A Handy Guide to Why Jonathan Franzen Pisses You Off

goldman-price_10_1905-cred-beinecke-rare-book-and-manuscript-library-yale-university

Jonathan Franzen’s Edith Wharton problem

According to a New Yorker piece Franzen wrote last year, Edith Wharton was “[l]acking the good looks and feminine charms that might have accompanied them.”

In response to the piece, which angered feminists along with Wharton fans, Marina Budhos at The Daily Beast enumerated Franzen’s offenses: “Among his assertions: that she was ugly, which didn’t cause her marriage to be sexless, but probably didn’t help; that Lily Bart is the opposite — beautiful — but a “party girl” whom Wharton punishes for her looks; that the central problem in reading Wharton is how to grudgingly ‘get over’ her cosseted, wealthy existence as she swans around European hotels.” Budhos points out the “disdainful tone” Franzen adopted towards Wharton — who was a great writer, but also an anti-Semitic, classist jerk. Make of his commentary on Wharton’s looks what you will, but Budhos was correct about “how Wharton was just like Franzen — an ambitious American author who strove to balance literary reach with public taste.”