Edith Wharton: The Reckoning

Interact with the Anglo-Indian Project

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If marriage was the slow life-long acquittal of a debt contracted in ignorance, then marriage was a crime against human nature.

Wharton (1902)

I recently purchased the Penguin Little Black Classics collection. Among the gems found within is a book titled ‘The Reckoning’ by Edith Wharton.p1000180 This short story first appeared in Harper’s Monthly Magazine in 1902 and was subsequently published in Edith Wharton’s collection of short fiction, The Descent of Man and Other Stories in 1904. The story and the book have nothing to do with Anglo-Indians, but there is an eery connection here.

If you have been following the Anglo-Indian Project (AIP), you will recognise the project’s namesake, one Edith Aileen Wharton (1903-1963). Of course, not the Edith Wharton who wrote The Reckoning.

The author:

Edith Newbold Jones Wharton.jpg

Edith Wharton (born Edith Newbold Jones; January 24, 1862 – August 11, 1937) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, short story writer, and designer. She was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1927, 1928 and 1930.

Source: Wikipedia


The AIP:

unnamedEdith Aileen Wharton (August 31, 1903 – September, 26 1963) was plump, dark haired and had the prettiest hands I [Elaine – Edith’s daughter] have ever seen. She was ever so gentle and ladylike and never uttered a harsh word or swore. She had a heart of gold and nobody ever asked for alms in vain or begged for food and didn’t get it. Mums helped everybody but nobody helped her in her time.

Source: Elaine Cynthia Hassett

The Reckoning is one of the many stories Wharton wrote which featured the ‘new ethics’ emerging from the relaxation of the divorce laws in the United States. Split into three elegantly written sections, the story develops: part one introduces the main characters (the Westall’s) and their pact of individual liberty within marriage – Mrs Julia Westall begins to have doubts, when her husband (Clement) shows interest in a younger woman. Part two provides context to the agreement (of individual liberty within marriage) Julia and Clement had made, with a flashback to Julia’s first marriage to John Armant, in which she felt trapped in a stale relationship. The doubts cast in Julia’s mind in part one, and the reasons she left her first husband, are now threatening her through the agreement she has made with Clement. Part three reveals the lessons Julia has learned (I’ll stop here so not to spoil it). But what has this got to do with Edith Aileen Wharton?

Names – which initially caught my attention – aside, in The Reckoning, Wharton (author) deals with issues of personal liberty within marriage, the grounds for divorce, and the possible consequences of sexual liberty. As we have seen in the AIP, Edith Aileen Wharton apparently lived life to the full – blighted by tragedy in the first eleven years of her life, losing her mother, step-mother and father, she married David Vincent Hassett, her half-cousin (and also the brother of her step-mother). After David’s death, Edith remarried (allegedly to a rogue, Clifford Melville Carr Smith). Edith’s life has provided some of the most intriguing and complex discoveries of the AIP so far. And possibly married for a third time.

Reading The Reckoning raised some interesting questions and ideas which relate to Edith Aileen Wharton. Although the context is the USA, the themes resonate somewhat with the life of Edith.

As a side point, 24th January 2017 marked the 155th anniversary of the birth of Edith Wharton (author). Some interesting insights available here into Edith’s dog obsession.

AIP_with web address2

Interact with the Anglo-Indian Project

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