How does the structure of "Roman Fever" inform its content?
The basic plot of "Roman Fever" revolves around a relatively staid meeting between two middle-aged widows of means. They speak pleasantly and almost laconically, and their is behavior careful and modulated. However, beneath the pleasantries is a darker tale of sex, vengeance, and pity. Wharton brings this story to the forefront slowly and haltingly, and alludes to many important details instead of stating them outright. Thus, both the structure and the content of the story feature an outer layer of gentility and order, but feature a secret, fragmented inner story wherein the truth lies. Wharton tasks the reader with delving beneath that surface and pull out the pieces of truth in order to construct a narrative.
How does Wharton depict New York high society?
Wharton did not write her short stories in a vacuum. She grew up in New York high society, which is why she could write about it so insightfully and cleverly. Her observations are keen and cutting and lend the stories a great deal of authenticity. Most of Wharton's stories center on the struggle of maintaining one's reputation at the same time as remaining true to oneself. She also layers her narratives in a way to reveal the innate hypocrisy that existed around her. Social norms certainly modernize, but characters who succeed in society must possess the intuition to ascertain precisely what is allowed and what is frowned upon. They are adaptable, and understand what is necessary to survive and prosper. Overall, Edith Wharton depicts New York high society as a rarefied world of wealth and privilege, but also of suppression, conformity, and unspoken tension.
How and why does Waythorn change over the course of "The Other Two"?
Waythorn is content and complacent at the outset of the story and his marriage to Alice. However, as he slowly becomes aware of certain truths about his wife's character, he grudgingly begins to revise his opinion of her. He is disconcerted that she seems to evolve and change for each of her husbands, and wonders if he can ever truly accept the fact that she is "used." However, as time goes by, Waythorn gradually learns to accept with his comfortable life. Alice's behavior is pristine and she is everything he wants in a wife. However, Wharton's depiction of Waythorn is somewhat satirical. He only grows to appreciate his wife because he believes that her first two marriages gave her a lot of practice in being married. Additionally, he smugly asserts that even though his predecessors possess parts of his wife, he has the best third. Waythorn's internal peace comes out of his selfish nature - he only appreciates his wife when her past benefits him, otherwise, he derides her for it.
How does Wharton depict the clash between tradition and modernity?
Society was changing very quickly at the turn of the century when Wharton was writing, and she incorporates the resulting social tension into her stories. The younger generation reaps the benefits of modernity, but the older generation struggles to let go of deeply entrenched traditions and practices. Thus, there are several generational conflicts in Wharton's stories, mostly in the form of couples struggling to define their relationships (especially marriages) in light of these changing times.
How does Wharton express the differences between society roles for men and women in these short stories?
Both the male and female characters in Wharton's short stories face changing societal values, but modernity has different effects on the two separate genders. In the patriarchal society, and men are more free to break social rules and explore alternate modes of behavior. Similarly, they are also able to pursue professional lives outside the home. Women, though, are expected to be much more rarefied, trapped in their insulated social circles with little more to do than gossip and compete with each other. The women in Wharton's stories must always contend with their lack of power in society at some point, which and a twinge of desperation colors many of their experiences. Her male characters also seem to have much easier relations with each other, while the women's friendships are characterized by subtle hostility, insecurity, and competitiveness.
Does Wharton think Paulina Anson wasted her life, or do the last scenes of "The Angel at the Grave" validate her efforts?
Edith Wharton does not simply hand the moral lesson to the reader; rather, she makes her audience think, analyze, and before coming to a conclusion. At the end of the "The Angel at the Grave," George Corby validates Paulina's lifelong efforts to keep her grandfather's work alive. However, George's arrival is only a hint of what is to come, while Paulina's regrets have been building up for years. Even if Corby's article revives Dr. Anson's work, Paulina will still have spent her life serving a man she has never met - she will have been an angel at her grandfather's grave, only freed by another man's interest. Her work itself cannot be valued without the help of a man, and that reality is quite sad, even though Paulina feels happy at the end of the story.
What is the moral lesson in "After Holbein"?
Anson Warley has spent his life looking for the best dinner parties, suppressing his quiet and peaceful tendencies in lieu of traveling abroad and cultivating a disdainful, elitist attitude. Meanwhile, Mrs. Jaspar has spent her life throwing lavish dinner parties and buttering up the New York City elite. Neither has any serious relationships or meaningful activities, and both are them are beginning to experience dementia. Therefore, the moral of the story is that life is short and memories fade. Thus, one should pursue a life of fulfillment and love. Both of the principal characters in this story are only cared for by a group of confused or sneering servants. Wharton's story serves as a warning to those who pursue a glittering social life instead of meaningful personal relationships - as glitter always fades, and only deep state of delusion can keep the party going forever.
How would you describe Wharton's tone and style in these short stories?
Wharton's tone is very cool, polite, civil, and her writing style is lyrical and elegant. Sometimes she writes with a satirical intent, using her specific descriptions to reveal her opinions. Her style is mannered but there are always multiple layers in her work, and she writes subtext that the reader must unearth and comprehend. Instead of easing her reader into a setting, Wharton prefers to plunge the reader immediately into an awkward situation or a conversation that has already begun. Wharton's writing is very measured; instead of laying everything out on the table, she prefers to foreshadow her stories' climactic moments and reveal these major plot points in due time.
What things do the short stories have in common?
All of Wharton's short stories in this collection are about upper-class men and women, most of whom are from New York. She focuses her plots on relationships like marriages, friendships, or mothers and daughters. There is always some kind of fracture in the main relationship, and the story follows the characters as they try to adapt to the new status quo. Most of Wharton's stories also deal with changing social norms and the tension between generations. Most of Wharton's characters are deeply flawed, and have made some kind of moral sacrifice in order to attain inclusion in society. Wharton often leaves her stories open-ended, allowing the reader draw his/her own conclusions.
What role does divorce play in Wharton's short stories?
Wharton reveals that divorce much more common for the younger generation in her stories, even though several of her older characters have gone through it as well. Mrs. Lidcote in "Autres Temps," for example, has never recovered from the scandal of her divorce. However, divorce is more socially acceptable for younger women. Divorce allows women to escape from relationships that are dull or tedious or loveless, but it seems that a divorcee's only option is to enter into another marriage as quickly as possible. Even though divorce is becoming more common, but it is still treacherous in many cases, especially if the separating partners do not handle it correctly. Lydia and Gannett in "Souls Belated" embody the importance of handling a divorce properly in order to maintain a place in society.