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Originally serialized in The Red Book Magazine in 1922, The Old Maid is an examination of class and society as only Edith Wharton could undertake. The story follows the life of Tina, a young woman caught between the mother who adopted her—the beautiful, upstanding Delia—and her true mother, her plain, unmarried “aunt” Charlotte, who gave Tina up to provide her with a socia Originally serialized in The Red Book Magazine in 1922, The Old Maid is an examination of class and society as only Edith Wharton could undertake. The story follows the life of Tina, a young woman caught between the mother who adopted her—the beautiful, upstanding Delia—and her true mother, her plain, unmarried “aunt” Charlotte, who gave Tina up to provide her with a socially acceptable life. The three women live quietly together until Tina’s wedding day, when Delia’s and Charlotte’s hidden jealousies rush to the surface. Says Roxana Robinson in her Introduction, “Wharton weaves her golden, fine-meshed net about her characters with inexorable precision.” This Modern Library Paperback Classic is set from the text of the original magazine publication.


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Originally serialized in The Red Book Magazine in 1922, The Old Maid is an examination of class and society as only Edith Wharton could undertake. The story follows the life of Tina, a young woman caught between the mother who adopted her—the beautiful, upstanding Delia—and her true mother, her plain, unmarried “aunt” Charlotte, who gave Tina up to provide her with a socia Originally serialized in The Red Book Magazine in 1922, The Old Maid is an examination of class and society as only Edith Wharton could undertake. The story follows the life of Tina, a young woman caught between the mother who adopted her—the beautiful, upstanding Delia—and her true mother, her plain, unmarried “aunt” Charlotte, who gave Tina up to provide her with a socially acceptable life. The three women live quietly together until Tina’s wedding day, when Delia’s and Charlotte’s hidden jealousies rush to the surface. Says Roxana Robinson in her Introduction, “Wharton weaves her golden, fine-meshed net about her characters with inexorable precision.” This Modern Library Paperback Classic is set from the text of the original magazine publication.

30 review for The Old Maid: The 'Fifties

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    Wharton is at her best in her writing of novellas and short stories! OK, that is merely my point of view. Why is this book utterly amazing? It grips your heart. It packs a punch. It gets you thinking. I sat spellbound, glued, as I completed the last pages of the novella. Then you sit back and think. We are given a character study of two women. Both may be viewed as the mother of the same child. One is the biological mother. The other adopted the child. The child is unaware of who her biological moth Wharton is at her best in her writing of novellas and short stories! OK, that is merely my point of view. Why is this book utterly amazing? It grips your heart. It packs a punch. It gets you thinking. I sat spellbound, glued, as I completed the last pages of the novella. Then you sit back and think. We are given a character study of two women. Both may be viewed as the mother of the same child. One is the biological mother. The other adopted the child. The child is unaware of who her biological mother is—she is her adored auntie. When the young child has become a young woman and is to leave home, when she is to be married, it is then that the two mothers must again determine who the mother will be. And the father? He has been involved with both of the women! The mothers’ intertwined lives, their emotions, their choices are not only a description of one time and one place but of how people interact, of how societies function and of human nature in general. The writing is gorgeous. It sparkles, it glitters, it shines. A winter sky, a lifted visage, the light and furniture and chiming of an ormolu clock in a hall. The writing is sharp and clever. It delivers a message with a cutting edge. We are delivered a commentary on upper-class New York society in the 1850s. We are delivered a biting social commentary on conformity. We examine what it is to be a mother. Not just in words, but in our hearts. And how is it to be a young, soon to be married bride? Your whole, glorious life lies ahead of you, but how much do you really understand of that which surrounds you, of that which you see and think you have complete mastery over? The naivety of youth is wonderfully, is perceptively captured. The ending is perfect. The audiobook I listened to is narrated by Eleanor Bron. She reads with feeling but does not over-dramatize. Reading Wharton demands attention. One must listen carefully to capture what lies under the surface, to what is implied, but mot said outright. I did at times have to rewind to listen more than once. The narration I have given four stars. I am giving this book five stars because it is a classic, as a classic is supposed to be, and because I was utterly captivated by the mothers’ emotional turmoil. Novels, novellas and short stories I have read by Edith Wharton *The Old Maid: The 'Fifties 5 stars *Summer 4 stars *The House of Mirth 3 stars *Xingu 3 stars *The Age of Innocence 1 star *Ethan Frome 1 star

