Monday, February 27, 2012
Review: The New York Stories of Edith Wharton
Original date of publication:
My edition: 2007 (NYRB Classics)
Why I decided to read: at the time it was the sesquicentennial of EW’s birth
How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com gift card, April 2011
The New York Stories of Edith Wharton is a collection of 20 stories that Edith Wharton wrote over the course of her career. The stories are presented in the order in which they were published, so you get to see how Wharton’s style grew over time. Her stories cover a wide range of people and places, from industrialists to artists and from ballrooms to tenements.
In her novels, such as The House of Mirth or The Age of Innocence, Wharton tends to focus on the upper classes of turn-of-the-century New York, but what I like about her short stories is that she focuses on a wide range of people. Many of the stories have been published in other volumes (ie, “Pomegranate Seed” also appears in the Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton), but what I like about this collection really shows how she matured as a writer, from her first published story, “Mrs. Manstey’s View” to “Roman Fever,” her last.
The collection also showcases how New York, and in a larger sense, American, society changed between the mid-19th and early 20th centuries. Although Edith Wharton frequently satirizes the society of which she knew so much, there’s still a deep love and respect for it—after all, Wharton wrote what she knew the most about. According to the Introduction, “Edith learned the rules of this formal, restrained world, but she felt the presence of another unacknowledged one that seethed around her like an invisible mist. This was the one of emotions and ideas.” The conflict between the world she grew up in and the second is at the heart of these stories. I was interested in watching how many of her characters struggle with being an outsider or having an obsession with money, both qualities held Woburn in “A Cup of Cold Water.” In all, a fine collection of stories.