The New York Stories of Edith Wharton

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A New York Review Books Original

Edith Wharton wrote about New York as only a native can. Her Manhattan is a city of well-appointed drawing rooms, hansoms and broughams, all-night cotillions, and resplendent Fifth Avenue flats. Bishops’ nieces mingle with bachelor industrialists; respectable wives turn into excellent mistresses. All are governed by a code of behavior as rigid as it is precarious. What fascinates Wharton are the points of weakness in the structure of Old New ...

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The New York Stories of Edith Wharton

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A New York Review Books Original

Edith Wharton wrote about New York as only a native can. Her Manhattan is a city of well-appointed drawing rooms, hansoms and broughams, all-night cotillions, and resplendent Fifth Avenue flats. Bishops’ nieces mingle with bachelor industrialists; respectable wives turn into excellent mistresses. All are governed by a code of behavior as rigid as it is precarious. What fascinates Wharton are the points of weakness in the structure of Old New York: the artists and writers at its fringes, the free-love advocates testing its limits, widows and divorcées struggling to hold their own.

The New York Stories of Edith Wharton gathers twenty stories of the city, written over the course of Wharton’s career. From her first published story, “Mrs. Manstey’s View,” to one of her last and most celebrated, “Roman Fever,” this new collection charts the growth of an American master and enriches our understanding of the central themes of her work, among them the meaning of marriage, the struggle for artistic integrity, the bonds between parent and child, and the plight of the aged.

Illuminated by Roxana Robinson’s Introduction, these stories showcase Wharton’s astonishing insight into the turbulent inner lives of the men and women caught up in a rapidly changing society.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"If these stories have a defining subject (other than New York) it is divorce, which begins to replace art as Wharton's excuse for discussing the fashionable and the real. In fact, one of the pleasures of a collection like this is that you can trace her tendencies in it? and the way they develop." --Time Literary Supplement

“Edith Wharton, whose deft portraits of the upper class are taken as definitive accounts of the late 19th century, remains one of the most potent names in the literature of New York.” –The New York Times (Christopher Gray)

“Wharton was Old New York…[her family] belonged to that tiny but powerful New York clan…who clung together, intermarried, set the tone and made the rules for society in Manhattan…Her New York fiction spans the years from, roughly, 1840 through the turn of the century–from before her birth, in other words, through the Civil War and beyond into the Gilded Age, an era of tremendous transformation in American society.” –The New York Times (Charles McGrath)

“Yet for all her reservations about New York, Wharton still visited and…she continued to set most of her books and stories here–in a remembered New York and what she imagined to be the New York of her parents and grandparents. The city became for her a social topography and a deep vein to be mined, both a real place and a symbolic landscape.” –The New York Times (Charles McGrath)

“Mrs. Wharton had her turf, that almost sepia New York, to be turned over and over again, like setting the plow to the family farm every spring.” –The New York Review of Books (Elizabeth Hardwick)

“New York City [is] the setting of Wharton’s finest fictions.” –The New York Observer

The Barnes & Noble Review
In her introduction to this volume, Roxana Robinson calls New York Edith Wharton's "greatest subject." But this is not true: That distinction belongs to marriage -- contrived at, settled for, regretted, foiled, endured, betrayed, and forsaken. Still, just as her own unhappy marriage informed Wharton's view of the human predicament, so New York was elemental to her vision, which was one of contrasts. The city was both tiny and huge: It was polite society, a warren regulated by custom, affectation, and cruel retribution; and, outside that, an immense arena teeming with people at large, oblivious to the past and alert to the main chance, or crushed and desperate. Wharton's New York -- vast, lit up, ever changing, yet cursed with a punitive, stifling morality -- also lay in defining contrast to her Europe, a continent of moldering relicts, masterworks of art, and tolerant cosmopolitanism.