  2. 5 out of 5

    mark monday

    A Synopsis: A zero-sum game is played by two female cousins; a young woman is blissfully unaware of her puppet strings. The Rules of the Game: "In some variants, all players discard after the dealer has drawn. The objective of the game is to continue to take cards, discarding pairs, until all players except one have no cards. That one player will be left with the lone unmatchable card; they are 'stuck with the old maid' and lose." A Certain Kind of Style: Wharton makes a luscious cake with her wor A Synopsis: A zero-sum game is played by two female cousins; a young woman is blissfully unaware of her puppet strings. The Rules of the Game: "In some variants, all players discard after the dealer has drawn. The objective of the game is to continue to take cards, discarding pairs, until all players except one have no cards. That one player will be left with the lone unmatchable card; they are 'stuck with the old maid' and lose." A Certain Kind of Style: Wharton makes a luscious cake with her words. Sly critique and sardonic appraisal carefully hidden beneath the rich details, the sophisticated rendering of a time and place. Under the creamy frosting, screws and nails. A Protagonist (or perhaps An Antagonist): Rich Delia has let love slip through her fingers; she instead chooses conformity as her bedmate. But there lurks the heart of an iconoclast beating within her bosom. And so she will redirect her passions; she will give a young woman the freedom to attain what she has herself never achieved. This thoughtful widow barely understands her own motivations. She will give as she takes away. An Antagonist (or perhaps A Protagonist): Poor Charlotte must content herself with others' belongings, be they material goods or children or a man who comes and then goes. And so she will take the Stoical route and don the garb of An Old Maid until the costume becomes a reality; she will attempt to redirect a young woman towards a more realistic path. This embittered spinster has sacrificed everything to save one precious thing. A Movie Adaptation: "Vividly, unforgettably, a woman's love starved soul is revealed. All those strange secrets she locks in her heart ... moments of rapture and of heartbreak ... longings that no man can fathom. Of these has the year's finest picture been woven!" A Favorite Quote: "But she had learned that one can do almost anything... if one does not attempt to explain it" The Moral of the Tale: Conformity will destroy your dreams and maybe your soul. Perhaps it is best to be a puppet who is unaware of their strings. Lucky Tina, the happy, clueless puppet! 2 of 16 in Sixteen Short Novels

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ingie

    Written March 26, 2015 4 Stars - Classic tidily, thoughtful, touching, and so very beautifully told A classics $1.95 audiobook "Daily Deal" on Audible.com this week. An unabridged 2:45 hrs novella wonderfully pleasant narrated by Eleanor Bron. *********************************************************** The Old Maid is a classic old Edith Wharton (1862-1937) novella first published 1922. A quite melancholic tale about the life and struggles among wealthy women in New York City's fashionable society, Written March 26, 2015 4 Stars - Classic tidily, thoughtful, touching, and so very beautifully told A classics $1.95 audiobook "Daily Deal" on Audible.com this week. An unabridged 2:45 hrs novella wonderfully pleasant narrated by Eleanor Bron. *********************************************************** The Old Maid is a classic old Edith Wharton (1862-1937) novella first published 1922. A quite melancholic tale about the life and struggles among wealthy women in New York City's fashionable society, and those in the correct and highly regarded big family, the Ralstons, of the mid-1800s. ‘In the old New York of the ‘thirties’ a few families ruled, in simplicity and affluence, of these were the Ralstons. The sturdy English and the rubicund and heavier Dutch had mingled to produce a prosperous, prudent and yet lavish society. To “do things handsomely” had always been a fundamental principle in this cautious world, built up on the fortunes of bankers, India merchants, shipbuilders, and shipchandlers. Those well-fed, slow-moving people, who seemed irritable any dyspeptic to European eyes only because the caprices of the climate had stripped them of superfluous flesh, and strung their nerves a little tighter, lived in genteel monotony of which the surface was never stirred by the dumb dramas now and then enacted underground. Sensitive souls in those days were like muted keyboards, on which Fate played without a sound.’ It's most of all a quite heartbreaking novella about: “Tina, a young woman caught between the mother who adopted her—the beautiful, upstanding Delia —and her true mother, her plain, unmarried “aunt” Charlotte, who gave Tina up to provide her with a socially acceptable life.” ~ (copied from the book blurb preview). *********************************************************** Two women, Delia Ralston and her cousin Charlotte Lovell — sacrifice, jealousy, secrets — and a baby and later young girl Tina. There are so many unsaid words, secret and old buried feelings. Add, that both these women, which more or less spend their life together, once loved and admirated the same man, Clement Spender, a penniless young painter. Delia, the well married so to be happy one, tells us this quiet but emotionally so dramatic story. It start and end with the day before a society wedding... There is of course also an play and a movie from 1939 with the brilliant Bette Davis. *********************************************************** A delightfully narrated classic story that actually kept me on edge for two and a half hours. - Recommended to lovers of all those old good well written stories we sometimes forget. I LIKE - no, I LOVE well told stories

