Synopses & Reviews
Edith Wharton's full and glamorous life bridged two continents and two centuries. Born into an upper-class New York family, she broke with convention and became a professional writer, earning an enduring place as the grande dame of American letters.
This collection presents the finest of Wharton's achievement in short fiction, drawn from the more than eighty stories she published over the course of her career. Here, in settings familiar and exotic, are all of Wharton's characteristic qualities and themes: her candid exploration of relations between the sexes; her satire, sometimes gentle, sometimes despairing, of social class and its distinctions; her keen-eyed observation of the minutiae of character; her unflinching recognition of the power of conventional morality and the limits of passion, tempered by her delightful sense of play.
Opening with her first published storythe charming "Mrs. Manstey's View," about a disruption in the life of an elderly apartment-dwellerthis first of two volumes presents a writer, already at the height of her powers, beginning to explore the concerns of a lifetime. In "Souls Belated," two lovers attempt to escape the consequences of their adulterya subject to which Wharton returns throughout her career. In "The Mission of Jane" (about a remarkable adopted child) and "The Pelican" (about an itinerant lecturer), she discovers her gift for social and cultural satire. Perhaps the finest of her ghost stories, "The Eyes," with its Jamesian sense of evil, is also included, along with two novella-length works, "The Touchstone" and "Sanctuary," revealing the dazzling range of Wharton's fictive imagination.
Also included in this edition are a chronology of Wharton's life, explanatory notes, and an essay on the texts.
Maureen Howard, editor of this volume, is the author of seven novels, including Grace Abounding, Expensive Habits, Natural History, and A Lover's Almanac, and has taught at Columbia, Princeton, and Yale. She lives in New York City.
"[T]hese two generous volumes, collected and edited by the novelist Maureen Howard, have a fine cumulative effect. Here are riches. Wharton attempted, and succeeded in, a dazzling variety of styles, from the fantastic to the realistic, from the satiric to the sentimental. Here are antiquarian themes ghosts, fables, historical fantasies, and tales of crazed connoisseurs in love with the past. But here are also a number of incisive dissections of contemporary American and European customs. Wharton brought a new acuity to the debate between manners and morals. And she knew well how to shape a story." Margaret Drabble, Atlantic Online
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A master of the American short story, in a two-volume collector's edition
Over the course of a long and astonishingly productive literary career that stretched from the early 1890s to just before World War II, Edith Wharton published nearly a dozen story collections, leaving a body of work as various as it is enduring. With this two-volume set, The Library of America presents the finest of Wharton's achievement in short fiction: 67 stories drawn from the entire span of her writing life, including the novella-length works The Touchstone, Sanctuary, and Bunner Sisters, eight shorter pieces never collected by Wharton, and many stories long out-of-print.
Her range of setting and subject matter is dazzling, and her mastery of style consistently sure. Here are all the aspects of Wharton's art: her satire, sometimes gentle, sometimes dark and despairing, of upper-class manners; her unblinking recognition of the power of social convention and the limits of passion; her merciless exposure of commercial motivations; her candid exploration of relations between the sexes.
The stories range with cosmopolitan ease from her native New York to the salons and summer hotels of Newport, Paris, and the Italian lakes. The depth of her response to World War I is registered in such works as "The Marne." Of particular interest are the remarkable stories, which treat occult and supernatural themes rarely encountered in her novels, such as the classic ghost stories "The Eyes" and "Pomegranate Seed."