"Mrs. Manstey's View," the first of the 20 stories here, was also its author's first story published under her name. It concerns the final tribulation of an aging, infirm widow of reduced means who dies "lonely but not alone." Though no one could call the story great -- indeed, its author did not deem it worthy of including in later collections -- it does give a near Hogarthian portrait of shabby, turn-of-the century New York, of its grim little rooms and the backyards of boarding houses It also shows Wharton's sure feeling for genteel poverty's isolating squeeze, for the enormous presence of other, anonymous lives, and for the callousness of the world as it rolls ineluctably on.

It was New York's small world of privilege, whence she herself sprang, that really interested Wharton. Existence in its confines, sequestered from the "the senseless machinery of life," amounted to playing a part in a series of tableaux in which marriage was central, and, for women, essential. Marriage could also be, and in Wharton's fiction, usually was, a demoralizing burden. In the nightmarish tale, "A Journey," an unnamed woman has finally found a place in the world by marrying. But after only a year her husband becomes ill, petulant, and needy, and, despite a sojourn in the West, is clearly dying. The couple are returning to New York in a sleeping car filled with strangers (one of whose "snores had a greasy sound, as though they passed through tallow"). The woman's sense of isolation grows, and when her husband dies in the night, she so fears being put off the train with his body in a strange station that she disguises his death. It's a vision of social fear translated into the macabre. That little tale of horror is matched nicely by the unnerving marital developments in "Pomegranate Seed," the only one of Wharton's admirable ghost stories here, and in "The Diagnosis," where marriage is bought at the price of allowing a man -- a real bounder, I'm glad to say -- believe he is dying.

Unsuitable attachments, indiscreet adultery, illegitimacy, and divorce, all conjured up by this author with mischievous zeal, carried a sentence of exile in New York society. As a result, secrets were plentiful, and in this collection pride of place in that respect goes to "Roman Fever," one of Wharton's great works, written near the end of her life. In this, two former New York neighbors and girlhood friends, now ladies "of ripe but well-cared for middle age," sit conversing on a terrace overlooking the Forum in Rome. As it happens, they are also surveying the scene of their own adventures of some 25 years earlier. But their conversation begins to take on an increasingly ironic torque as the true shape of past deeds and the consequences of a carefully concealed passion emerge. Even now, in the 21st century, the final revelation is a stunner.

If the discovery of illicit sexual behavior bought a ticket to outer darkness, rejecting passion was no answer either in Wharton's pitiless view: It extinguished the soul and reduced one to a social automaton. Such is Mrs. Reardon of "In the Long Run," who rejected an affair years ago, and whose inanimate face now wears "a small unvarying smile which might have been pinned on with her ornaments."

Happily, if that is the word, Wharton did not lose her subject when the penalties for marital incontinence began to diminish. "The Reckoning," for instance, is a savage little story about free love in which the chickens come home to roost. And it should be said that, even with relaxed standards, what could be acknowledged was still a matter of casuistry rather than frankness. "The Other Two" is an excellently comic tale about a respectable man who has married a twice-divorced woman. He and society have squared this with propriety through some agile reasoning, but events continually throw him in contact with his wife's former husbands and eventually further conspire to a truly mortifying, even unimaginable, solecism: He finds himself standing at his own hearth with his two predecessors, each being served tea by the woman who has been wife to them all.

The matter of divorce arises in a number of other stories here, including in one of the very greatest and saddest stories Edith Wharton ever wrote. "Autre Temps" begins with Mrs. Lidcote, divorced and exiled from New York to Europe for many years, returning to America to lend support to her daughter, Leila, who has just been divorced herself and has remarried. On deck, thinking of her own and now her daughter's inevitable ostracism and pain, the returning pariah shrinks back "as the huge menacing mass of New York defined itself far off across the waters." As it happens, she needn't have worried about Leila, at least on that score -- or, as a family friend puts it, "You won't know Leila. She's had her pearls reset. Sargent's to paint her." And, indeed, Leila is not only accepted but feted, and Mrs. Lidcote begins to imagine that her own disgrace can be forgiven. The answer is no and no again. Times have changed, but not for her; and Wharton drives home the merciless, indecent ramifications in a series of brilliant, truly shocking denouements.