  4. 5 out of 5

    BrokenTune

    “In the old New York of the ‘fifties a few families ruled, in simplicity and affluence. Of these were the Ralstons. The sturdy English and the rubicund and heavier Dutch had mingled to produce a prosperous, prudent and yet lavish society. To “do things handsomely” had always been a fundamental principle in this cautious world, built up on the fortunes of bankers, India merchants, ship-builders and ship-chandlers. Those well-fed slow-moving people, who seemed irritable and dyspeptic to European e “In the old New York of the ‘fifties a few families ruled, in simplicity and affluence. Of these were the Ralstons. The sturdy English and the rubicund and heavier Dutch had mingled to produce a prosperous, prudent and yet lavish society. To “do things handsomely” had always been a fundamental principle in this cautious world, built up on the fortunes of bankers, India merchants, ship-builders and ship-chandlers. Those well-fed slow-moving people, who seemed irritable and dyspeptic to European eyes only because the caprices of the climate had stripped them of superfluous flesh, and strung their nerves a little tighter, lived in a genteel monotony of which the surface was never stirred by the dumb dramas now and then enacted underground. Sensitive souls in those days were like muted key-boards, on which Fate played without a sound. In this compact society, built of solidly welded blocks, one of the largest areas was filled by the Ralstons and their ramifications. The Ralstons were of middle-class English stock. They had not come to the Colonies to die for a creed but to live for a bank-account. The result had been beyond their hopes, and their religion was tinged by their success.” It with this short novella that I dip my toes into the world of Edith Wharton for the first time. I’ve seen so much praise of the work – and from trusted friends and reviewers – that I just had to find out for myself what I’m missing out. What has held me back from picking up Wharton’s work so far are really two things: For one, I have always associated her writing with that of Henry James, which is not helped by an article in the Guardian I read a few years ago about the two of them – Wharton and James – on a road trip in England. This is, of course, hugely unfair towards Wharton, but sometimes that is how associations of the mind work. There is nothing for it but to go investigate and see if there is some truth to it. I just hadn’t gotten around to that, yet. The second reason, is that I have always thought of Wharton as a kind of Edwardian author, in the same way that E.M. Forster was. But as I love Forster, his works are normally what I turn to for a fix of Edwardian drama. Again, misconception is at work here. They may have written in the same time, but not about the same time … or place. Anyway, time to put things right with Edith Wharton – not that I think she’d care… but I do, not least because I don’t like having pre-conceived ideas that aren’t founded on any actual research. The Old Maid is the second of four novellas in Wharton’s “Old New York” series, which features stories set in New York, one in each decade of the 1840s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. The Old Maid is set in the 50’s and tells the story of two cousins – Delia and Charlotte, one who marries well and one who has a child out of wedlock. After several turns of fate, the cousins both end up bringing up the child, one as mother and one as aunt, but with a reversal of titles that sparks some resentment, misunderstanding, pretence of right, and other high drama until the end of the story. Without giving too much away, I really enjoyed how candid Wharton describes the circumstances of the family arrangement, how clearly she brings up how much misery is caused by a society that is so set on the illusion of propriety at all costs, and how unhealthy it for grudges to fester. I had no expectation of it, but the story of the cousins – neither of whom was a perfect human being – really drew me in. Wharton’s writing was clear, concise, yet full of emotion, sensitivity, and even wit. The only aspect that I did not quite find convincing was that did not get a sense of place or time from the story. I just could not say what makes this the a story of “The ‘Fifties” as the subtitle proclaims. I look forward to finding out if Wharton’s other stories are similarly engaging. As the truth stole upon Delia her heart melted with the old compassion for Charlotte. She saw that it was a terrible, a sacrilegious thing to interfere with another’s destiny, to lay the tenderest touch upon any human being’s right to love and suffer after his own fashion.

