Monday, March 14, 2016

Edith Wharton Stories: "Xingu"

The next Edith Wharton story I’ll talk about is a bit different to those preceding – it’s laugh out loud funny. This is “Xingu”, which first appeared in Scribner’s in 1911. It’s a satirical look at lady’s discussion clubs – they had book clubs in the early 20th Century, it seems. As the story opens: “Mrs. Ballinger is one of those ladies who pursue Culture in bands, as if it were dangerous to meet alone. To this end she had founded the Lunch Club, an association composed of herself and several other indomitable huntresses of erudition”.

For their next meeting they have invited the celebrated novelist Osric Dane, author of The Wings of Death. All the members dutifully read the book except Mrs. Roby, who is continually a sad disappointment to her fellow members – for instance, when one of them mentions the pterodactyl to a biology professor, Mrs. Roby “confusedly murmured: ‘I know so little about meters –‘”. And for this meeting Mrs. Roby confesses that instead of reading Osric Dane she has been reading Trollope – and why? Because he amuses her. “Amusement is hardly what I look for in my choice of books,” says Mrs. Plinth.

When Osric Dane appears, she seems a bit offputting – somehow none of the members seems to be able to respond to her ripostes to their pretentious responses to her book. But then Mrs. Roby brings up another subject – Xingu. What, she wonders, does Mrs. Dane think of Xingu? And she begins to ask Mrs. Roby about it – and Mrs. Roby describes it in deliciously but totally undescriptive terms. This is very funny stuff, especially once you get the joke …

I don’t want to give it away any more – but the story is lots of fun. It’s not terribly deep (unlike Xingu!), and it’s target is kind of a case of fish in a barrel, but that’s not the point. It’s just funny.

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