Madame de Treymes
The Old Maid (1924)
One of Edith Wharton's first sustained efforts in fiction was the novella Fast and Loose, written in 1876, but not published until 1977. Wharton returned to this form throughout her writing career. Sometimes referred as a novelette, the novella is a prose narrative longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel. It usually contains greater development of character and motive than does the short story, but fewer characters and more limited action than the novel. In writing novellas, Wharton often employed a longer time span than she felt the short story could support, using the effects of the passage of time to heighten the psychological tensions between her characters. In addition to Madame de Treymes (1907) and The Old Maid (1924), other examples of Wharton's use of this form include The Touchstone (1900), Sanctuary (1903), and Bunner Sisters (1916).
Seventeen years separate the composition of Madame de Treymes (1907) and The Old Maid (1924). Although they differ in setting and plot, the underlying issues that generate dramatic tension in Madame de Treymes resonate in The Old Maid. In both novellas, Wharton explores the exercise of family power that controls the future of those subject to it. She also reveals the gender expectations that govern women's places and limit their options. In both novellas, maternal