  5. 5 out of 5

    classic reverie

    I had seen Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins in this 1939 adaption of Wharton's The Old Maid, years ago and loved it. Over the years of watching classic movies, I have recently just started to read the "book based on" with relished enjoyment. Even though I know the ending and storyline of these stories, it does not stop me from the genius of the author's unadulterated meaning. So when I knew next to nothing of Wharton, Bette Davis was the perfect Charlotte and Hopkins was the underhanded cousin Del I had seen Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins in this 1939 adaption of Wharton's The Old Maid, years ago and loved it. Over the years of watching classic movies, I have recently just started to read the "book based on" with relished enjoyment. Even though I know the ending and storyline of these stories, it does not stop me from the genius of the author's unadulterated meaning. So when I knew next to nothing of Wharton, Bette Davis was the perfect Charlotte and Hopkins was the underhanded cousin Delia. In reading the novella, the insights and interactions of the females had more of a tragic feeling. I felt sorry for both women but Charlotte's lot was heart wrenching. Wharton shows us what is given up in that old New York society. In the movie it is almost basically the same story but with some changes that in the long run are not that different than the main point, it is well worth seeing what a brilliant actress Davis was. Another wonderful Wharton read! Lux Radio theatre October 30, 1939 https://www.oldtimeradiodownloads.com...

  6. 4 out of 5

    peg

    I have decided to spend this extended period of isolation during the 2020 pandemic attempting to read and review a novel a day, starting with those included in the tome SIXTEEN SHORT NOVELS edited and introduced by Wilfrid Sheed. Today’s short novel was THE OLD MAID, written by Edith Wharton and published as a serial magazine work in 1922. Like many of Wharton’s works, it deals with high society in old New York. This was a wonderfully complex plot depicting two women cousins through 20 years of t I have decided to spend this extended period of isolation during the 2020 pandemic attempting to read and review a novel a day, starting with those included in the tome SIXTEEN SHORT NOVELS edited and introduced by Wilfrid Sheed. Today’s short novel was THE OLD MAID, written by Edith Wharton and published as a serial magazine work in 1922. Like many of Wharton’s works, it deals with high society in old New York. This was a wonderfully complex plot depicting two women cousins through 20 years of their lives. Not being very familiar with Wharton’s work I was amazed at the well drawn characters, both major and minor. The story included lovers (secret and otherwise), marriages and a young woman with a secret background.....just the thing to lose myself in during this worrisome time in March, 2020.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Theresa

    A perfectly told story of two female cousins whose fates are intertwined trying to make a socially acceptable life for the illegitimate daughter of one. Beautiful language--Wharton depicts the long-held jealousies and compassion between them. This is the second of her New York Stories.

  8. 4 out of 5

    David

    3.5 stars

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    Sorted boxes in my attic recently and came across my long-missing set of Edith Wharton's Old New York novellas, including this one. The binding of the set, published in the early '20's, is navy, glossy and striated like grosgrain ribbon-- such a pleasure to the touch. I quickly re-read this one, my favorite of the series, and was once again blown away. The passions, mistakes, choices regretted but not countered-- all so human, all displayed so powerfully on a backdrop of crystal, lace and stern Sorted boxes in my attic recently and came across my long-missing set of Edith Wharton's Old New York novellas, including this one. The binding of the set, published in the early '20's, is navy, glossy and striated like grosgrain ribbon-- such a pleasure to the touch. I quickly re-read this one, my favorite of the series, and was once again blown away. The passions, mistakes, choices regretted but not countered-- all so human, all displayed so powerfully on a backdrop of crystal, lace and stern expectations. Memorable.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    This book far exceeded my expectations. Right from the beginning, I was so impressed with the writing. It is the story of two women whose lives intertwine and the societal and psychological implications of their choices and decisions. Excellent.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    One of the best quotes I have ever read..."She found long ago she could get away with almost anything as long as she didn't stop to explain."

