Category Archives: Queries

Queries Update: Reply to “Did Edith Wharton Read James Joyce?”

An unpublished Edith Wharton story, “The Children’s Hour,” recently appeared in The Times Literary Supplement (#6129:18 Sep 2020). The writing employs her humane and bitingly humorous skills equally, and it’s a triumph of a story. A sense of the story’s being incomplete struck me at first, but a rereading reveals it to be all there, and veering toward the postmodern. Another aspect is a vivid Joycean tone in dealing with the Catholic subject matter, and one could argue that the story is derivative of (or inspired by) The Dubliners. 

This led me to wonder about whether Wharton, who did read Joyce, had written any diary entries or essays about him, and indeed if she knew Joyce or ever corresponded with him. 

This entry was posted in Queries on October 21, 2020 by Donna Campbell

Wharton read James Joyce’s work and called Ulysses ‘schoolboy pornography’, famously comparing the prose to the raw ingredients of a pudding. In her 1923 letter to Berenson she wrote ‘I shall never believe that the raw material of sensation and thought can make a work of art without the cook’s intervening’. 

However RWB Lewis notes that she responded more positively towards his earlier work, and acknowledged that it had considerable merit (Lewis,1975: 520). 

The final section of ‘The Children’s Hour’* is quite arresting in its shift in style and subject matter,  and this type of poetic incongruity, which offers more questions than answers, is also present, I believe, in the endings of some of her other short stories, which have an almost modernist quality in their conclusions, or rather, lack of a single clear conclusion. I would recommend (re)reading Wharton’s ‘A Journey’(1899) and ‘After Holbein’ (1928) and looking at the final sentences. I certainly found their open-endedness intriguing, and their effect felt rather like the protomodernist ‘note of interrogation’ Adrian Hunter argues Woolf found in Chekov’s short stories. 

*Interestingly, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a popular poem entitled ‘The Children’s Hour’ which was first published in 1860. It refers to the time at the end of the day when children spent some time with their parents before going to bed. I wonder if Wharton had the work in mind when she wrote this story. 

Sarah Whitehead 

Queries: Did Edith Wharton Read James Joyce?

An unpublished Edith Wharton story, “The Children’s Hour,” recently appeared in The Times Literary Supplement (#6129:18 Sep 2020). The writing employs her humane and bitingly humorous skills equally, and it’s a triumph of a story. A sense of the story’s being incomplete struck me at first, but a rereading reveals it to be all there, and veering toward the postmodern. Another aspect is a vivid Joycean tone in dealing with the Catholic subject matter, and one could argue that the story is derivative of (or inspired by) The Dubliners.

This led me to wonder about whether Wharton, who did read Joyce, had written any diary entries or essays about him, and indeed if she knew Joyce or ever corresponded with him.

Queries: Did Undine Spragg know Shakespeare?

Hi, Wharton is wonderful! Having years ago read Ethan Frome, and more recently The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth, I now find myself enthralled with The Custom of the Country, bringing me to my question. Undine’s early thoughts on Peter Van Degen lead to her conclusion that all the offerings of life “seem stale and unprofitable outside the magic ring of the Society Column.” Is it reasonable to assume Wharton knew her Shakespeare well enough to intentionally and selectively leave the other two adjectives, “weary” and “flat”, out of Hamlet’s soliloquy, or is her “stale and unprofitable” mere coincidence? (As there is no evidence that even The Hound of the Baskervilles was actually Undine’s, I have a hard time imagining The Bard on her reading list.) Many thanks in advance for any thoughts you might have.

Sincerely, Dr. Bruce Barlam

Queries: Wharton and the Van Rensselaer family

From the comments on

Can anyone tell me specifically how Edith Wharton was related to the Van Rensselaer Family? She is almost always referred to as a “cousin,” but was it through her paternal or maternal line?

