THERE ARE THOSE OF US who spent a not insignificant amount of time in grad school reading the works of Henry James. We trolled through The Ambassadors; we wondered when the golden bowl would finally break, and whether, through the thick of the prose, we had missed the breaking itself; we searched for classmates on the basement level of the library, at hours previously designated for sleep and/or pub-going, all in an attempt to find out exactly what Maisie knew, who married whom, and why these facts were important.
As it turns out, we can thank our lucky stars that we never went on a motoring tour with him, got hopelessly lost, and subsequently had to stop and ask for directions. This did, however, happen to Edith Wharton during one of her trips through England. Nothing can add to her account of this Monty Pythonesque exchange, which she later recounted in her autobiography, A Backward Glance, as it’s transcribed below: Continue reading