The Touchstone by Edith Wharton

This is the only work by Edith Wharton that I’ve read. It was published in 1900 and was her first published novella. I probably should have started with one of her better known works, like The House of Mirth or The Age of InnocenceThe Touchstone was just not remarkable for me, not one I’ll remember.

Stephen Glennard is too poor to propose to the woman he wants to marry, the beautiful Alexa Trent. An advertisement in the Spectator, expressing interest in information about the famous novelist Mrs. Aubyn, catches his eye.  He actually has letters written to him by her.  Mrs. Aubyn had been in love with Glennard and the letters, although wonderfully written, were very personal and private, not meant for anyone else to see. Glennard, who had never loved her, makes the morally dubious choice of selling them for puplication, keeping his own name out of it.

Now, Glennard is financially secure, but at what price? Most of the novella deals with his guilt over his betrayal of Aubyn. It affects his feelings, his outlook on the world, even his relationships.

Yes, that was it; and his punishment henceforth would be the presence, the inescapable presence of the woman he had so persistently evaded. She would always be there now. It was as though he had married her instead of the other. It was what she had always wanted – to be with him – and she had gained her point at last… (pg. 36)

Maybe it’s the times we live in, when everybody seems to be anxious to make a buck off of celebrities lives, just look at the tabloids or late night TV, or spread their own personal lives across the internet, but I just couldn’t make myself care about Glennard. Making the choice to publish the letters was wrong, I’ll grant you, but he almost went crazy with guilt and came close to ruining his marriage. His wife wasn’t much of a character. She was present, but didn’t really add anything to the story until the end.

Only the fact that we are unaware how well our nearest know us enables us to live with them. (pg.87)

Maybe the shortness of the novella, only 92 pages in my copy, didn’t let me really connect with the characters. I will read more Wharton eventually, but will not be in any hurry.

I borrowed my copy from the library, but it is available at Project Gutenberg.

I reviewed this as part of  The Classics Circuit tour.

Challenges: 100+, A to Z

My copy was borrowed from the library and the above is my honest opinion. I am an Amazon associate.


  • stacybuckeye

    I’ve not read Wharton, but I did love the movie The Age of Innocence and have always intended to read the book. Too bad this one didn’t work for you. Sometimes I find the shorter ones hard to get into.

  • I have this one here but haven’t read it. Hopefully the fact that I already enjoy her work will help make this one less of a disappointment for me than it was for you.

  • I read this for the circuit too. I think the key, though, is that publishing the letters wasn’t necessarily wrong. I asked the question on my blog of “what would you do” and it was divided among the commenters. I think it’s the moral dilemma that could have had so much depth in this issue story. That said, I don’t think Wharton had the time to develop the issues to the right level, so it wasn’t a favorite with me either.

    Thanks for joining the circuit!

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