her failure was a useful preliminary to success

Last week I finished Edith Wharton’s 1920s investigation of changing cultural norms in The Custom of the Country. The protagonist, Undine Spragg, is a conspicuous consumer and a social climber with a prime spot for advancement in the changing landscape of 1920s New York, where the divide between old money and everyone else began to vanish as industrialization and extreme capitalism found their way into society.

The rows of girls and boys in my class dressed in such conspicuous brand names that they might as well be wearing dollar signs, quickly claimed their resentment of Undine. Her obsession with appearance is disgusting, they said. Her behavior is selfish and crass—why would Edith Wharton write such an awful character? They take her as a caricature and ignore their reflections in her words and actions.

I finish the five hundred page book quickly and I’m embarrassed to see myself at sixteen, eighteen and sometimes even now, as a reflection of parts of Undine. I think of ambition and how quickly it can ruin lives when unchecked. I think about my goals…

Last semester, during a random book sale on campus, I bought a copy of The Age of Innocence, Edith’s Pulitzer winning novel. I meant to read it that Spring, which turned into last summer and now I’ve set it in a longer, more realistic timeline.

That timeline simplifies everything and adds it as a task in my growing list of 43 Things.

The goal is this: I want to read Edith Wharton’s first twelve novels.

She wrote 22 novels but published multiple essays and collections of short stories. For now, this is a perfect starting point. I have Ethan Frome, The House of Mirth and The Age of innocence. I think I can knock out at least two of them by April.

1. The Touchstone, 1900

2. The Valley of Decision, 1902

3. Sanctuary, 1903

4. The House of Mirth, 1905

5. Madame de Treymes, 1907

6. The Fruit of the Tree, 1907

7. Ethan Frome, 1911

8. The Reef, 1912

9. The Custom of the Country, 1913

10. Summer, 1917

11. The Marne, 1918

12. The Age of Innocence, 1920

If you click the link above, you can find a list of 19 goals I’d like to accomplish. My number one goal? To find a REAL goal!

Two weeks ago, when I was feeling especially overwhelmed with my life and obligations, I met with a time management advisor who asked me to list at least three goals I had.

And man, why didn’t anyone tell me about that dunce cap I had been wearing for the past year? I had been goalless! I failed to reflect on anything that I was doing and I wasn’t moving towards anything. I have a few things listed on actual paper that I shared with the advisor and I’m getting there.

Here’s to another week of living. Celebrate it!


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