Classics Circuit: Edith Wharton


It is my pleasure to welcom Edith Wharton to my blog by way of the Classics Circuit. January has been designated as the month to read Ms.Wharton’s works and tell others about them. I chose to read one of her non-fiction pieces, The Writing of Fiction. As a reader, I’m interested in knowing how various writers look at their art. My objective is a better appreciation for and an understanding of the stories I spend so much time with.

EdithWharton The Writing of Fiction is a series of essays about the author’s craft. She begins with a general discussion on the writing of fiction and then moves to several essays on short stories, more essays on constructing a novel, a good discussion on character and situation and concludes with a section on Marcel Proust.

I’m not going to cover all of the points in these essays. Rather I’d like to share some of the highlights I found interesting, plus share some quotes from the book so you will have a little taste for her writing.

I found her discussion of the difference between the short story and novels to be most interesting. According to Ms. Wharton, a novel, because of its length, allows for the development of characters and can better show the passing of time. The writer of the short story should emphasize what she calls, the situation or predicament.

The chief technical difference between the short story and the novel may therefore be summed up by saying that situation is the main concern of the short story, character of the novel; and it follows that the effect produced by the short story depends almost entirely on its form, or presentation.

Short stories must be vivid and grab the reader from the very beginning. Good novels do the same but they have the luxury of length to develop the various aspects of the story to a great depth.

. . . the typical novel usually deals with the gradual unfolding of a succession of events divided by intervals of time, and in which many people, in addition to the principal characters, play more or less subordinate parts. No need now to take in sail and clear the decks; the novelist must carry as much canvas and as many passengers as his subject requires and his seamanship permits.

I could keep going in my comments and quotes of this slim little volume. It served my original objective of learning how this particular writer viewed her craft. It took me quite a few pages before I got into the rhythm and style of her writing. It was worth hanging in there until I understood her writing. One thing Ms. Wharton did was to filled me with a desire to read more short stories.

I hope you’ll fix other stops on the Edith Wharton tour. You can find the schedule here.

The Writing of Fiction

by Edith Wharton

Simon & Schuster, 1925

Rating: A

Check your public library for a copy of this book. Copies are also available at Amazon

[Source: I purchased this book. Disclaimer: I am an Amazon Associate.]

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12 Responses to Classics Circuit: Edith Wharton

  1. Rebecca Reid says:

    I love the analogies she provides in the quote above: “no need to clear the deck and take in sail…” How fun to see how a successful writer views her own craft!

    I’m glad you enjoyed this. Thanks for joining the Circuit.

  2. I hadn’t heard of this book! I love both her novels and her short stories, so I really like how she described the differences. The more I read about Wharton, the more I want to read all about her. Thanks for joining the circuit!

  3. Stacy says:

    I enjoy books that authors write about writing. I wasn’t aware of this one. I’ll have to look for it. Thanks, Margot!

  4. Laura says:

    Oops, I obviously forgot to close my HTML tag up there. The link will take you to a site about Wharton’s estate, The Mount.

  5. Interesting – it makes it almost sound as if a short story is more difficult to write than a novel!

  6. JoAnn says:

    Short stories are entirely different than novels, and it’s just fascinating to hear how Wharton approached them. I must read this book… thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  7. FleurFisher says:

    I haven’t heard of this book before, but now I think I need a copy. It’s interesting that she distinguishes between novels and short stories without reference to novellas. I have been a little disappointed in Edith Wharton’s novellas, after loving both her novels and her short stories. maybe the term is more recent. Mayabe she goes on to cast mnore light on those…

  8. Belle says:

    I’m adding this to my wish list – it sounds like a wonderful read. I always love reading authors writing about their craft. I used to be an avid short story reader, too – now I’m trying to remember why I stopped and stuck to novels instead!

  9. Sara says:

    Thanks for reminding me about this wonderful writer. I have several of her book on my to be re-read list and I will probably have a go this month.

    So much to read….only one pair of eyes……sigh.

  10. Staci says:

    I want to read more short stories too!! Sounds like a great non-fiction book!!

  11. Bumbles says:

    I think Rhapsody’s thought is right – it is much harder – for me at least – to write a short story instead of a novel. I always marvel at the greats like O’Henry who could create such memorable characters in brevity that stuck with me forever.

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