thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Posts Tagged ‘the new yorker’

Jonathan Franzen, Edith Wharton, and the Problem of Personality

In gender on February 11, 2012 at 7:53 am

Sarah Todd

The basic gist of Jonathan Franzen’s New Yorker article on Edith Wharton is, “Whar-dawg, I do not dig you as a human being because you had too much cash flow and too few socially liberal political beliefs, but I do dig the hot fudge sundae that is your novels’ complex protagonists. Radical?” (Franzen talks like a surfer-dude undergrad from the 1960s with hip-hop influences. No, he doesn’t really. I wish.)

When Franzen discusses Wharton’s books, he’s insightful and curious. I particularly like his exploration of why he wants Wharton’s characters–and literary characters in general–to get what they want, even if they want things about which he has ethical and moral qualms: more money, social status, a loveless but secure marriage. The vehemence of their desires is contagious. Eventually, they become the sympathetic reader’s own. This also explains, he says, why he wants Thackeray’s selfish, superficial Becky Sharp to climb right up that social ladder. But Franzen’s own likability and popularity, or lack thereof, is the subtext of half his personal essays as well as the blatant text (top-text?) of about a zillion pieces of Franzen-related criticism, so I think he’s more invested in the subject of ascending and descending social ladders than he’s willing to admit. Read the rest of this entry »

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