Edith Wharton, "The Other Two" - Discussion Questions
- "The Other Two" is obviously a story about a first-time husband's difficulty in adapting himself to the presence of his wife's former husbands. Equally important, it is also a story about that husband's changing relationship to, and appreciation of, his wife. Identify the stages of Waythorn's development vis-À-vis his wife? What is his original estimate of her? How does she change in his view during the events in the story, and why? Judging solely by evidence in the text, could you have guessed that this story---a story seen from a male perspective---has been written by a woman? Is it possible to suggest that this story, despite its ostensible focus on and sympathy for Waythorn, also addresses women's issues (at least implicitly)?
- Wharton is famous for the subtle touches in her narratives, for the way in which she reveals character through detail. She is also famous for her knowledge of old New York's monied aristocracy. Locate passages that give insight into the personalities and the socioeconomic background of the three male characters (Mr. Waythorn, Mr. Varick, and Mr. Haskett)? What is the significance of Alice's particular succession of husbands?
- Wharton once observed that the success of a short story depends on "the observance of two 'unities'---the old traditional one of time, and that other, more modern and complex, which requires that any rapidly enacted episode shall be seen through only one pair of eyes" ("Telling a Short Story" 1924-5). To what degree does "The Other Two" adhere to this double unity of time and vision? How would the story change if it were told from a different point of view (say, from the perspective of Mrs. Waythorn or Varick)?
- The title, "The Other Two," ostensibly refers to Alice's previous husbands Waythorn has to get used to. They seem to reappear like two bad apples---they simply won't go away. Yet, and I offer this as a speculative question, the story's title could also allude to the two ostensibly unimportant characters whose presence is defined by virtual absence: Mrs. Waythorn's daughter Lily and Waythorn's business partner Sellers---the other two. Assuming that this is the case, what might Wharton want to say about the presence of these ancillary figures that, unlike all of the major players, do not materialize as human subjects? What roles do they play in the story? (Speculate and theorize, as Picard would say to Data.)
- We probably won't have time to talk in depth about the "other" Wharton stories in our anthology. Nevertheless: what (dis)continuities in Wharton's work, themes, and ideas that stretch across her work? Why the preoccupation with divorce and marriage, money, class and social status? (You may also think of some of her novels that you may have read, such as The Age of Innocence or The House of Mirth.