Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Edith Wharton Blog Tour: Madame de Treymes

Rating: 2 out of 5
First Sentence: “John Durham, while he waited for Madame de Malrive to draw on her gloves, stood in the hotel doorway looking out across the Rue de Rivoli at the afternoon brightness of the Tuileries gardens.”
Major Characters: John Durham, an American in Paris (ha); Madame de Malrive, also known as the former Fanny Frisbee (also an American in Paris); and Madame de Treymes, Fanny’s sister-in-law

Synopsis: John is in love with Fanny, and has been for a long time.  She is married but separated from her French husband, Monsieur de Malrive, and is in a sense trapped in France – she has custody of her son for the time being only if she agrees to stay in France.  Although John and Fanny love each other (in their restrained, turn-of-the-century Wharton way), they cannot marry because Fanny’s in-laws will not consent to her divorce.  They play an inordinately large role in family affairs such as marriage and divorce.

Madame de Treymes, Fanny’s sister-in-law, seems to be the most approachable member of the clan, and John decides to visit her and find out why the family objects to the divorce, and under what circumstances they might consent to it.  After he secures a meeting with her at a social function, he learns that she is ready to help him obtain the necessary consent, in return for money to pay off her husband’s gambling debts (John supposes).  He refuses to buy Fanny’s hand in marriage like that, and nothing further comes from the encounter.

A little later in the story, Madame de Treymes suddenly announces that the family has decided to let the divorce proceed.  Fanny is overjoyed, of course, but John doesn’t quite trust this apparently unfounded change of heart.  He later learns that Madame de Treymes’ husband has had to leave the country due to money problems.  John feels a pang of guilt at having been unwilling to help her earlier, even if it did amount to a bribe.  He decides to thank her personally for any part she may have had in the reversal of the family’s decision, and she responds in a very curious way.  After an extended cat-and-mouse conversation between the two, it gradually comes to light that Madame de Treymes has been working behind the scenes so that her family manages to profit from the divorce in a way that John and Fanny did not forsee.  This constitutes a sort of “twist” ending to the story, so I won’t go any further in my synopsis so as to avoid spoilers.

General Information and Impressions: Overall, I enjoyed the plot of this story the most.  I did not enjoy Wharton’s writing style so much.  The mannerly atmosphere of the story was also something I didn’t enjoy, although I understand that this is one of Wharton’s hallmarks.  Oddly enough, this story seemed very dated to me in ways that other classics do not.  I don’t know why.  I also got the impression that the characters in this story were not real people.  They seemed more like actors playing roles on the stage, and I couldn’t imagine relating to these characters at all.

When I signed up for this spot on the Edith Wharton Blog Tour, a project of The Classics Circuit, I did so in hopes that I would have as good an experience with Mrs. Wharton as I did with Wilkie Collins, when I hosted him at the end of last year in another of The Classics Circuit’s author tours.  And although it sounds quite lame, I picked Madame de Treymes, an early novella Wharton published in 1907, because it was short.  It consists of 10 short chapters, and certainly could be read in one sitting.  Having read very little, if any, Wharton in my past, I wanted to have a short and sweet introduction to her work.  I am afraid I might have made a poor choice, because I just didn’t get that much out of Madame de Treymes.  I didn’t hate it, but it also did not make me want to run out and get another Edith Wharton book to read.  I do have a copy of The House of Mirth, though, so maybe it will find its way onto the TBR pile at some point.