After a few bracers, F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "Mrs. Wharton, do you know what's the matter with you?.... You don't know anything about life." But of course she did; more than he did, perhaps, because she also knew the precise workings of the trap that lay waiting to finish it off. --Katherine A. Powers

Katherine A. Powers writes the literary column "A Reading Life" for the Boston Sunday Globe and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590172483
  • Publisher: New York Review Books
  • Publication date: 10/9/2007
  • Series: New York Review Books Classics Series
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 309,591
  • Product dimensions: 5.04 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

Edith Wharton (1862—1937) published more than forty volumes of novels, short stories, verse, essays, travel books, and memoirs. She was born into a distinguished New York family and was educated privately in the United States and abroad. Among her best-known work is Ethan Frome, The House of Mirth, and The Age of Innocence, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

Roxana Robinson is the author of the three novels Sweetwater, (2003) This Is My Daughter, (1998) and Summer Light (1988); the three short story collections A Perfect Stranger, (2005) Asking for Love, (1996) A Glimpse of Scarlet, (1991) and the biography Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life, (1989). Four of these were named Notable Books of the Year by The New York Times. She has received fellowships from the NEA, the MacDowell Colony, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Robinson's fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harper's and Vogue. She lives in New York City and Westchester County, New York.


Edith Newbold Jones was born January 24, 1862, into such wealth and privilege that her family inspired the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses." The youngest of three children, Edith spent her early years touring Europe with her parents and, upon the family's return to the United States, enjoyed a privileged childhood in New York and Newport, Rhode Island. Edith's creativity and talent soon became obvious: By the age of eighteen she had written a novella, (as well as witty reviews of it) and published poetry in the Atlantic Monthly.

After a failed engagement, Edith married a wealthy sportsman, Edward Wharton. Despite similar backgrounds and a shared taste for travel, the marriage was not a success. Many of Wharton's novels chronicle unhappy marriages, in which the demands of love and vocation often conflict with the expectations of society. Wharton's first major novel, The House of Mirth, published in 1905, enjoyed considerable Literary Success. Ethan Frome appeared six years later, solidifying Wharton's reputation as an important novelist. Often in the company of her close friend, Henry James, Wharton mingled with some of the most famous writers and artists of the day, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, André Gide, Sinclair Lewis, Jean Cocteau, and Jack London.

In 1913 Edith divorced Edward. She lived mostly in France for the remainder of her life. When World War I broke out, she organized hostels for refugees, worked as a fund-raiser, and wrote for American publications from battlefield frontlines. She was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her courage and distinguished work.

The Age of Innocence, a novel about New York in the 1870s, earned Wharton the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1921 -- the first time the award had been bestowed upon a woman. Wharton traveled throughout Europe to encourage young authors. She also continued to write, lying in her bed every morning, as she had always done, dropping each newly penned page on the floor to be collected and arranged when she was finished. Wharton suffered a stroke and died on August 11, 1937. She is buried in the American Cemetery in Versailles, France.

Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of The Age of Innocence.

Good To Know

Upon the publication of The House of Mirth in 1905, Wharton became an instant celebrity, and the the book was an instant bestseller, with 80,000 copies ordered from Scribner's six weeks after its release.

Wharton had a great fondness for dogs, and owned several throughout her life.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Edith Newbold Jones Wharton (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 24, 1862
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      August 11, 1937
    2. Place of Death:
      Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt, France

Table of Contents

Mrs. Manstey's View
The Good May Come
The Portrait
A Cup of Cold Water
A Journey
The Rembrandt
The Other Two
The Quicksand
The Dilettante
The Reckoning
The Pot-Boiler
His Father's Son
Full Circle
Autres Temps . . . 
The Long Run
After Holbein
Pomegranate Seed
Roman Fever
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Customer Reviews

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