Yesterday I flipped open a New Yorker essay by Jonathan Franzen about Edith Wharton and “her problem of sympathy,” and I thought, How I love this magazine, and Edith, and this literary life. A moment later my attention was diverted by an American woman seated across from me, explaining the weekend subway changes en francais to some French tourists. “Oui, c’est parfait,” she said to them, “c’est le train pour vous.” They were grateful, with their “mercis” and their nodding. How I love this city, I thought. An hour later I was mugged. I wondered why it was me, not the French tourists, but then I felt glad it wasn’t them, because what a way to ruin a vacation.
This is a true story.
What to make of Franzen writing about Wharton, anyway? “You may be dismayed by the ongoing representation of women in the American canon,” he wrote, and I chuckled, wondering if Jennifer Weiner put him up to this. Or if his publicist did.
In the article there’s an image of Edith, black and white and appropriately garbed in early 20th century dress, and carrying a dog — I forget the name of the breed, but it looks like the dog from “Frasier” — and I studied it intensely. She’s reading a book; there’s sunlight filtering in through the greenery behind her.
I was okay with the F train running so slowly last night, because I got to read about Edith. I was okay, until I got punched in the face outside of it; until I had to cancel all my credit cards.
I imagine the French tourists would mutter, “C’est la vie dans la grande ville,” if they knew this story. And really, c’est vrai.