Collected Stories, 1891-1910, Volume 1

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Library of America, 2001 - Fiction - 928 pages
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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.

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Contents

Mrs Mansteys View
1
The Lamp of Psyche
23
The Valley of Childish Things and Other Emblems
43
Copyright

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About the author (2001)

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.

Maureen Howard was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut on June 28, 1930. She graduated from Smith College in 1952 and immediately went to work in the publishing industry. She later taught at several universities including Columbia, Princeton, Amherst, and Yale. She is the author of several novels including Not a Word about Nightingales, Grace Abounding, Natural History, A Lover's Almanac, Bridgeport Bus, Expensive Habits, and The Rags of Time. Her autobiography, Facts of Life, received the National Book Critics Award for general nonfiction in 1980. She received an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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