Previously Unknown Edith Wharton Short Story Found--Where Else?--in a Library

Illustration for article titled Previously Unknown Edith Wharton Short Story Found--Where Else?--in a Library

Someone has found a previously unknown, never-published Edith Wharton short story about French society on the home front and female volunteer workers during World War I, knocking around Yale’s rare books and manuscripts library. Hey, while you’re back there, check for the Holy Grail and a recipe for turning lead into gold, would you?


The story is titled “The Field of Honor,” and it’s not entirely clear why it was never published. The Atlantic reports on the find, made by Dr. Alice Kelly, an Oxford postdoc working on a book about Wharton.

The cobbling together of papers was a common Whartonian writing method in the days before Command-X and Command-Z; the scrawled edits, rendered in pencil and ink, were also distinctly familiar. Further suggesting that the story in question was Wharton’s was the fact that on the back of the fragmented pages is written a draft of another short story already known to be by the author, “The Refugees,” which Wharton wrote around mid to late 1918 and published in January 1919.

Kelly—who notes to Oxford’s Arts Blog that Wharton was deeply involved in war relief efforts and produced a good deal of writing about the war, including a fair bit of journalism—therefore dates the piece to the end of the war, which would mean she was working on it around the same time as The Age of Innocence. At the Times Literary Supplement Kelly writes that what distinguishes this particular piece “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.”

Read it for yourself at the TLS.

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I worked at Yale’s Manuscripts and Archives for a year and change in the mid-90s. We were forever finding fabulous texts and objects, like Camille Paglia’s typewritten PhD thesis, or part of the prow of some alumnus’s whaling ship. My personal favorite was the wooden card cabinet filled with a sort of bibliography of esoterica — cards on grimoires, short histories of witches and the properties of certain demons, notes on headhunters, lists of haunted houses in Europe — catalogued in a way no one really understood. There was a method, with each card bearing a Greek letter, but it wasn’t alphabetical. Oh, and there were also... artifacts in there. Teeth and hair affixed with yellowing tape to cards. It was terrifying and bonkers. One of the best jobs of my life.