Sunday, April 5, 2015

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 271: Edith Wharton, The Fulness of Life (#271)

Edith Wharton, "The Fulness of Life" (1893) from Edith Wharton: Collected Stories 1891–1910:

I doubted Edith Wharton for a long time in this story: a woman in an unhappy marriage dies, enters a spiritual realm, and meets the man who is her soulmate. That takes up about 2/3rds of the story, the part where I seriously doubted.

The writing here felt somewhat overheated and there was a lot of nothing going on in this section: a rather boring and confusing set-up of her death, a long description of how this woman felt seeing an old church, the "finishing the other's sentence" part of the soulmate meeting. And all seemingly in service of an off-putting message about finding the person who can fit you exactly.

(Don't take me wrong: finding someone who can finish your sentences is fantastic. But I'd hate for people to wait around to find someone who can finish all your sentences. Even worse, the person who knows and loves everything you know and love cannot teach you anything.)

But then Wharton pulls the rug out from under us: yes, this young, unhappy wife has found her soulmate, but... it wouldn't really be right to leave her husband alone and it wouldn't really be home without the little annoying things her well-meaning husband did. Which turns the story from a romantic fantasy about finding the one (after death) to something much weirder. Something worth a paper or a late-night talk with friends.

Like: Is she merely used to her vexing position? Is she somehow addicted or emotionally profiting from it? Or is it just a selfless act from a generous person to help another?

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