Here (from the comments) is a reply from Marjorie Cox:

Hello, In reply to your inquiry regarding the family connection between Edith Wharton and Walter Berry – I have found a marriage between Eugene Van Rensselaer and Sarah Boyd Pendleton. Eugene Pendleton was born in Albany, NY on 12 Oct 1840. He was the youngest child of General Stephen Van Rensselaer (1789-1868) and Harriet Elizabeth Bayard (1799-1875). Walter Berry was the son of Nathaniel Berry(1811-1865) and Catherine Van Rensselaer (1827-1909). Catherine and Eugene were siblings. Eugene was Walter’s Uncle. On 26 Apr 1865 Eugene married Sarah Boyd Pendleton in Baltimore, Maryland. Sarah was born 11 Dec 1846 in Martinsburgh, West Virginia and was the daughter of Dr. Elias Pendleton (1820-1902) and Mariah Lucinda Tritt (1821-1887). The Pendleton line first connected with the Jones’ on 27 Jan 1825 when the marriage of Dr. James Muirson Pendleton to Margaret Jones took place in Manhattan, New York. James was the son of Nathaniel Pendleton (1756-1821) and Susanna Bard (1760 -1816). James was born in Manhattan in 1799. Margaret was the daughter of Joshua Jones (EW’s G Grandfather) (1757-1821) and Margaret Renshaw (1765-1848) and was born in Manhattan on 21 Jan 1808.
The common ancestor for James and Sarah is Henry Pendleton (1683-1721). He is the G Grandfather of James and the GGG Grandfather of Sarah. The relationship between these “cousins” if quite distant. Sarah is a 2C2R of James Muirson Pendleton.
In A Backward Glance Edith Wharton wrote, “My own ancestry, as far as I know, was purely middle-class; though my family belonged to the same group as any blood-relationship with it. The Schermerhorns, Jones, Pendletons, on my father’s side…”

Wharton Queries: The Old Maid as a film?

I’m sitting in quarantine as we all go through this global pandemic together, it is surreal tines, but has afforded me the time to read. I had the great pleasure of reading Edith Wharton’s novella “The Old Maid” from her ‘Old New York’. I was completely drawn into the dynamic between the cousins and the struggles of maternal sacrifice. I am interested in writing a film adaptation of the story, and since it entered the public domain this year, it looks like that is something I can proceed with, can you confirm this for me and/or point me in the right direction for further information?
Thank you,
Christen Carter



Although the novella is in the public domain as of this year, the 1939 Warner Brothers film adaptation starring Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins isn’t.  Even though you’d be writing your own film adaptation, I’m guessing that there are probably rights issues involving Warner Brothers that would need to be investigated first. The Watkins/Loomis Agency (see the FAQ page) might be able to help.

–Donna Campbell

Wharton Queries Answer about CBS Radio Mystery Theater

Mr. Slavney,

After listening to “The Beast” in its entirety, your hunch that Payton and Grams are mistaken would seem to be by substantiated by the similarities between Agate’s adaptation and Wharton’s 1908 story “The Choice” (first published in _The Century Magazine_ here: and republished in her 1916 collection _Xingu and Other Stories_ (available online here: While Act I of the adaptation (including the accident, the dead man in the road, the dead man’s son seeking revenge, and the police investigation) is almost entirely Agate’s invention, the first part of Act II and much of Act III closely follow the plot of Wharton’s “The Choice” and directly quote her dialogue on numerous occasions.

There is a faint possibility—since the central character in “The Beast” claims, at one point, that he hit a dog (not a man) in the road and Wharton’s “The Blond Beast” includes an important episode involving an injured dog in the road—that Agee’s first act may have been partially inspired by Wharton’s other story. The similarities between the two titles could, however, be entirely coincidental, since it’s made clear in the course of “The Beast” that its title is (at least in part) an allusion to Hamlet’s soliloquy (quoted here from the 1604 Second Quarto, Folger Shelfmark: STC 22276) in which he exclaims, “What is a man / If his chiefe good and market of his time / Be but to sleepe and feede, a beast, no more:” (

Best of luck with your book,
Dan Hefko

Wharton Queries: EW story on CBS Radio Mystery Theater

I’m hoping that you or someone in your organization would be able to help me identify a particular Edith Wharton story.I am writing a book about the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, a radio drama anthology that aired from 1974 through 1982. In 1979, the series broadcast an episode that they explicitly represent as being “adapted from a story by Edith Wharton.” Unfortunately, they do not specify which story.
The plot of the radio drama concerns a wealthy woman who recently married a selfish man. He has already lost much of her money and aims to lose more. She has fallen in love with his friend and attorney. The husband strikes and kills a man in a hit and run. The police investigate and suspect him. The victim’s son wants to find the killer. The husband becomes more selfish and intolerable. His wife and the attorney discuss killing him. He kills the attorney, Finally the son of the man killed in the hit and run murders the husband in revenge.
Do you have any thoughts about which, if any, Edith Wharton story this adaptation resembles, even if only vaguely? I’d be grateful for any help that you or members of you group might be able to provide. Please feel free to share my note with others who might have some ideas.
Thank you,
John Slavney
Update 2/2/19 from John Slavney


