“Field of Honour”

Lost short story by Edith Wharton discovered in library archive

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Alice Kelly, a post-doctoral fellow at Oxford University, has discovered an unfinished and previously forgotten short story by Edith Wharton. While looking through the Wharton papers at the Beinecke Library at Yale University, Kelly found a nine-page work titled “Field of Honour.” It is a wartime story — one of several that Wharton wrote during her lifetime — and like so many other Wharton narratives, it sees the author turn a withering eye on the social upper crust. “Field of Honor” follows an American woman named Rose de la Varède, who finds herself unhappily married to a member of the European nobility. When Rose’s husband voluntarily goes off to war, she begins to thrive in her newfound freedom. “Where this story differs from Wharton’s other war fiction — and what makes it particularly interesting — is its depiction of a common wartime fear: that women were profiting socially, professionally, even sexually from the wartime economy that privileged their lives over male lives,” Kelly wrote in the Times Literary Supplement.

It is not entirely clear why Wharton never published the story. Kelly theorizes that the author may have had second thoughts about her scathing depictions of women during wartime, or perhaps simply abandoned “Field of Honor” to work on her great masterpiece: The Age of Innocence. Wharton’s wartime fiction has generally been viewed as inferior to her other work, but Kelly writes that “Field of Honor” nevertheless “offers us a fascinating insight into just one of the creative possibilities the First World War posed for one of America’s great novelists.”

Read the full story at the Times Literary Supplement.

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