Happy birthday, Edith! English professor celebrates literary icon’s birthday

Submitted by Carolyn Arnold on June 26, 2014

EJOFBProfilefromMountTalkJan2014It’s not every day you get to celebrate your favorite author’s birthday at the very house that the author helped design.

Dr. Emily Orlando, associate professor of English, did just that when she was invited to deliver a lecture in Lenox, Massachusetts at “The Mount,” in honor of Edith Wharton’s 152nd birthday.

The lecture, “Fifty Shades of Lily: Wharton, Art, and Popular Culture,” was a sold-out, standing-room only affair.

“It was an honor and pleasure to be invited to speak at Edith Wharton’s historic home on the occasion of her birthday,” said Dr. Orlando. “The Mount is a testament to Wharton’s engagement with art and design, given that she designed the house in conjunction with Ogden Codman, with whom she also collaborated on the book The Decoration of Houses.”

Dr. Orlando’s lecture, which took place in January, examined Edith Wharton’s career-long engagement with the visual arts and her lasting connections to contemporary culture.

Considering Lily Bart’s tableau vivant in The House of Mirth as a turning point in the writer’s work, Dr. Orlando discussed the ways in which Wharton’s critique of the representations of women in 19th-century visual culture resonates in our 21st-century world.

The audience included Wharton scholars, former Fairfield students, and patrons interested in Wharton’s life and work.

“As a scholar of Wharton and the visual arts in particular, it would not be an exaggeration to say it was a religious experience to deliver a talk in Edith’s drawing room,” said Dr. Orlando.

Wharton’s books, Dr. Orlando explained, have remained relevant and popular in contemporary culture.

“In my lecture and in my Fairfield course called ‘Edith Wharton and Her Circle,’ I have argued for compelling connections between Wharton’s early 20th-century fiction and such fragments of contemporary culture as Sex and the City, Gossip Girl, Mad Men, HBO’s Girls, and so on,” she explained. 

Dr. Orlando is the author of Edith Wharton and the Visual Arts.  She co-directed the 2012 “Edith Wharton in Florence” conference and currently serves as Vice President of the Edith Wharton Society.

Update! Two Fairfield University English majors and women, gender & sexuality studies minors, Lindsay Wrinn (’14) and Angela Sammarone (’16), have been awarded the inaugural 2014 undergraduate research prize sponsored by the Edith Wharton Society.  (Dr. Emily Orlando, Associate Professor of English and EWS Vice President, recused herself from the selection committee.)  Papers were assessed by blind review from Wharton scholars across the country.  Lindsay tackled “male hysteria” in Wharton’s The Custom of the Country (her WGS capstone paper directed by Dr. Orlando) and Angela examined the topic of Wharton and race (her essay for Dr. Orlando’s EN235: Edith Wharton & Her Circle).   Both essays will be published on the Edith Wharton Society website. For more information, visit the webpage.


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