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Places to Go: Mrs. Manstey’s View by Edith Wharton

Written by Rachael Norris, 9th April 2021

The Reader's Teaching and Learning Leader, Lizzie, takes us on today's audio adventure and reads from Mrs. Manstey's View by Edith Wharton.

The theme for our readings in April is 'Balm for the Soul' and we hope the poetry, readings and recommendations we have chosen can help us stay connected over the coming weeks.

I’ve chosen to read an extract from the short story, Mrs Manstey’s view.  It’s a story I’ve read in quite a few groups, and one of the most memorable was bringing it into a men’s prison.  During this group one man described the ending as, ‘the feeling you get when you miss and step or think a step is going to be there and isn’t’…which seemed to capture how we were all feeling brilliantly.  I’ll not give any more away about the ending than that.

Mrs. Manstey’s View is a short story by Edith Wharton, a story that begins with just that - a view.  A view brought to us through the eyes of Mrs. Manstey who is mostly confined to her room at the top of a boarding house in New York.  The story takes us alongside Mrs. Manstey’s attempt to save the thing she treasures most, her view, from being taken from her by a proposed building extension.

Reading this in Shared Reading groups there is usually a discussion around how something like a good view or an interesting view can be a gift and really prized.  However, there seems to be more to this relationship than simply having something nice to look at.  The noticing and witnessing of the everyday changes seems to be all consuming and I am struck by the way it takes over her life.  She gets nothing from the infrequent visitors who come to see her, instead it is the occupation of watching that feels restorative, involved and is a source of nourishment for Mrs. Manstey.

I’m struck by the way Mrs. Manstey seems to be able to travel right into the lives and being of all the things she notices from her window.  She ‘commanded’ the view…From the particular way the ailanthus had begun to bud to the feelings of a neglected pet to the absences in the landscape brought about by a distant factory closing.  I wonder about how reading this story now has changed for me, as I have spent the past year really getting to know the view from my window.  I can see myself as Mrs. Manstey, as she notices the magnolia, I am watching some red current bushes bud.  As she peers into the lives of the boarders opposite, I am realising the schedule of the different birds who visit my garden.  I am asking myself did I do this with the same intensity a year ago?

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