His Father’s Son by Edith Wharton, 1909
The magic trick:
Allowing Mason Grew to tell his own story in the story’s second half
Sometimes autobiography is the best way. In “His Father’s Son,” the reader learns about Mason Grew’s life and marriage from a biographical standpoint. The omniscient narrator tells us of Mason’s career, his passions unfulfilled, the story of his marriage, etc. Of course, the trick is the information that Wharton leaves out.
It is only in Section 3 of the story, when the perspective shifts toward the autobiographical, that the reader gets the complete picture of the man. Mason Grew explains his life, his passions, his marriage, and, specifically, the mystery of his wife’s written correspondence with a famous musician, to his son, thereby filling in all the gaps Wharton had previously left empty during the story’s first two sections. Mason’s version of events completely alters the view for both the son and the reader. And that’s quite a trick on Wharton’s part.
“Well, they weren’t bad,” said Mr. Grew drily. “But I’ll tell you one thing, Ronny,” he added suddenly. Ronald raised his head with a quick glance, and Mr. Grew continued: “I’ll tell you where the best of those letters is – it’s in you. If it hadn’t been for that one look at life I couldn’t have made you what you are. Oh, I know you’ve done a good deal of your own making – but I’ve been there behind you all the time. And you’ll never know the work I’ve spared you and the time I’ve saved you…”