Wharton’s Hudson River Bracketed has two picnics. Each picnic features the protagonist Vance Weston with different women, Halo (Héloïse) Spear on Thundertop Mountain at sunrise over the Hudson River, and Laura Lou Tracy’s honeymoon beach picnic. Both picnics have unappetizing food, a surprise because Wharton was food-centric about her real-life picnics. I’ll treat each as a separate posting and deal with the beach picnic here.
Though Vance Weston loves Halo Spear, he marries Laura Lou Tracy, a sweet but light-hearted woman he imagines looks like Botticelli’s Venus. Like his picnic with halo Spear on Thundertop Mountain, almost everything is off-key. For instance, December is unseasonably temperate and feels like May, a metaphor suggesting illusory happiness. The picnic shows that Vance’s love is shallow.
Vance purchased food that he carries in a “greasy-looking parcel” chock-a-block with cold beef sandwiches, slices of sausage and sticky cake, cheese, a bunch of grapes, a custard pie. When Laura Lee eats daintily but when she demurs, “Oh, Vance,” she says, “We mustn’t eat any more–oh, no, no, I couldn’t. . .” But he keeps stuffing her with food.
Not knowing how to open a champagne bottle, he breaks the neck of the bottle, “and the golden foam came spring and splashing into the shell and over their hands.” Alluding to Botticelli’s Venus, Vance encourages Laura Lou to drink from a seashell.
“Oh, Vance . . . oh, Vance . . .” She tilted her head back and put her lips to the fluted rim, and he thought he had never seen anything lovelier than the pulse beat in her throat when the wine ran down. “Ever taste anything like that?” he asked, licking his fingers; and she giggled: “No, nothing, only ginger ale,” and sat and watched while he refilled their chalice and drank from it, carefully putting his lips where hers had been. “It’s like a gale of wind and with the sun in it–that’s what it’s like,” he declared. He did not confess to her that it was also his first taste of champagne; unconsciously he had already decided that part of his duty as a husband was to be older and stronger than she was, and to know more than she did about everything.
Pretending to be stronger suggests the marriage will unravel, even during the honeymoon. Vance is uneasy and sure that he’s made a mistake, and it’s his first bottle of champagne. Like Laura Lou, Vance is a sexual novice, only one step ahead of his bride.
Worst to come, Laura Lou is ill, and after three days of honeymooning, she’s coughing, a sure sign that she will die.
Featured Image: Henry Sutter Vance and Laura Lou on their honeymoon. The caption reads: “I feel as if the waves might pull you away any minute if I didn’t hold tight to you.” The Delineator (April 1929)
See Edith Wharton. Hudson River Bracketed. New York: D. Appleton and Company,
- The Delineator, an upscale women’s magazine, serialized the novel in 17 installments overlapping with Appleton’s hardcover publication, Paige
- Szmodis. Analyzing Edith Wharton’s Hudson River Bracketed in its Periodical Context Ursinus College, email@example.com ;
- Cecilia Macheski. “In the lands of Garlic and queer Bearded Sea-things: Appetites and Allusions in the Fiction of Edith Wharton Schofield,”
- Edith Wharton Review, 7(1), (Spring 1990), 22-24