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The New York Stories of Edith Wharton


Edith Wharton wrote about New York as only a native can. Her Manhattan is a city of well-appointed drawing rooms, hansoms and broughams, all-night cotillions, and resplendent Fifth Avenue flats. Bishops’ nieces mingle with bachelor industrialists; respectable wives turn into excellent mistresses. All are governed by a code of behavior as rigid as it is precarious. What fascinates Wharton are the points of weakness in the structure of Old New York: the artists and writers at its fringes, the free-love advocates testing its limits, the widows and divorcées struggling to hold their own.

The New York Stories of Edith Wharton gathers twenty stories of the city, written over the course of Wharton’s career. From her first published story, “Mrs. Manstey’s View,” to one of her last and most celebrated, “Roman Fever,” this new collection charts the growth of an American master and enriches our understanding of the central themes of her work, among them the meaning of marriage, the struggle for artistic integrity, the bonds between parent and child, and the plight of the aged. 

Illuminated by Roxana Robinson’s Introduction, these stories showcase Wharton’s astonishing insight into the turbulent inner lives of the men and women caught up in a rapidly changing society.

If these stories have a defining subject (other than New York) it is divorce, which begins to replace art as Wharton's excuse for discussing the fashionable and the real. In fact, one of the pleasures of a collection like this is that you can trace her tendencies in it—and the way they develop.
— Times Literary Supplement

New York City [is] the setting of Wharton's finest fictions.
— The New York Observer

In both stories ["Mrs. Manstey's View" and "Roman Fever"], and in the intervening 18 that compromise this collection, we find women observing the world from a distance, restrained by the extraordinarily elaborate codes of behaviour that govern well-to-do, turn-of-the-century New York. But also women surprising themselves, and us, with the intensity of their feelings and desires, and the ingenuity with which they'll circumnavigate in order to express them. Where passions smoulder at length in Wharton's novels, her stories zero in on the moments of eruption. Always, though, in the most elegantly crystalline and coolly ironic prose.
— The Independent

Spanning 40 years (1891-1934), these 20 tales of low passions and high society show off Wharton at her forensic and acerbic best. Divorce, adultery, bankruptcy: the misdeeds that undermine gentility in the brownstones of the Manhattan rich alter, but the fear and fragility behind all the charm do not. To rebels, bolters or swindlers, these plush parlours may be prisons; but, after expulsion, they glow "with the glamor of sword-barred Edens."
— The Observer (UK)

Let's do this the way Edith Wharton's publicist would do it: "Steeped in Manhattan high society, Edith Wharton has a unique perspective on the lavish parties, debauched bachelors and vicious women of a certain age who prowl the penthouses of Manhattan....All true. Except since The New York Stories of Edith Wharton spans the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the indiscretions within are a lot more nuanced than in, say, Gossip Girl.
— L Magazine

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