I didn’t realize it until I started reading, but I had already read The Touchstone a few years ago. What quickly became clear is that I was liking it much better this time round. I am a pretty solid fan of Edith Wharton overall so I am never too disappointed with her. And there is really nothing to disappoint here, except perhaps the last line as Frances notes.
Glennard, in need of money decides with some hesitation, to sell the personal letters sent to him by a now dead famous author who was in love with him. One of the reasons he sells is to be able to have enough money to marry his girlfriend. Once the letters are publish the become scandalously popular which makes it even harder for Glennard to assuage his guilt over having sold them. He becomes particularly upset that his wife–who only could become his wife thanks to the money he got from selling the letters–is reading the volumes of letters and he is worried what she will think of him if she finds out. Eventually he wants his wife to find out so that he can be somehow redeemed or at least relieved by her scorn for his actions.
I think Glennard’s shame over the publication of the letters has less to do with the fact that he profited from selling them and much more to do with how the published letters put a mirror up the coldness of his soul. And frankly the way he was willing to let a chasm of disinterest and even hate grow between himself and his wife further suggest tha Glennard can be one cold fish.
The Verdict: Vintage Wharton is always worth reading.