Alice Kelly in the Times Literary Supplement: “An Unknown First World War Story by Edith Wharton”

Writing from Paris to her American editor Charles Scribner in New York in late June 1915, Edith Wharton confessed:

“Some months ago I told you that you could count on the completion of my novel by the spring of 1916; but I thought then that the war would be over by August. Now we are looking forward to a winter campaign and the whole situation is so overwhelming and unescapable that I feel less and less able to turn my mind from it. May I suggest, during the next six months, giving you instead four or five short stories, not precisely war stories, but on subjects suggested by the war? So many extraordinary and dramatic situations are springing out of the huge conflict that the temptation to use a few of them is irresistible. I have three in mind already and shall get to work on them as soon as I can finish my articles.”

The celebrated American author had been based in Paris since 1907, and in the first eleven months of the war had established several war charities, which would later gain her numerous military honours. The unfinished novel would eventually become Hudson River Bracketed (1929), and the articles, Wharton’s war reportage from the front line, were appearing in Scribner’s Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post and would be published in November 1915 as Fighting France. After being what she termed “pen-tied” during the first few months of the war, Wharton had clearly begun to see its literary potential. The previous month she had submitted her war story “Coming Home” to Scribner’s for publication at Christmas 1915, and would go on to produce a fund-raising anthology, The Book of the Homeless (1916), the novels The Marne (1918) and A Son at the Front (1923), and a number of poems, newspaper articles and talks. However, it was only as the war was drawing to a close that she would write some of her proposed “not precisely war stories”, namely “The Refugees” (published in January 1919 in the Saturday Evening Post) and “Writing a War Story” (published in the Woman’s Home Companion in September 1919).