cover image The Muse's Tragedy and Other Stories

The Muse's Tragedy and Other Stories

Edith Wharton / Author, Candace Waid / Editor Signet Classics

Wharton (1862-1937) may be best known for such novels as The House of Mirth , but she herself had greatest confidence in her short stories, which, she wrote, she took hold of with a ``sense of authority.'' The 21 tales here, composed prior to WW I, combine lapidary style with mordant wit. Who could resist the sly opening of ``Xingu'': ``Mrs. Ballinger is one of the ladies who pursue Culture in bands, as though it were dangeorus to meet alone.'' The title piece, perhaps the most accomplished work here, is more guarded in its tone as it analyzes the competing demands of art and convention by portraying the supposed inspiration of a famous author. Other stories shrewdly pierce upper-class hypocrisy: ``Expiation'' depicts the cunning with which a ``scandalous'' writer and her novelist uncle, a bishop, seek to best each other--the work is flawless comedy. Elsewhere, Wharton shifts genre but retains the same theme: both ``The Eyes'' and ``Afterward'' employ supernatural elements to uncover deceit. Yale professor Waid's introduction situates the stories within autobiographical and historical contexts, and succinctly treats the motifs that recur throughout. (Feb.)