@barnhouse I just look up some of Wharton's photos, and she was rather pretty! For a point of comparision, look at photos of Lillian Russell, who was almost the same age as Wharton, and widely considered the most beautiful woman in the world in her prime. Wharton does not come off particularly negatively in comparison. I dunno, just because Franzen's not turning his crank to Edwardian women doesn't make Wharton ugly.
@flossy I image googled Shteyngart, and he looks.... normal? I'm guessing this is one of those Woody Allen things where one is to assume that the protogonist is more or less like the creator? If that's the case, that's pretty different from what Franzen is saying about Wharton. I've read so many of Wharton's books, and it has never even occured me to wonder what she looked like.
@jfruh Franzen mentions something about this in the essay. Don't recall the exact context, but he may have been making the point that part of what makes Wharton unsympathetic was that she resented her mother and blamed her for her relationship problems. He also said that part of what makes Wharton an unpleasant person was that she divorced her husband, even though he himself pointed out that it was a bad marriage bound to end in doom. So... Franzen blames Wharton for something that he said was entirely understandable. One of the many ways this essay is ridiculous.
I was so furious after reading this piece last week that I was tempted to fire off some hate mail to the New Yorker. Then I pondered the chances of the New Yorker publishing a real takedown of their golden boy and thought I'd save myself the effort.
I found Franzen's choice to single out Wharton as a particularly unlikable person to be nothing short of amazing. In a field populated with wifebeaters, Nazi sympathizers, ingrates, liars, the one writer he choose to single out as unlikable is.... a rich person who is kind of snippy with shopkeepers and has few friends of the same gender?! And then he expresses surprise that Wharton can manage to be friends with so many prominent men of her time. Gee, maybe this is possible because she was one of the most well-regarded writers of her time? In the same essay, he mentions without irony, his fondness for Alexei Karamazov, the literary creation of Dostoevsky, a person who is so unlikable he could not even manage to like himself and based Fyodor Karamazov, one of the most despicable literary characters ever created, upon himself. And all this criticism of unlikability coming from one of the more commonly unliked writers today.
And then he manages to waste several more pages going on about how very unattractive Edith Wharton is, and how central this fact was to her writing. Would anyone think to write and publish this about a male author?! The ridiculous thing is, from photos I've seen, Edith Wharton is not unattractive at all, especially in the photo that the New Yorker published. Has Jonathan Franzen looked in the mirror lately, and how does he refrain from punching it repeatedly when he does?
@Mr. B The director was from Taiwan, but it may have been a co-production. And whoever told you the movie was jeered in China for its "individualism" is waaaay off base. The movie was based on a popular Chinese novel. People in China thought the movie sucked because they've grown up watching wuxia movies and TV shows, and considered this one just a mediocre example. Also, you would not have known this, but Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh's mandarin was reeeeeally bad. Chow Yun Fat spoke with an extremely heavy Cantonese accent, and Michelle Yeoh's mandarin was bad to the point of being outright incomprehensible. In most Chinese language movies, if an actor could not speak with the proper accent, they are often dubbed. Ang Lee had a feeling this movie will be an award winner, and decided to let Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh speak as to not jeopardize their chance of getting awards. Just imagine if The Artist was a talkie, and we're expected to believe all of the characters were American, and you'd have an idea of how bad their mandarin was. People in the west were bowled over by CTHD because they've never seen wuxia movies before. Kind of like how a lot of people are bowled over by The Artist, a mediocre movie by silent movie standards, because they've never seen a silent film