29/40: The Bunner Sisters (by Edith Wharton)


The Bunner Sisters

by Edith Wharton

Originally published in Scribner’s Magazine 60 (October 1916): 439-458 and; Scribner’s Magazine 60 (November 1916): 575-596

Reprint 2007 by Alan Rogders Books, Ægypan Press

WHO: Evelina and Ann Eliza are two spinster sisters who develop an affection for the same German clock-maker, Mr. Ramy.

WHAT: One of the sisters, the younger, marginally prettier Evelina, marries Mr. Ramy and disappears from her sister’s life…

WHERE: which continues on in destitution at their shop near Stuyvesant Square in New York City (far from the rich milieus that Edith Wharton usually sets her stories…)

WHEN: “[i]n 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…” (early 1870s.)

WHY: The sisters are poor, in a world of inelegant language and limited hopes. Evelina pursued the opportunity to find love, happiness and, a future away from the confines of a basement shop & apartment by becoming Mrs. Ramy.

HOW: Evelina and Anna Eliza had a co-dependent relationship that enabled the events of the book to take place. Evelina was more of the egotist while Anna Eliza was more of the sacrificer. As Evelina continued flirting with Mr. Ramy, Anna Eliza ceded more of her own aspirations for the sake of her sister’s happiness.

+ This is something different from Edith Wharton: a story not about high society, or the tensions between old money and the nouveau riche; but a microcosm of life amongst the poor. For all that Edith Wharton never experienced such a life herself, she nonetheless depicts this world without condescension and with concentrated detail that brings the scenes into vivid life.

+ I wouldn’t go so far to say that the Bunner sisters themselves and the people they interact with are ennobled by their experiences; but there is something to be said for the stubbornness and fortitude they exercise that puts Lily Bart (cf The House of Mirth) to shame.

There is a rather melodramatic scene near the end of Part II that seems nearly a parody of a morality play. While its lack of sophistication may be representative of a theatrical style popular at the time and, the commonness of it reflective of the atmosphere of the story, its crudeness stands out sharply against Wharton’s other more finely wrought scenes of melodrama (again, see The House of Mirth.)

OTHER: I bought a paperback trade edition of The Bunner Sisters (by Edith Wharton) from The Book Nook CT via Alibris.com. 

This is a reprint edition. On page 58, the narrative is interrupted by a copy editor’s note:

“NOTE: *** A Summary of Part I of “Bunner Sisters” appears on page 4 of the advertising pages.”

I do not know the provenance of the note, but it is disconcerting :-/

I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

I challenged myself to read forty books this summer and made it! Reviews, however, have been slower in coming. I expect that it may take me the rest of September to catch up on that score! 


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