Saturday, February 12, 2011

Short Stories by Edith Wharton: The Dilettante, The Fulness of Life and The Quicksand

Before I go any further, I need to ask you something.  Does Edith Wharton look a little bit like Almira Gulch, Dorothy's neighbor who tried to take Toto away, in this picture?  I keep looking at this expecting Ms. Wharton to turn into a wicked witch at any moment. But I seriously digress.

Since I changed positions at work, it's hard for me to find big enough chunks of time to listen to novels while I'm working.  Thanks to Librivox for having several short story collections available, including some from Edith Wharton.  Have I mentioned before how much I love her writing?  When Wharton paints a picture of a scene down to the tiniest detail, I find it everything about it fascinating where in other authors I would find this trait quite tedious. Ms. Wharton's short stories were no exception.

I listened to three stories: "The Dilettante," "The Fulness of Life," and "The Quicksand." As with most of her works, Wharton has populated these stories with upper classes characters, exposing their faults.

Young Trusdale, in "The Dilettante," is what might be called, in today's parlance, a "playa."  He takes great pleasure in enjoying the company of ladies but only on his own terms.  This seems to have been working quite well for him and in Mrs Vervain he seems to have a companion who will play along with him.  Miss Gaynor is his latest conquest. But before he can even realize just how fond he has become of her, she discovers him for what he is, leaving both Trusdale and Mrs. Vervain troubled by what they have become.

In "The Quicksand" we meet Mrs. Quentin, a rich woman who wants perfection in all things and believes that her son, Alan, is perfect.  Further, she believes that she is intuitive where Alan is concerned and is surprised when he tells her that a young woman has turned down his marriage proposal because he runs a newspaper.  He, in turn, is upset with the young woman. Hope Feeno, because she thinks too much.  Because Alan asks her to, Mrs. Quentin visits Hope, although she really has no desire to change Hope's mind.  Some time later, Mrs. Quentin comes across Hope, who confesses that she believes she made a mistake in refusing Alan.  But Mrs. Quentin, who has had the time to reflect on her own marriage and the way her husband's money sucked her into staying with him despite her misgivings about the newspaper, finds that she is glad that Hope refused Alan.  Upon talking to Hope, Mrs. Quentin had discovered that what she found in Hope made her want Hope for a daughter-in-law while at the same time making her sure that Hope was best off away from the very son that Mrs. Quentin adored.

"The Fulness of Life" is the bittersweet story of a woman who has died and discovers that in the afterlife she will finally be able to find the fulness of life she never found while she was alive.  When the Spirit of Life shows her that her soul mate has been waiting for her, a mate who in every way reflects her every passion, the woman discovers that she cannot bear that thought that her husband, who believes that he had found his soul mate in her, will spend all eternity waiting for her.  Beyond the end of life itself, it seems that she is destined to the be devoted wife.

Listening to these short stories was like taking a sip of water that only makes you realize that you are incredibly thirsty.  I foresee The House of Mirth in my near future!


  1. I read the House of Mirth over 12 years ago...I really enjoyed her writing too. And yes, She does look like the Wicked Witch of the West!

  2. Oh, my - you're right! I think it's that outrageous hat that seals the likeness.

  3. I feel like I need to give Wharton a second chance - the only book of her's I read was Ethan Frome and I thought it awful. So maybe I'll try her short stories :o)

    And yes, she totally looks like Dorothy's neighbor / Wicked Witch! Now I wanna watch The Wizard of Oz...

  4. I've only read Ethan Frome but I really enjoyed it and always meant to read more. I'll have to see if I can find anything of hers online.

  5. I loved both House of Mirth and Age of Innocence, but haven't read any of her short fiction yet. Need to do that soon!

  6. I love Wharton, too! Never picked up on the resemblance to Miss Gulch, but now that you mention it...

  7. Edith Wharton is one of my favorite writers, her short stories are incredible.