Edith Wharton

(1862-1937)

"The Other Two"

-She was the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
-[…] the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from Yale University.
-[…] the first woman to be elevated to full membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

-She wrote more than forty novels in forty years. Her most celebrated works are Italian Villas and their Gardens (1904), The House of Myrth (1905), Ethan Frome (1911), and The Age of Innocence (1920).

 

"The Other Two" is a short story, first published in the 1904 collection "The Descent of a Man and Other Stories." This short story is written in a formal style. However, emotions are still present. The characters, and especially the protagonist, Waythorn, go through many different emotions during their relationship, and the reader is made aware of these emotions. Moreover, there are a lot of descriptions of the characters' personality and lives. At the beginning of the story, the reader does not know much about the characters' lives, but as the story develops, the reader is told what happened before and what is going on in their marriage now.

This is the story of a man, Waythorn, who gets married to a woman, Alice, who was married twice before. At the beginning of the story, Waythorn thinks that Alice is all his and that she will do whatever he wants her to. Then, Waythorn runs into Alice's two previous husbands a few times. Waythorn learns about Alice's past. Waythorn realizes that Alice is not his possession, and that she has not left her past behind her like a man would have. Waythorn and the two previous husbands each own one third of Alice. Waythorn asks himself if it is not better to own one third of a wife that can make a man happy than a whole one who cannot. He says that Alice, through her previous marriages, has acquired the art of marriage and values that now make his life easier.

Through the story, Alice tries to please her husband. Nevertheless, at the same time, she lies to him and acts as she pleases. When Waythorn discovers that she lied or seems disappointed with her behavior, Alice plays the role of the victim to prove to him that the way she behaved was the best, and to make sure that her husband will not be angry with her. However, Waythorn is conscious of that.

Marriage seems to be a game for Alice. It is made clear to the reader that Alice gets married for a status, and that she probably got divorced from her two previous husbands because they did not have enough money, and could not give her the prestige she wanted. Waythorn says of Alice that she sees her change of husbands like a change of weather and that she is "'as easy as an old shoe'- a shoe that too many feet had worn." At the very end, when she meets her three husbands at the same time, she does not seem to care. She serves tea as if nothing awkward was going on. Again, she is playing a role and adapting to this situation. Finally, Waythorn accepts to be in such a marriage.

Even though I do not agree with Alice's way of seeing marriage, I liked this story. I enjoyed reading a story in which a woman had control, and did not get married because she was compelled to, like most women at that time.

By Mélissa Baril

A few Web links…

http://www.geocities.com/short_stories_page/whartonothertwo.html
http://www.edithwharton.org/edithwharton.html
http://www.womenwriters.net/domesticgoddess/wharton1.htm
http://www.geocities.com/EnchantedForest/6741/
http://www.georgetown.edu/bassr/heath/syllabuild/iguide/wharton.html
http://www.gonzaga.edu/faculty/campbell/wharton/
http://www.npg.si.edu/exh/wharton/
Bibliography online:
http://www.netexpress.net/~bbrunkan/ap.authors/Edith.Wharton.Biblio.html

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