0216 | Bunner Sisters – Edith Wharton


Context: I bought myself a nice reflective yellow top to wear jogging while I listened to this in autumn’s gathering gloom.

I really like Wharton. This is the third book of hers that I’ve experienced and each of them is laced with pathos and an understanding of humanity that few novelists, particularly of her generation, were able to describe. Even fewer of those were women too because of the way US society ran itself at the time. I find her refreshing in a let’s get back to reality kind of way. Life is hard sometimes and choices that we make have vast consequences on our lives. My generation realised that more than the present I think but still far less than the one before.

Bunner Sisters is a shop that is the setting, by and large, for the story of two ageing spinsters, one of whom gets snapped up by an ageing bachelor in a brisk and unexpected romance. The impact of the marriage on the two sisters forms the major part of the book.

The tension between the two sisters is thinly veiled by their domestic routines. When the romance begins, that all goes out the window, despite desperate attempts to keep it up. And the marriage brings about a shocking change in their fortunes, which, if you know Wharton well, you’ll be able to predict the result of.

The characters aren’t as strongly developed as in the other novels I’ve read and this is more of a novella than a full novel, not that any of hers are long. I think that’s a shame. I think there’s huge potential for more development of the sisters and the husband. I wish she’d put more into it.

Again, marriage and its consequences is the theme Wharton explores just as in Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence. Makes me wonder what it was about marriage in particular that was able to provide her with so much inspiration. Mind you, having been married 15 years, I’m not too surprised 😉

In the days when New York’s traffic moved at the pace of the drooping horse-car, when society applauded Christine Nilsson at the Academy of Music and basked in the sunsets of the Hudson River School on the walls of the National Academy of Design, an inconspicuous shop with a single show-window was intimately and favourably known to the feminine population of the quarter bordering on Stuyvesant Square.

She walked on, looking for another shop window with a sign in it.

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  1. Don’t you think Wharton’s fascination with marriage, like Austen and other female authors of a certain vintage, had to do with independence and financial security that most women ? To marry was to lose independence but gain financial security. To not marry…well unless there were other means of financial support, women didn’t really have “acceptable” ways to make money.

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