Thanks much for your help in solving this mystery. It’s my theory that Payton and Grams are mistaken and the only similarity is in the title. I am scouring Wharton’s short stories presently and think it’s just a matter of time before the experts or I come up with a better match!

The theory that it’s a loose adaptation based on generalized Nietzchean themes seems a bit too generous, IMHO.

I’ll post any findings or theories in the forum.

Thanks again for your interest and assistance! –John Slavney

Queries & Replies:

Hi folks! My name is Lily Curtis, and I am a high school teacher at Shepherd Hill Regional High School in Dudley, Massachusetts. I teach two different sophomore classes who are both currently reading Ethan Frome. My plan for an end of unit assessment is a piece of narrative writing where students either extend the story or change the ending as the time period switches back to that of the present with the narrator. I want them to include narrative elements and dialogue appropriate to characterization. I would love to involve the society in some way to make the assignment more “real” for my students and get them writing for an authentic audience. If anyone would be available to come into the school as a guest member to listen to student adaptations when they are completed, it would be an amazing help! If anyone has additional ideas of how they would like to be involved, or come in and help during a writer’s workshop leading up the due date, that would be awesome! Feel free to email me separately!

Name: Lily Curtis



Queries: Introduction of Ellen in TheAge of Innocence

My name is Robin Oliveira. I live in Seattle. I am the author of three books, My Name is Mary Sutter, I Always Loved You, and Winter Sisters, all historical fiction. I hold an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. I’m researching my next book  and came across your name while perusing the Edith Wharton Society Web site. The book will not be non-fiction, but fiction.
I have a question and I’m wondering whether or not you can either direct me to someone who is an expert on The Age of Innocence, or whether or not you have considered the following question. I realize I’m imposing, and if you are too busy to address my question, thank you for your time, and I understand.
I’ve been studying The Age of Innocence in preparation for my new book. I’m very interested in the role of rumor in the narrative. There are many ways in which rumor works in the novel, but I’ve run into an interesting, almost niggling example. In my close reading of the text, I’ve noticed that Wharton gives three separate descriptions of Countess Olenska’s arrival in NY.
One,  she appears suddenly and without warning: chapter II: Archer knew that she had suddenly arrived from Europe a day or two previously “
Two,  her uncle Mingott went to NY to retrieve her: chapter II: “I believe Lovell Mingott went out to get her….” This is Lefferts.
(Both can’t be true, since Archer is so close by now to the Mingott family that he would have known whether or not Mingott went out to get her. Mingott’s absence and errand would have been known to NYC society.)
And third, all NY knew she was coming: I can’t at this moment, pinpoint it in the text, but there is a reference that says it was known to everyone that she was coming.
MY question is whether or not this inconsistency in the text is something Wharton scholars have discussed to your knowledge? If so, have they concluded that Wharton was deliberate in placing three different explanations of Ellen’s arrival as a subtle machination of rumor in the novel? Or, perhaps it is a way to increase the mystery around the Olenska character? Both seem possible to me. Less possible is that Wharton was careless. The novel is so meticulously crafted that as an author, I doubt she was, but I’m wondering.
Have you an understanding/opinion?
Thank you very much for your time,
Robin Oliveira

Wharton Queries: What makes Wharton a significant short story writer?

I am currently an undergraduate at the University of Suffolk in the UK and in my second year of a BA Hons in English. Our current assignment is an overview and appraisal of a significant short story writer and I have chosen to write about Edith Wharton.

Would you therefore be able to suggest why Edith Wharton is so significant in the field of Short Story writers and why the popularity of her short stories still endures. Also, if you think her short stories were instrumental in bringing about social awareness and change for women?

Thank you very much in advance.

Caroline Roberts