Edith Wharton wrote short stories throughout her career, beginning with “Mrs. Manstey's View,” published in 1891. She produced eightyfive stories, seventy-two of which were gathered into eleven collections. Her appreciation of the form and her understanding of the techniques necessary to produce a good story influenced her comments in The Writing of Fiction (1925). There, Wharton defined important aspects of the short story, especially its emphasis on situation rather than sustained character development. She, like Edgar Allan Poe, stressed the need for each detail to contribute to the meaning and effect of the tale. She also argued that the “germ of the whole” should be contained in the first page of the story.
The stories discussed in this chapter are those considered among Wharton's best and are frequently anthologized. In these stories, she presents situations that allow her to address a number of themes, including the entrapment of women by social conventions, the competition that defines relationships between women, and the impact a mother's past has upon her daughter. Wharton was also intrigued by the possibilities of exploring human psychology through use of Gothic elements and the supernatural, drawing upon them in her numerous ghost stories.