Cover image for Novellas and other writings
Novellas and other writings
Wharton, Edith, 1862-1937.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : Library of America : Distributed by Viking Press, [1990]

Physical Description:
1135 pages ; 20 cm.
Madame de Treymes -- Ethan Frome -- Summer -- Old New York -- The mother's recompense -- A backward glance.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library PS3545.H16 A6 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Central Library PS3545.H16 A6 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Collins Library PS3545.H16 A6 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Classics
Eden Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Audubon Library PS3545.H16 A6 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Collected in this Library of America volume are no fewer than six of the works of Edith Wharton: novels, novellas, and her renowned autobiography, A Backward Glance . Together they represent nearly a quarter century in the productive life of one of the most accomplished and admired of American writers.

Madame de Treymes (1907) is set in fashionable Paris society, where a once free-spirited American woman is trying to extricate herself, with the help of a fellow countryman, from her marriage to an aristocratic Frenchman. Wharton's keen sense of the American-European contrast shows Paris society as stifling as life in any New England village.

Such a village is the scene of Ethan Frome (1911), a tale of marital entrapment even more relentless. Ethan's unhappy marriage and his desperate love for his wife's cousin Mattie drive him to an act of shattering violence. The magnificent coda is a classic of American realistic fiction.

Set in the same region of the Berkshires, Wharton called Summer (1917) "the Hot Ethan." It is the story of a young woman's initiation into the intricate sexual and social mores of a small town--and her revolt against them. The complex relationship between Lawyer Royall and his ward, Charity, is one of Wharton's most subtle and evocative.

Observations of the American scene continue in the four novellas that make up Old New York (1924). They take us from the 1840s of "False Dawn," where a young man is ostracized for his avant garde taste in art, to the 1870s of "New Year's Day," where a domestic scandal unfolds. "The Spark" tells of a seemingly ordinary socialite who nevertheless was touched by his Civil War experiences. "The Old Maid," a story of illegitimacy in which a mother refuses to claim her parental rights so her daughter might have advantages she cannot offer, is one of Wharton's most popular.

The poignancies of parenthood are also the theme of The Mother's Recompense (1925). Kate Clephane, a divorced woman who has been living in Europe, returns to New York to find her former lover engaged to her daughter--and to face the emotional tangles of this unusual triangle. Wharton also explores here the changes that have taken place in New York since World War I.

The fullest portraits of New York are saved for A Backward Glance (1934), one of the most compelling of American autobiographies. It is a fascinating record of Wharton's literary career, of her friendships (including a loving appreciation of Henry James), as well as her thoughts on writing.

Another perspective is offered in "Life and I," an autobiographical fragment that shows a younger Wharton writing with great frankness about her early life. It is published here for the first time.

Author Notes

Edith Wharton was a woman of extreme contrasts; brought up to be a leisured aristocrat, she was also dedicated to her career as a writer. She wrote novels of manners about the old New York society from which she came, but her attitude was consistently critical. Her irony and her satiric touches, as well as her insight into human character, continue to appeal to readers today.

As a child, Wharton found refuge from the demands of her mother's social world in her father's library and in making up stories. Her marriage at age 23 to Edward ("Teddy") Wharton seemed to confirm her place in the conventional role of wealthy society woman, but she became increasingly dissatisfied with the "mundanities" of her marriage and turned to writing, which drew her into an intellectual community and strengthened her sense of self. After publishing two collections of short stories, The Greater Inclination (1899) and Crucial Instances (1901), she wrote her first novel, The Valley of Decision (1902), a long, historical romance set in eighteenth-century Italy. Her next work, the immensely popular The House of Mirth (1905), was a scathing criticism of her own "frivolous" New York society and its capacity to destroy her heroine, the beautiful Lily Bart.

As Wharton became more established as a successful writer, Teddy's mental health declined and their marriage deteriorated. In 1907 she left America altogether and settled in Paris, where she wrote some of her most memorable stories of harsh New England rural life---Ethan Frome (1911) and Summer (1917)---as well as The Reef (1912), which is set in France. All describe characters forced to make moral choices in which the rights of individuals are pitted against their responsibilities to others. She also completed her most biting satire, The Custom of the Country (1913), the story of Undine Spragg's climb, marriage by marriage, from a midwestern town to New York to a French chateau. During World War I, Wharton dedicated herself to the war effort and was honored by the French government for her work with Belgian refugees.

After the war, the world Wharton had known was gone. Even her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Age of Innocence (1920), a story set in old New York, could not recapture the former time. Although the new age welcomed her---Wharton was both a critical and popular success, honored by Yale University and elected to The National Institute of Arts and Letters---her later novels show her struggling to come to terms with a new era. In The Writing of Fiction (1925), Wharton acknowledged her debt to her friend Henry James, whose writings share with hers the descriptions of fine distinctions within a social class and the individual's burdens of making proper moral decisions.

R.W.B. Lewis's biography of Wharton, published in 1975, along with a wealth of new biographical material, inspired an extensive reevaluation of Wharton. Feminist readings and reactions to them have focused renewed attention on her as a woman and as an artist. Although many of her books have recently been reprinted, there is still no complete collected edition of her work.

(Bowker Author Biography)

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