  12. 4 out of 5

    Josie Totory

    I'm running short on time, so I'll make this review short. I've read two of Edith Wharton's novellas, this book and Ethan Frome. I read Ethan Frome first and absolutely detested it. I think it might be my least favorite book out of all of the books I've ever read, and this is for one simple reason: The characters you were supposed to dislike were interesting, and the characters you were supposed to like were abominably dull, flat, lifeless, etc. I was very surprised, therefore, to like this book. I'm running short on time, so I'll make this review short. I've read two of Edith Wharton's novellas, this book and Ethan Frome. I read Ethan Frome first and absolutely detested it. I think it might be my least favorite book out of all of the books I've ever read, and this is for one simple reason: The characters you were supposed to dislike were interesting, and the characters you were supposed to like were abominably dull, flat, lifeless, etc. I was very surprised, therefore, to like this book. The setting is fascinating. The characters are dynamic and complex, and they are all like real people in that they are a mixture of good and bad qualities. The plot, too, is interesting; it is full of lies and scandal. It also puts a remarkable twist on "motherly love." Finally, the ending is superbly realistic. I really would recommend this book. 3.5/5 stars.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I can't believe I never read this one before! It's short and only one of four novellas that Wharton eventually published together as Old New York: Four Novellas. "The Old Maid" is simple, but, as with all of Wharton's stories, only superficially: Charlotte gives up her child into the custody of her cousin, Delia, so that her daughter's reputation may be preserved. Yet, beneath this simple plot is an intricate look at sex, love, and, as always, social customs, particularly restrictions and punish I can't believe I never read this one before! It's short and only one of four novellas that Wharton eventually published together as Old New York: Four Novellas. "The Old Maid" is simple, but, as with all of Wharton's stories, only superficially: Charlotte gives up her child into the custody of her cousin, Delia, so that her daughter's reputation may be preserved. Yet, beneath this simple plot is an intricate look at sex, love, and, as always, social customs, particularly restrictions and punishments leveled at women. To avoid spoliers, I won't go into details about plot points, but I will say that "The Old Maid" has a rather strange and creepily incestuous element to the basic conflict--one that becomes evident only after some thoughtful reflection. The characters are well drawn, and the narration is beautiful as always - and hilarious! There was one passage in particular that made me laugh out loud: "Yes-- and afterward? "Well--what? And what did this new question mean? Afterward: why, of course, there was the startled puzzled surrender to the incomprehensible exigencies of the young man to whom one had at most yielded a rosy cheek in return for an engagement ring; there was the large double-bed; the terror of seeing him shaving calmly in the next morning, in his shirt sleeves, through the dressing-room door; the evasions, insinuations, resigned smiles and Bible texts of one's Mamma; the reminder of the phrase 'to obey' in the glittering blur of the Marriage Service; a week or a month of flushed distress, confusion, embarrassed pleasure; the the growth of habit, the insidious lulling of the matter-of-course, the dreamless double slumbers in teh big white bed, the early morning discussions and consultations through that dressing room door which had once seemed to open into a fiery pit scorching the brow of innocence. "And the, the babies; the babies who were supposed to 'make up for everything,' and didn't--though they were such darlings, and one had no definite notion as to what it was that one had missed, and that they were to make up for." (p. 377 in the Library of American edition) I ADORE that passage. I read it several times just to savor the language, humor, and depth here. It's worth noting that, although this passage is rather long, it is only made up of five sentences. After the short, panicked questions at the beginning, Wharton plunges into Delia's own feelings about her marriage, which she projects onto Charlotte, by giving us these long, rambling lists of what Delia assumes Charlotte's marriage will consist of. There's humor here, certainly, but Wharton is also making a rather damning statement about what women are taught to expect when they marry. No other subject dominated Wharton's fiction more than marriage and the social impact it leaves, especially on women. For fans of The Age of Innocence, "The Old Maid" is also a treat because it features a few of the same characters. Granny Mingott is here, a young married woman defying convention already, and so is Sillerton Jackson, ever the gossip. Charlotte and Delia hail from the Lovell family, which was also the family of May Welland and Ellen Olenska. While these connections are not blatant, they do add a level of fun to the story. Given Wharton had recently won the Pulitzer for Age, her including some more back story was undoubtedly a marketing choice, but one that made the story more fun. The ending may seem to crescendo with sentimentality, but, as with the rest of the story, there is something very cruel and sinister lurking beneath the seemingly saccharine conclusion. That kind of subversive message is classic Wharton, which makes me wonder why so little attention is given to this story. There is this idea that The Age of Innocence is Wharton's last great work and that everything after it is worthless; I even remember seeing a call for papers about it for MLA about eight or nine years ago. I thought it was a stupid claim then as a little grad student, and I think it's even more stupid now after reading "The Old Maid." This story is brilliant proves ol' Edith was still at the top her game in 1924. I can't wait to read the rest of this collection!

