Notes from Philly

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American Austen

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American Austen
The Forgotten Writing of Agnes Repplier
Edited by John Lukacs
ISI Books, Wilmington, DE
isibooks.org

Hurry over to Atlantic Books on South Street and see if you can pick up the last of these books half price. Miss Repplier, who nailed Philadelphia, The Place and its People, (1898) who knew our history better than anybody from the time of King George III, to well, to her death in 1950 (she was born 1855.) Hard to believe now but for a time, Repplier (pronounce with the final “R”) was on a par with Edith Wharton and Amy Lowell for her witing even though her writing was in a minor mode, her genre was the familiar essay, the succinct piece usually on literature or a familiar topic.

“My niche is small,” she said, “but I made it myself – in Philadelphia.”

The Atlantic Monthly published her for decades. She wrote thousands of essays, I’ve lost count at 8 books, which are out of print but lovely to hold in the hand, not very costly and available through those out=of-print sources online. Essays were her great strength. (Also biographies of Catholic saints which do not appeal to this writer but have not been carefully gone through so it seems unfair to judge here.)
Edmund Gosse, and other leading lights of the day, greatly respected her. So did H.H. Furness, Philadelphia’s great Shakespeare scholar.
She was not a pushy woman but she knew her own worth and her wit in and on this city appears unparalleled. The choices Lukacs has made in American Austen will prove some of these points.

In the meantime, let me add from my memory stock (having gone through the Repplier Letters available at the Rare Book Room at the University of Pennsylvania Library): Repplier was the person who brought a young Henry James to make his first (and I believe only) appearance in Philadelphia. James’s talk did not go particularly well. If, H.H. Furness is to be believed, Miss Repplier’s introduction was livelier.

American Austin should be available online. The website: isibooks.org. Check it out you care about literature, wit, style. The first essay is a reprint from Lukacs’s Patricians and Philistines: Philadelphians: 1900-1950., welcome addition to any library shelf of Philadelphiana.
American Austin cover authors you haven’t read or thought about. Hazlett! Fielding, Strachey! not to mention scintillating thoughts on yes, Jane Austin. “How the Quaker City Spent its Money” and “The Promise of the Bell” are but two essays on our fair and not-so city.

Repplier spent her entire life in this city, one address was at Clinton and 9th Streets, I have passed many times, wondering where she had her desk, the one where sat her beloved sphinx like cat. Her best friend from childhood, Elizabeth, who married the painter Pennell, lived down the street on Pine, another block away the Owen Wisters, he of ” The Virginian.” It warms me to think that her recipe collection began with this one:
Oyster stew.

Enough said: I am an enthusiast.
Doubtless I shall be add and subtract to this post.

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Written by Lesley Valdes

February 10, 2010 at 6:02 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Hi, Lesley! I see you’ve been on the go. whose dog is that? Just wondering how you’re doing in the snow. Waiting to hear about Key West writers.

    Kathleen

    February 11, 2010 at 12:09 am

    • Wish the dog were mine. Every time we go to Strathmere in Jersey the girls and I say, let’s get a dog. A water dog…

      Lesley Valdes

      February 11, 2010 at 3:38 am

  2. Thanks for this introduction. never heard of her, but glad to do so. We are relatively bereft of persons of letters, these days. I believe that you may be one such.

    Brian Billings

    February 12, 2010 at 4:09 am


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