Edith Wharton and the Coherence of the Novella: From Initiation to Disillusion

  • Janet Beer


The three novellas I want to discuss here, The Touchstone, Sanctuary and Madame de Treymes, all date from the early part of Edith Wharton’s career, between 1900 and 1907, when she was making the transition from short story to novel writing. The intermediate length and scope of the novella form allowed her to attain a coherence of design, language and content which is perhaps unparalleled in her other fiction. Wharton was, at this time, mapping out her fictional territory in both thematic and structural terms and whilst these novellas do not, perhaps, contain her most compelling narratives they have other claims to dynamism and distinctness. Amongst other significant features, the novellas share a central concern with problem solving, where the problem is articulated both as plot and structure; in other words, technical questions absorb Wharton in the construction of these texts and the solutions she comes up with deserve close attention.


Short Story Romantic Love Figurative Language French Family Opening Page 
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  1. 1.
    Wharton, Edith Madame de Treymes: Four Short Novels (London: Virago Press, 1995), p. 5.Google Scholar
  2. 33.
    Lewis, R.W.B. Edith Wharton: A Biography (London, Constable & Co. Ltd., 1975), p. 123. More recently, Gloria Erlich discusses the novella alongside The Touchstone as ‘paired stories written out of childhood experience that was revived by the death of the author’s mother’ in her essay: ‘The Female Conscience in Edith Wharton’s Shorter Fiction: Domestic Angel or Inner Demon?’.Google Scholar
  3. Bell, Millicent (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Edith Wharton (New York, Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 114.Google Scholar
  4. 57.
    Gilman, Charlotte Perkins Women and Economics, 1898, reprinted. Carl N Degler. (New York, Harper Torchbooks, 1966), pp. 140–142.Google Scholar
  5. 79.
    Wharton, Edith. French Ways and Their Meaning (New York, D. Appleton and Co., 1919), p. 115.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Janet Beer 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janet Beer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishRoehampton InstituteLondonUK

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