  14. 4 out of 5

    EA Solinas

    "The Old Maid" is quintessential Edith Wharton -- it takes place in Gilded Age New York City, in the genteel upper crust where human passions are hidden under lace and gilt. And despite its length, this novella is a passionate one, focusing on two women whose ordinary, pleasant lives are disrupted by a secret they both share. Delia Ralston has the "perfect" life -- a dependable husband, two children, and a lovely expensive home. But then her cousin Charlotte (newly engaged to Delia's cousin-in-la "The Old Maid" is quintessential Edith Wharton -- it takes place in Gilded Age New York City, in the genteel upper crust where human passions are hidden under lace and gilt. And despite its length, this novella is a passionate one, focusing on two women whose ordinary, pleasant lives are disrupted by a secret they both share. Delia Ralston has the "perfect" life -- a dependable husband, two children, and a lovely expensive home. But then her cousin Charlotte (newly engaged to Delia's cousin-in-law) bursts in with a shocking confession: a few years ago she gave birth to an illegitimate baby, fathered by Delia's ex-boyfriend. And if she goes ahead with the wedding, she will have to give up her daughter. After the initial shock, Delia contrives a way for Charlotte to have her daughter. She must remain an old maid, and retire to the countryside with little Tina. Fast forward a couple decades, and Charlotte is now living with the widowed Delia. Tina has grown into a beautiful, vivacious young woman, who considers Delia her "Mamma" and Charlotte as dowdy, fusty "Aunt Chatty." When a young man starts paying special attention to Tina, but reveals he cannot afford to marry her, both Delia and Charlotte begin to fear that history will repeat itself. But any solution means that one of them will lose her. "The Old Maid" takes place in the same elegantly exalted New York as "The Age Of Innocence" -- many of the families and characters of that story are mentioned, and one even knows Tina. And in a way, it deals with a lot of the same problems: "the dark destinies coiled under the safe surface of life," with human passions safely hidden behind proper societal expectations. Wharton's prose is elegant and polished, but often rips away the pretty veneer to show us the ugly and/or wilder side of human nature. The best example of it is near the end, where she lulls you with damask roses, orange and moonlight, and then unleashes all the hidden bitterness and sorrow that Charlotte had been hiding. And she spins up a truly spellbinding pair of characters in Delia and Charlotte -- one is a woman of passion and intensity who must quash it down for the sake of her daughter, while the other is a dull "conventional" woman until that same girl causes her maternal love to bloom. The secret they share brings them together, but it also causes some ugly feelings to arise. Like the society of Old New York, "The Old Maid" is elegant and beautifully written, but with highly-charged emotions running under the surface. A must read. (Just a warning: this novella has been printed elsewhere as part of the "Old New York" omnibus.)

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ilana

    As I mentioned recently somewhere, the more I read Edith Wharton the more I love her, which is saying a lot since I was instantly smitten when I started reading my first book by her, The House of Mirth. I’ve read a couple of her novels and some of her shorter works since, but this is the first short story I've read of hers so far, and I can see why she was considered a master of the form. This story is included in the Old New York collection and I'm counting it as an individual work since I got As I mentioned recently somewhere, the more I read Edith Wharton the more I love her, which is saying a lot since I was instantly smitten when I started reading my first book by her, The House of Mirth. I’ve read a couple of her novels and some of her shorter works since, but this is the first short story I've read of hers so far, and I can see why she was considered a master of the form. This story is included in the Old New York collection and I'm counting it as an individual work since I got it as an audiobook and am shamelessly making up the numbers to reach 150 books this year. Set in the 1850s, and I should specify in Edith Wharton's 50s, that is to say, the Old New York of the top of the upper crust of distinguished family names, splendour, old money and stifling social conventions, it tells the story of two cousins, one pretty and married, the other unwed and mother to an illegitimate little girl. Charlotte, who is about to be married into the same respectable family as her cousin Mrs. Delia Ralston, confides to her cousin and begs for her help, as she fears that her marriage will separate her from her secret love child Tina forever. Delia, whose first loyalty goes to her family by marriage, ensures that the wedding plans are cancelled to prevent the scandal from attaching itself to the too respectable Ralstons, though she promises to take care of Tina herself. Years go by, Delia is widowed, the cousins live together, and Tina is now a very attractive girl of marriageable age. Charlotte is known to the girl as 'Aunt Charlotte the old maid', and she affectionately considers Deliah to be her mother, and of course the secret of her real origins are unknown to her. The two older women have found this to be the best compromise, but there are unexpressed jealousies and resentments seething under the surface, which suddenly erupt when a young man starts making too frequent visits to the house. When Wharton wrote this story, it was already relegated to historical fiction, describing mores that had been long out of fashion, but the core of the tale is timeless, telling of love and passion and the mysteries of motherly love and the bonds that unify women. I couldn't help but shed a sentimental tear or two at the end, and perhaps it is a sentimental story, but they should all be so well told. —December 2013

