timetabled with extraordinary exactitude and managed by her secretary Miss Bruss. Designed to limit the possibility of having nothing to do, Mrs Manford’s days are a round of Eurythmic exercises, correspondence, committees, facial massages, meditation and consultations with which ever faith healer is currently in fashion. Pauline and Dexter’s daughter Nona still unmarried is in love with an unhappily married man, she often helps her mother with the talks she gives to the Birth control committee and the Mother’s Day committee, on one occasion almost mixing up her diametrically opposed speeches.

“Yes; Nona did admire her mother’s altruistic energy; but she knew well enough that neither she nor her brother’s wife Lita would ever follow such an example–she no more than Lita. They belonged to another generation: to the bewildered disenchanted young people who had grown up since the Great War, whose energies were more spasmodic and less definitely directed, and who, above all, wanted a more personal outlet for them. “Bother earthquakes in Bolivia!” Lita had once whispered to Nona, when Mrs. Manford had convoked the bright elderly women to deal with a seismic disaster at the other end of the world, the repetition of which these ladies somehow felt could be avoided if they sent out a commission immediately to teach the Bolivians to do something they didn’t want to do–not to BELIEVE in earthquakes, for instance.”

Nona is devoted to her half-brother Jim, the son of Pauline and her first husband Arthur Wyant. Arthur and Pauline remain on surprisingly good terms, and as Pauline frequently schedules a visit to him in her diary with a capital A – he is nicknamed exhibit A by the younger generation. Jim has been married for around two years to the beautiful Lita, but now, despite having a child, Lita is starting to feel bored and looking around for other entertainments.

“Pauline leaned forward earnestly. “I won’t pretend not to know something of what’s been happening. I came here today to talk things over with you, quietly and affectionately–like an older sister. Try not to think of me as a mother-in-law!” Lita’s slim eyebrows went up ironically. “Oh, I’m not afraid of mothers-in-law; they’re not as permanent as they used to be.”

Everyone it seems starts to concern themselves in Jim and Lita’s marriage – and whether it will fail or not – even Dexter who begins to pay more and more visits to his step-son’s wife. Dexter, a lawyer, had been horrified by Lita’s photograph appearing in a magazine article – and seeks a way to lessen the possible scandal. Pauline is relieved by her husband’s timely interest in her son’s marriage, while Nona feels his sudden interest to be unaccountably odd. In a bid to apparently try and stop the rot, Dexter arranges for Lita to spend some time with him Nona and Pauline in the country, while Jim goes on a fishing break with his father. Lita is not really suited to the country, and requires other entertainments. Nona isn’t the
only one with her (unspoken) suspicions.

There is a lovely little bit of melodrama as everything comes to a head, and the family scuttle back to New York, and then abroad.

In this novel Wharton seems to be observing (from a distance as she was still living abroad) a society in which marriage was thrown over with a mere shrug while new fads and entertainments were forever being sought. As so often, Wharton exposes the excesses and foibles of the people she writes about and charts their eventual downfall.

