By Alex Casolaro and Christine Calvo
We were inspired to take a field trip through Edith Wharton’s New York here, a webpage from edithwharton.org that discussed an opportunity to take a tour through Wharton’s version of New York City, including spots such as her childhood home and places she spent time growing up in New York. So, for our trip we decided to assume the identity of Anson Warley, the main character of Wharton’s “After Holbein,” going on one of his nightly walks. “I’m going to walk…” Warley.. (Wharton, 11). So that’s exactly what we did.
We began around Washington Square Park, getting off the subway at the West 4th Street stop. “Wharton was Old New York – the New York whose capital was Washington Square…” (McGrath, 1) In lieu of this quote, we knew we had to begin our journey at Washington Square Park, the modern-day location known for NYU and that famous arch. “If Steinberg had drawn Wharton’s New York, he would have shown it from the point of view of someone looking through the Washington Square Arch.” (McGrath, 2). Our walk reflected the relatively narrow radius of Wharton’s New York. “Her New York is very slender – it stretches from Third Avenue to Sixth essentially – and its center is what is now the campus of New York University.” (McGrath, 2) Although NYU buildings now surround the square, many brownstones still remain, which led us to reflect on how residential the neighborhood was during Wharton’s time.
We then continued to the former location of the Academy of Music, at Irving Place and 14th St, a cultural attraction of the Gilded Age elite. “The main cultural attractions are the horse show and the opera – not the Met, which was built by the nouveaus, but the old Academy of Music at Irving Place and 14th Street…” (McGrath, 3). We then continued our walk up Fifth Avenue until reaching Wharton’s birth place, along the way reflecting on the changes and continuities of New York. It was unfortunate to notice how commercial Fifth Avenue has since become, unlike the prestigious retailers of Wharton’s era, now the Avenue is lined with many chain stores. Although the inhabitants of the buildings have changed, the class of people they serve has not. Leading up to the Flatiron District, near where our walk ended, we especially noticed the continuous highbrow offerings of this neighborhood. We envisioned the Mrs. Jaspers of today shopping at luxury decorating stores such as ABC Carpet and dining in restaurants like the Gramercy Tavern. If Wharton were still alive writing about this neighborhood, we suspect her sardonic tone would remain unchanged.
We documented our trip on GoogleMaps so take a look here to see our journey through Wharton’s New York.