  16. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    This is a somewhat convoluted story of wealthier women in "Old New York" and the nature of the lives they lead. It might surprise many people to learn that I have not read any of the Brontes or Austen (hasn't everyone?); I rather imagine that Wharton can be grouped with them. Being such a short book helped with the stilted formality of the prose and still permitted me to enjoy its period flavor. Likely, a good introduction to Wharton's bigger, major works.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I liked this book. It was the second Edith Wharton book I read. It was really great and I own an old first edition copy and it was the only copy I have ever been able to find of it. I would like to own an updated copy so I can loan it out. SO well written and depressing. I loved it..

  18. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    I've really enjoyed digging into "Old New York" Wharton-style. My favorite is probably The House of Mirth, but each of her stories I've read recently were enjoyable albeit a little depressing (some more than others).

  19. 5 out of 5

    Vel Veeter

    The best part of reading this book was looking up the Amazon reviews to realize that so many people went to this page in order to review the card game. I don’t THINK this novella was the source material for the card games, but meh, who knows. Eight Amazon reviewers could hardly be wrong, right? Instead, the novella is about someone trying to find their way into New York society, not through dishonest means but through sort of sideways means. I am not sure a got a lot our of this one, especially co The best part of reading this book was looking up the Amazon reviews to realize that so many people went to this page in order to review the card game. I don’t THINK this novella was the source material for the card games, but meh, who knows. Eight Amazon reviewers could hardly be wrong, right? Instead, the novella is about someone trying to find their way into New York society, not through dishonest means but through sort of sideways means. I am not sure a got a lot our of this one, especially compared to the previous novella by Wharton that I read, but I did enjoy some of the discussions about divorce and marriage. There’s also still this real anxiety about how money functions in the US. Because we don’t have an actually caste or class system, our sense of worth as it related to these areas is skewed and unformed in any real sense. So when someone tries to break in, the anxiety about this is unclear. It’s not like in “Daisy Miller” where one cannot simply buy their way into society or where the rules are unwritten because they’re not properly bred into someone, in this novella, the costs are real, but the rules are not merely hidden, but more or less unwritten. “In the old New York of the ‘fifties a families ruled, in simplicity and affluence. Of these were the Ralstons. The sturdy English and the rubicund and heavier Dutch had mingled to produce a prosperous, prudent and yet lavish society. To ‘do things handsomely’ had always been a fundamental principle int his cautious world, built up on the fortunes of bankers, India merchants, ship-builders and ship-chandlers. Those well-fed slow-moving people, who seemed irritable and dyspeptic to European eyes only because the caprices of the climate had stripped them of superfluous flesh, and strung their nerves a little tighter, lived in a genteel monotony of which the surface was never stirred by the dumb dramas now and then enacted underground. Sensitive souls in those days were like muted key-boards, on which Fate played without a sound.”

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Good book, atrocious editing. Look, I'm not against choosing to reject second-edition textual changes in the name of fidelity to the author's original intentions - but please, please, please display a little bit of common sense! If the 2nd edition printed 'won't' instead of 'wont' in contexts that clearly demonstrate the intended word to be a contraction of 'will not', it does not display textual accuracy to revert back to 'wont' with a footnote explaining that the second edition corrected this. Good book, atrocious editing. Look, I'm not against choosing to reject second-edition textual changes in the name of fidelity to the author's original intentions - but please, please, please display a little bit of common sense! If the 2nd edition printed 'won't' instead of 'wont' in contexts that clearly demonstrate the intended word to be a contraction of 'will not', it does not display textual accuracy to revert back to 'wont' with a footnote explaining that the second edition corrected this. It merely demonstrates that a)either Wharton or the publisher or both were worse at spelling than a six-year-old; and b)the current editor is a jobsworth. I also don't need 28 pages of explanatory notes for a 78-page novella, particularly when around 90% of the notes just state that the text was changed to option b in the 2nd edition, because if I wanted to compare the 1st to the 2nd edition in that much detail I'd just go out and read the second edition. However, these notes are tucked away at the back of the book and easily ignored, and I'm sure someone had a lot of fun writing them, so no harm, no foul, I suppose.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jami

