The June stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.
- ‘My Purple Scented Novel’ by Ian McEwan
- ‘Roman Fever’ by Edith Wharton
- ‘The Lotus’ by Jean Rhys
- ‘Playing With Dynamite’ by John Updike
- ‘A Family Man’ by V.S. Pritchett
- ‘The Brown Chest’ by John Updike
- ‘A Piece Of String’ by Guy de Maupassant
- ‘The Lovely Troubled Daughters Of Our Old Crowd’ by John Updike
- ‘Some Terpsichore’ by Elizabeth McCracken
- ‘Gesturing’ by John Updike
- ‘Manikin’ by Leonard Michaels
- ‘The Man Who Loved Extinct Mammals’ by John Updike
- ‘The Duchess And The Jeweller’ by Virginia Woolf
- ‘Change Of Treatment’ by W.W. Jacobs
- ‘Good Intentions’ by Etgar Keret
- ‘Graven Image’ by John O’Hara
- ‘To Those Of You Who Missed Your Connecting Flights Out Of O’Hare’ by Amy Hempel
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Roman Fever by Edith Wharton, 1934 Read the rest of this entry »
The October stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.
- ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge’ by Flannery O’Connor
- ‘A Good Man Is Hard To Find’ by Flannery O’Connor
- ‘The River’ by Flannery O’Connor
- ‘A&P’ by John Updike
- ‘The Life You Save May Be Your Own’ by Flannery O’Connor
- ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman
- ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ by Edgar Allan Poe
- ‘Nilda’ by Junot Diaz
- ‘Young Goodman Brown’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- ‘The Lady’s Maid’s Bell’ by Edith Wharton
- ‘Luella Miller’ by Mary Wilkins Freeman
- ‘The Outcasts Of Poker Flat’ by Bret Harte
- ‘The Sutton Place Story’ by John Cheever
- ‘Premium Harmony’ by Stephen King
- ‘Paper Losses’ by Lorrie Moore
- ‘This Morning, This Evening, So Soon’ by James Baldwin
- ‘Three Players Of A Summer Game’ by Tennessee Williams
- ‘A Stroke Of Good Fortune’ by Flannery O’Connor
- ‘The Body Snatcher’ by Robert Louis Stevenson
- ‘Awake’ by Tobias Wolff
- ‘In Greenwich, There Are Many Gravelled Walks’ by Hortense Calisher
- ‘A Dark Brown Dog’ by Stephen Crane
- ‘Nothing Ever Breaks Except The Heart’ by Kay Boyle
The Lady’s Maid’s Bell by Edith Wharton, 1902
The magic trick:
Balancing credibility and doubt when it comes to the first-person narration
Written just four years after the publication of Henry James’ The Turn Of The Screw, “The Lady’s Maid’s Bell” is no doubt a close cousin to that ghostly psychological thriller. But that’s a good thing. Like James, Wharton is an expert at balancing our trust in our first-person narrator with just enough doubt to keep it interesting.
The narrator is the reader’s only eyes for the story. She also is the only character who sees the ghost. This situation inherently creates a dilemma for the reader that drives the suspense throughout the story. She certainly seems kind. She earns the trust of a few key characters in the story. We want to believe her. But then again, Wharton makes sure to mention several times that she has recently been battling typhoid. It’s also true that the ghost seems to want, coincidentally enough, the same things that the narrator wants – to protect her mistress, to aid Mr. Ranford.
Ultimately, Wharton provides no real answers. It’s up to the reader to decide if the narrator is reliable or not. It’s on the reader to pick apart the text for the truth. And that’s quite a trick on Wharton’s part.
After a while I slept; but suddenly a loud noise wakened me. My bell had rung. I sat up, terrified by the unusual sound, which seemed to go on jangling through the darkness. My hands shook so that I couldn’t find the matches. At length I struck a light and jumped out of bed. I began to think I must have been dreaming; but I looked at the bell against the wall, and there was the little hammer still quivering.
I was just beginning to huddle on my clothes when I heard another sound. This time it was the door of the locked room opposite mine softly opening and closing. I heard the sound distinctly, and it frightened me so that I stood stock still. Then I heard a footstep hurrying down the passage toward the main house. The floor being carpeted, the sound was very faint, but I was quite sure it was a woman’s step. I turned cold with the thought of it, and for a minute or two I dursn’t breathe or move. Then I came to my senses.
The September stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.
- ‘The Lady With The Little Dog’ by Anton Chekhov
- ‘Barn Burning’ by William Faulkner
- ‘Gooseberries’ by Anton Chekhov
- ‘The Man In A Case’ by Anton Chekhov
- ‘The Tall Men’ by William Faulkner
- ‘The Ice Palace’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- ‘May Day’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- ‘Pomegranate Seed’ by Edith Wharton
- ‘That Evening Sun’ by William Faulkner
- ‘The Student’ by Anton Chekhov
- ‘About Love’ by Anton Chekhov
- ‘A Bear Hunt’ by William Faulkner
- ‘The Diamond As Big As The Ritz’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- ‘His Father’s Son’ by Edith Wharton
- ‘The Jelly-Bean’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- ‘Hand Upon The Waters’ by William Faulkner
- ‘The Other Two’ by Edith Wharton
- ‘Winter Dreams’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- ‘April Showers’ by Edith Wharton
- ‘The Fullness Of Life’ by Edith Wharton
- ‘A Cap For Steve’ by Morley Callaghan
- ‘The Net’ by Robert M. Coates
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…”
The Fullness Of Life by Edith Wharton, 1893
The magic trick:
Using perfectly chosen details in order to breathe life into a clichéd plot
It is jarring at first to find an Edith Wharton story set in an imaginary afterworld. Her writing – ghosts and spirits aside – usually is so tied to very realistic societal situations. Anyway, the whole plot is fairly predictable. The biggest surprise is that Wharton does, in fact, stick to a conservative, the-grass-isn’t-always-greener ending.
But this is not to say that the story is a waste of your time. Not at all. The plot may be clichéd, but Wharton, as she does throughout her entire catalogue, has a penchant for the kind of precise, real-life details that elevate the story above the ranks of mere maudlin fluff.
Consider three ways our protagonist explains why she felt her marriage never encompassed the fullness of life:
- She complains that her husband only ever read railway novels and sporting advertisements.
- She uses the devastatingly limited phrase, “I was fond of him,” to characterize her affections for her husband.
- She draws out a neat, complex (and more-than-a-little-sexual) metaphor of a woman’s nature being like a great house full of rooms, many of which her husband never visited.
Wharton has sewn up a lifetime of dissatisfied comfort in but a few paragraphs. With details that precise it makes no difference that the story’s plot is lacking in surprises or big-picture revelations. It is the minor details that resonate in a major way long after the story’s plot is forgotten. And that’s quite a trick on Wharton’s part.
“You have hit upon the exact word; I was fond of him, yes, just as I was fond of my grandmother, and the house that I was born in, and my old nurse. Oh, I was fond of him, and we were counted a very happy couple. But I have sometimes thought that a woman’s nature is like a great house full of rooms: there is the hall, through which everyone passes in going in and out; the drawingroom, where one receives formal visits; the sitting-room, where the members of the family come and go as they list; but beyond that, far beyond, are other rooms, the handles of whose doors perhaps are never turned; no one knows the way to them, no one knows whither they lead; and in the innermost room, the holy of holies, the soul sits alone and waits for a footstep that never comes.”