I’ve been reading “In Morocco” by Edith Wharton, for some reason.
I’m still pissed off at Wharton for “The Custom of the Country,” which read to me as nothing more than a New York snob’s elaborate put-down of the “common social climber.” If you didn’t have Knickerbocker connections, and you happened to set foot in New York City in the early part of the twentieth century, and (worst of all) you dared expect people to treat you with something resembling dignity and respect, Edith Wharton would have considered you to be a grasping, soulless, life-destroying monster. Actually, she would have considered you to be a grasping, soulless monster whether you demanded respect or not, but the quest for respect would have been the only reason she’d have noticed you long enough to pass judgement.
That book has little to do with this one except that I can’t help but read “In Morocco” through the lens of “Custom of the Country.” Through that lens, this book reads as if a whip-smart but mean, provincial old matron is sitting in her Fifth Avenue drawing room telling the story of her vacation in Morocco at length, while simultaneously attempting to impress upon her audience her complete superiority to everybody and everything around her, both during the travels, and during the telling.
Which is kind of, you know, exactly what this book is.
I find myself sending little telepathic messages back to the dead lady, like a sort of aether-net messageboard troll: “Those ‘drowsing Lazaruses’ outside the city gate at Fez, the ones you found so charming — those were homeless people! The horror!” And, “There’s no excuse for your racism in 1917. Even Rimbaud, French imperialist from a previous generation, didn’t feel the need to call the north African locals ‘pickaninnies,’ you slime. He fucked them instead! What do you say to them apples?” And so on.
She ignores my childish gibes.
I can think of a few reasons to read “In Morocco:”
- You are visiting Morocco soon and/or have visited Morocco recently, and/or are in the process of visiting Morocco at this very moment, and want to see how it has changed in the approximately 100 years since Wharton visited, or
- You are a historian studying the mechanisms of the Moroccan tourist trade over the years, or
- You are a Wharton completist, which apparently I am in the process of becoming, even though I hate her (social attitudes and apparently shallow class-based value system) so very much. Perhaps hate is as important a connection to a writer as love.
If you are following along at home, and want this ebook, don’t be fooled by the editions in the Kindle and iBooks stores, which range in price from $0.99 to $5.99. The damn thing is available for free from the Gutenberg Archive, right here.