    This was a very good short story/novella. As an adoptee whose biological mother was also a family member, I can relate to much of the story line, even though it was set in a historical time period. Some things never change, such as the speculation of parentage and conflicted feelings. This was my first Edith Wharton story and I would definitely read me. The characters were interesting and the story moved along at a good pace.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lloyd Hughes

    Reading Ms Wharton’s ‘Old New York’ stories compresses time from the linear to the dimensional—you are there. Her writing hits all the right notes: tone, mood, style, and emotion. ‘The Old Maid’ fits the bill. It transported me to mid-nineteenth century New York, and before I knew it, I was privy to the plight of unmarried birth and its ostracizations, deceits, sacrifices, silences, pragmatics, and unsung heroics. Four stars, recommended but not essential reading.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Carol Painter

    More wonderful Edith. She never disappoints me.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

    Such good writing and a really thought-provoking novella. You can never go wrong with Edith Wharton!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten

    A nice quick read from Wharton. Yet another story about women caught in society’s expectations. I really enjoyed the dialogue here.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Richard Anderson

    Psychologically acute study of an old New York family.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    An interesting story of resentment and love.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Merilee

    Wharton was a genius. How she packed so much social commentary into so few pages without sacrificing characters or plot is remarkable. I have enjoyed every book I've read of hers and look forward to more.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dick Edwards

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The following contains spoilers, so do not read further if you are going to read the book and want to be surprised. As always, Edith Wharton has an eye for the details of society’s characteristics in the New York City of the latter 19th Century. The psychology of social interactions, and the strict codification of propriety and morality are so foreign to today’s world, that one would be tempted to say that her stories hold no interest to us. But this is entirely wrong. Ms Wharton does such a goo The following contains spoilers, so do not read further if you are going to read the book and want to be surprised. As always, Edith Wharton has an eye for the details of society’s characteristics in the New York City of the latter 19th Century. The psychology of social interactions, and the strict codification of propriety and morality are so foreign to today’s world, that one would be tempted to say that her stories hold no interest to us. But this is entirely wrong. Ms Wharton does such a good job of painstakingly describing the inner thoughts of her characters and the motivations of their actions, that the narratives hold us spellbound. Delia’s Cousin Charlotte has gone to Paris and had an affair with Clem Spender, a man whom Delia also had eyes for. The affair resulted in a child, Tina, whom Charlotte brought back, along with a number of other underprivileged children from abroad. Tina is not to know of her illegitimacy, and so Delia takes the forefront in her upbringing. When Tina grows up and gets married, Delia proposes to give her the “before your wedding night” talk, Charlotte wants to be the one, and she and Delia argue. Delia relents, but just before talking to Tina, Charlotte decides that it should be Delia after all who talks to Tina. The two cousins reaffirm their love for each other. I thought this was a sweet story, and give it a 7 out of 10.

  30. 4 out of 5

    LB

    To me, this work looks average for Ms Warton's talent. Compared with her best works, which are, in my view, The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence, this story appears a bit trite, too sentimental and slightly wordy for my taste. I understand the poignancy of the subject for Wharton's time, but somehow it doesn't resonate with me all that much today. I heard similar stories from real life, where mothers were passed for older sisters or other relatives; it's certainly tragic, no doubt, but at To me, this work looks average for Ms Warton's talent. Compared with her best works, which are, in my view, The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence, this story appears a bit trite, too sentimental and slightly wordy for my taste. I understand the poignancy of the subject for Wharton's time, but somehow it doesn't resonate with me all that much today. I heard similar stories from real life, where mothers were passed for older sisters or other relatives; it's certainly tragic, no doubt, but at least Charlotte got to live with her child--the girl was not taken away--although she'd had to sacrifice her own marriage for that and could only be an aunt to her and not the most beloved aunt at that. There are certainly multiple layers and complexities in the story, such as Delia's feelings for the father of the child, the relationship between Delia and Charlotte, etc., yet the story doesn't seem to pose that many questions or lend itself to as many "what if's" as the writer's other works. Maybe if it weren't Ms Warton's story, I would've liked it more but I truly expected better from this author.

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