April Showers by Edith Wharton, 1900
The magic trick:
Turning a scathing little critique of the publishing industry into a sweet little story about the value of family
In many ways, this is lightweight stuff. It is an early Wharton story and one that only hints at what would soon become her standard-issue qualities: the biting sense of humor, the social criticism, the role of women powerless in a man’s society. It is a sweet story, though, and there are worse things to be in this world.
Wharton appears to be angling the tale toward the publishing business and the joys and failures of a young writer. It soon becomes clear, however, that the story really is about family. Theodora shirks her familial chores (Johnny needs his buttons mended!) in order to focus her time and energy on writing and submitting her first novel. She loses herself in ego and obsession, and when cruel reality smashes her back down to earth, it is her family – specifically her father – who helps break the fall. The closing scene, with Theodora and her father walking home, is particularly tender. And that’s quite a trick on Wharton’s part.
She felt the pressure of his arm, but he didn’t speak, and she figured his mute hilarity. They moved on in silence. Presently he said:
“It hurts a bit just at first, doesn’t it?”
He stood still, and the gleam of his cigar showed a face of unexpected participation.
“You see I’ve been through it myself.”
“You, father? You?”