The story follows the life of Tina, a young woman caught between the mother who adopted her - the beautiful, upstanding Delia - and her true mother, her plain, unmarried ‘aunt’ Charlotte, who gave Tina up to provide her with a socially acceptable life.
The three women live quietly together until Tina’s wedding day, when Delia’s and Charlotte’s hidden jealousies rush to the surface. Originally serialized in The Red Book magazine in 1922, The Old Maid is an examination of class and society as only Edith Wharton could undertake.
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Edith Wharton doesn't disappoint. This story is not long, but it is packed with insight, and beautifully written. Eleanor Bron does a fine job of interpreting the text.
Audiobooks have literally changed my life. I now actually ENJOY doing mindless chores because they give me plenty of listening time!
As I mentioned recently somewhere, the more I read Edith Wharton the more I love her, which is saying a lot since I was instantly smitten when I started reading my first book by her, The House of Mirth. I’ve read a couple of her novels and some of her shorter works since, but this is the first short story I've read of hers so far, and I can see why she was considered a master of the form. This story is included in the Old New York collection and I'm counting is as an individual work since I got it as an audiobook and am shamelessly making up the numbers to reach 150 books this year. Set in the 1850s, and I should specify in Edith Wharton's 50s, that is to say, the Old New York of the top of the upper crust of distinguished family names, splendour, old money and stifling social conventions, it tells the story of two cousins, one pretty and married, the other rather plain and unwed and mother to an illegitimate little girl. Charlotte, who is about to be married into the same respectable family as her cousin Mrs. Deliah Ralston, confides to her cousin and begs for her help, as she fears that her marriage will separate her from her secret love child Tina forever. Deliah, whose first loyalty goes to her family by marriage, ensures that the wedding plans are cancelled to prevent the scandal from attaching itself to the too respectable Ralstons, though she promises to take care of Tina herself. Years go by, Deliah is widowed, the cousins live together, and Tina is now a very attractive girl of marriageable age. Charlotte is known to the girl as 'Aunt Charlotte the old maid', and she affectionately considers Deliah to be her mother, and of course the secret of her real origins are unknown to her. The two older women have found this to be the best compromise, but there are unexpressed jealousies and resentments seething under the surface, which suddenly erupt when a young man starts making too frequent visits to the house. When Wharton wrote this story, it was already relegated to historical fiction, describing mores that had been long out of fashion, but the core of the tale is timeless, telling of love and passion and the mysteries of motherly love and the bonds that unify women. I couldn't help but shed a sentimental tear or two at the end, and perhaps it is a sentimental story, but they should all be so well told.
Tell us about yourself!
elegant clarity of language
the truthfulness of the characters and the way time is treated
not the old maid but the real hero of the story
I thoughly enjoyed this wonderful story read with such care by Eleanor Bron. Fans of Edith Wharton should enjoy this immensely.
As her wedding day approaches, Charlotte Lowell reveals a long-hidden secret to her married cousin, Delia Ralston: the foundling that she has been visiting as a charity project is actually her own daughter, born as the result of a brief affair with one of Delia's former beaux. (Don't worry--no spoilers; this is something you learn in the first few chapters, and I promise to give nothing else away.) The reactions, decisions, and solutions that follow will deeply affect the lives of the two women, as well as that of the little girl, Tina.
As so often, Wharton sets her story in upper crust New York society at the end of the nineteenth century, a world propelled by money, property, lineage, and rigid rules of etiquette. But the most interesting aspect of The Old Maid is the shifting relationship between the cousins, Delia and "Chatty" (Charlotte). Wharton delves deep into their psychology, exploring their fears, resentments, and motivations over the course of twenty years, all of them revolving around the often conflicting values of maternal love and family loyalties. This is, as another reviewer noted, a sentimental story--but not in a maudlin, melodramatic way. I consider it a fine addition to my Wharton shelf.
On the reader: The thing that bothered me most was that she made Charlotte sound like a very old lady--even when she was supposed to be in her 20s.
Retired to mountains of California. Sell on eBay as Prsilla. No TV. Volunteer in wildlife rehab. Knit, sew or embroider while listening.
I may have found Wharton boring in the past. In a way she's like watching paint dry. This is more about the listener's energy than maturity or sophistication. It's not a judgment. Someone caring for little kids or doing customer service or crazy-busy restaurant work probably could not settle to this. The way Wharton can deal with thoughts and actions from minute to minute is quite wonderful. And analysis of the psychology, wow!
We are told about their trendy décor and their beautiful clothes or "turned" dresses which have been taken apart, cleaned, steamed and brushed, and remade with new trim so as to be presentable in society. We hear about cheeks so naturally bright that one might think she painted, i.e., used makeup like a trashy woman! We hear about their meals and visits and shopping, the servants. And the terrible pressure to do the right thing, carry on family tradition, meet all the social pressures. The decisions they must make are as demanding as any that face us.
I loved the description of the square in the snow late at night and both women watching for the girl to come home from the ball. It is almost a "cut the baby in half" situation as in the Bible. The aunt is upstairs. The real mom is waiting by the door, knowing how very easy it is for a girl to bring her sweetheart into one of those great houses when everyone is asleep . . . because the real mom has been there done that. The aunt upstairs is chilly in her beautiful shawl. She hears the door. Time passes. Then the young man stands down in the square looking up at the house, then walks away. And the girl comes upstairs in her finery, still intact. . . .
This narrator has a pleasant voice and reads very well. Some mispronunciations caught my attention. On a second listen, I heard more. Indigent. Grimace. A couple more. And as another reviewer said, the voices are not perfectly differentiated. I noticed one of the women talking like a man at one point. Faintly bothersome. Still a wonderful listen. I can hardly wait to hear more Wharton.
The society of the late 19th century is as alien to young people of today as the craters of the moon. This lovely and penetrating story pulls back the curtain for a moment. I hope young listeners will have the patience for a writing style that is no longer practiced but is masterly. The narrator could not have been better.
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