Twilight Sleep was my first read for Librarything’s All Virago/All August – during which some of us read as many VMC and Persephone titles as we can. ( )
2 vote Heaven-Ali | Sep 3, 2015 |
I give up. I'm not impressed. ( )
  jenngv | Jun 25, 2015 |
Wer sich bei diesem Buch einen spannenden Roman um eine wohlhabende Familie mit Intrigen und/oder womöglich sogar Verbrechen verspricht, wird aller Wahrscheinlichkeit nach ziemlich enttäuscht werden. Edith Wharton beschreibt einen relativ kurzen Zeitraum (1/2 Jahr?) im Leben einer der vermögensten Familien New Yorks, wobei die Handlung jedoch eher beiläufig bleibt. Etwaige Aufreger wie Betrug, obskure Sexveranstaltungen (?) und Affären bleiben eher Nebenschauplätze als dass sie tatsächlich in den Mittelpunkt des Geschehens rücken. Stattdessen sind es die mehr oder weniger alltäglichen Tages-, Handlungs- und Gedankenabläufe, die mit spitzer Feder ziemlich detailliert beschrieben werden sowie die Art und Weise, wie sich die Familie mit den verschiedenen Affären arrangiert: ignorieren oder mit Geld verhindern. Zwar ist klar, dass dies alles doch recht grell gezeichnet wird (Pauline ist beispielsweise gleichzeitig intensiv engagiert in den Kommitees für Geburtenkontrolle wie für uneingeschränkte Mutterschaft, ohne hierin einen Widerspruch zu sehen), doch irgendwie scheint die Realität nicht allzu weit entfernt... Nichtsdestotrotz kurz zum Inhalt: Pauline Manford, das (weibliche) Oberhaupt einer reichen Familie New Yorks der Zwanziger, hat einen Terminplan wie eine Vorstandsvorsitzende eines weltumspannenden Unternehmens. Doch statt Vorstandssitzungen, Geschäftsessen und/oder Aktionärstreffen wechseln sich bei Pauline sportliche Ertüchtigungen, Schönheitspflege sowie kulturelle und gesellschaftliche Verabredungen zur Errettung der Welt ab - meist im 15-Minuten-Takt. Dennoch ist sie für ihre beiden Kinder Jim und Nona die geliebte und auch bewunderte Mutter, auch wenn diese überhaupt nicht nach ihr kommen. Jim aus erster Ehe genoß das Leben wie es kam bis er Lita heiratete, eine exzentrische Künstlerin (?), der er völlig verfiel, sodass er sogar einen Bürojob annahm, um dem Bild eines anständigen Ehemannes zu genügen (was jedoch eher im Sinne Paulines als Litas war). Nona indes ist mit ihren 19 Jahren auf der Suche nach dem Sinn: Wozu das ständige Herumjagen von einem Termin zum nächsten? Treffen mit Menschen die man nicht mag, nur weil sie einem einen Kardinal als Gast bescheren können? Macht all das glücklich? Offenbar nur ihre Mutter. Jims Ehefrau ist schon nach kurzer Zeit von allem und allen zu Tode gelangweilt und will die Scheidung; Paulines Ehemann steckt in einem Gefühlschaos, an dem Lita nicht ganz unschuldig ist; Paulines momentaner Guru droht offenbar ein Prozess, in dem ihr Ehemann ermittelt undundund. Die Gesellschaft die Edith Wharton 1927 so detailliert beschrieben hat, stammt aus den Zwanziger Jahren des letzten Jahrhunderts. Doch es sind exakt die gleichen Phänomene, incl. des Verhaltens der Presse, die sich eins zu eins in unseren heutigen Zeiten wiederfinden. Krankheit und Tod werden verdrängt, was zählt ist das eigene Wohlbefinden und gute Aussehen: Wer krank ist oder sogar stirbt, ist selber schuld ;-) Esoterik, Okkultismus und oberflächliche Themen die die Schlagzeilen beherrschen; volle Terminkalender um der eigenen Sinnlosigkeit nicht zu begegnen - das bestimmte damals wie auch heute weite Teile der 'besseren' Gesellschaftsschichten. Obwohl Wharton dieses Buch bereits vor fast 90 Jahren schrieb, wirkt die Sprache noch immer frisch. Spöttisch und etwas affektiert - so, wie es diesem ganzen Roman entspricht. Mich hat dieses Buch fast durchweg amüsiert, wobei es durchaus seine Längen hat. Zum 10. Mal über die Lichtgestalt Lita zu lesen, die einer Vase, Lampe, Glas oder was auch immer ähnelt und von innen leuchtet, ist dann doch genug. Dennoch: Es hat sich gelohnt. ( )
  Xirxe | Dec 2, 2014 |
Not my favorite Wharton novel, but every one of her books should be read for her marvelous writing, and I do recommend this to any Wharton fan, if more for her characters than the actual plot, (of which there isn't much.) ( )
  FutureMrsJoshGroban | Aug 4, 2014 |
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Miss Bruss, the perfect secretary, received Nona Manford at the door of her mother's boudoir ("the office," Mrs. Manford's children called it) with a gesture of the kindliest denial.
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Moving effortlessly between satire and sympathy, Edith Wharton paints a gleaming portrait of 1920s New York society. At its centre is Pauline Manford, indefatigable hostess and do-gooder, who rules her family with ruthless charm, Dexter, the generous lawyer who is her second husband, Nona her gentle daughter, and son Jim married to the exquisite Lita. When the preposterous Marchesa arrives on the scene, trailing debts and problems, Pauline strives with increasing desperation to keep her family togerther, too busy to recognise the threatening truth until it explodes in a tragi-comic catastrophe.
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