Sunday, August 4, 2013

The New York Stories of Edith Wharton



Short stories collections are really hard to write about.  Many people dislike short stories; my theory is that most people, once they get invested in characters and settings, want the stories to continue.  To me, a short story is a just a moment captured in time with these characters, an introduction.  Sometimes as a reader I want more.  

Edith Wharton is one of those rare writers that was equally good at writing both short stories and full-length novels.  Some of her novels are among my favorites; as are some of her short stories.  This collection, published by NYRB Classics, features twenty stories that are all set in New York, or includes characters that are New Yorkers.  

Some of her stories are sad, some are extremely funny.  Many of them are deliciously ironic, and she was especially good at ghost stories.  This collection includes all of these, and are selected from those published at beginning of her career to works published near the end.  It begins with "Mrs. Manstey's View," her very first published short story, and ends with "Roman Fever," from her last short story collection.  

"Roman Fever" is possibly Wharton's most famous short story and one of my personal favorites.  This was one in the collection I had actually read before, but I never get tired of it.  It's the story of two New York society ladies who meet unexpectedly while in Rome with their grown daughters.  They sit on the terrace of restaurant, admiring the view, and the reader learns the history of their complicated relationship.  The ending is deliciously ironic, and I'll say no more.  It's quite short so if you have a few minutes do click on the link and read it -- tell me in the comments if you liked it, but don't give the ending away!!

My other favorites in the collection are mostly ironic or funny.  They include "Expiation," an amusing tale about writers in the same family; "Diagnosis," about a wealthy man who has recently discovered the truth about his illness; and "The Pomegranate Seed," which is one of the ghost stories.   The only one I really didn't care for was "The Long Run," which, as the name implies, seemed to go on forever. 

Unfortunately, this collection does not include "Xingu," my other favorite of her stories, about a pretentious group of women who attend a "Lunch Club" to become more cultured.  I reread the story today before I finished this posting, and I suppose it wasn't included because it really doesn't have a New York connection.  It's still really funny though, and definitely worth reading.  Many of Wharton's works are available free online through Project Gutenberg, so you can just click on the links and start reading if you're curious.  They're really worth trying, even if you're not willing to tackle a 450 page book with twenty stories in it.  

This book counts toward my Back to the Classics Challenge and is one of the alternate reads for my TBR Pile Challenge. 

19 comments:

  1. I love Edith, especially the ghost stories. Roman Fever has the most wonderful kick in the end, doesn't it? I haven't read Xingu for ages so must dig it out again soon. I had great plans to get on with some of my short story collections this year & I made a good start but it's faded away recently. Must get back into it, thanks for the reminder about how good short stories can be.

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    1. Roman Fever is just wonderful. Best twist ending EVER. Xingu is a hoot. I'm definitely going to put another short story collection on my TBR Pile Challenge next year. I'm thinking Dorothy Parker or maybe Evelyn Waugh. I also have the collected Saki.

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  2. I definitely prefer full length novels over short stories. But this collection does sound enticing and now I really want to read Roman Fever! I will have to see if I can get my hands on it.

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    1. If you don't mind reading on a computer, there's a link in the post to an online version. It's also included in the Scribner paperback version, and in her Collected Stories from the Library of America edition. I know a lot of libraries have that one.

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    1. It's just great, isn't it? But try Xingu if you haven't read it. Her ghost stories are good too.

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  4. I haven't read Wharton's short stories, but in general I love them. Maybe it's because I'm always pressed for time, and a short story gives me a sense of accomplishment so quickly! I am going to look for these.

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    1. I should really try and read more short stories at work -- I get an hour lunch and two 15-minute breaks, and I usually read. I should have a book of stories and just read one or two every day, I'd make so much progress!

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  5. Oh, I haven't read Xingu, but it sounds excellent! I'll look it up online. Thanks.

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    1. There's a link in the posting. Not all of her short stories are online but quite a few are.

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  6. I am a fan of short stories - I need to make time to read more this year. I read a collection of Elizabeth Taylor's short stories earlier in the year and they were excellent - I highly recommend them.
    I am intrigued by Roman Fever - will go and have a look at it!

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    1. Which short story collection was it? I just finished A Game of Hide and Seek, but I was sadly underwhelmed. I'm trying to make some progress on my pile of NYRB Classics. There's also a copy of Angel at my library and I know some people love it.

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  7. I haven't read any of Edith Wharton's short stories, but I just read "Roman Fever" thanks to your link. Wonderful! I have to go find all of her other stories now.

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    1. Isn't it great? Another Wharton convert!!! Now if I could only win over all those people that hated Ethan Frome back in high school. . . .

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  8. I really enjoy short stories--I like the tight, crispness that the genre demands--that said, I understand why people get frustrated with them. For me, it's not that they end too soon, but that I struggle with the beginnings of books in general--it requires meeting new people, learning where they live and why--it's a lot of work, and so short stories require that work repeatedly. My theory anyway.

    I have this collection and hope to get to it this year--Roman Fever sounds marvelous, actually.

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  9. I love Roman Fever too, but I think it is the only short story of hers that I have read; this obviously needs correction!

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  10. I've been wanting to read Roman Fever for years now. I like the idea of her NY stories. Will have to get a copy.

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  11. I'm so glad I have that to look forward to - I'm really enjoying Wharton's novels this year and her short stories were on my list but knowing there's humour to be found makes me even more eager to read them. Humour's an underrated talent and I rate it highly in my reading.

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