"The Descent of Man and Other Stories" is the third collection of short fiction from Edith Wharton and was published on April 30th of 1904. Oddly enough there are two versions of the collection which were published the same year. The Macmillan edition included 10 stories while the Scribner's edition only had 9 stories as it did not include "The Letter". The stories were also in a different order in the two editions. For purposes of this review, I am listing the stories in the order they were in the Macmillan edition.
"The Descent of Man" - Published originally in "Scribner's Magazine" in March of 1904. Professor Linyard is a man of science who writes a book where he pretends to take the side of religion, expecting it to be understood as a satire of popular scientific books. When it is taken as serious, he goes along with it in order to provide better for his family, thus selling his principles time and time again.
"The Other Two" - Published originally in "Collier's Weekly" on February 13th of 1904. Mr. Waythorn has married Alice Haskett, who was married twice before and has a child, Lily, by her first marriage. When his business brings her second husband into their lives, and her first husband continues to be part of his daughter Lily's life, he initially becomes upset at the situation. However, he eventually realizes the position she is in and comes to accept the situation.
"Expiation" - Published originally in "Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan" in December of 1903. Mrs. Fetherel is a new author who manages to get her book published. She is also the niece of the Bishop of Ossining, whose own literary efforts have not sold well, thus preventing him from paying for needed fixing of the chantry window. When her book "Fast and Loose" is considered "harmless" by the critics, she gets her uncle to denounce it, thus improving the sales, and the chantry window is able to be constructed, thanks to a generous donation, by a woman who chooses to remain anonymous.
"The Lady's Maid's Bell" - Published originally in "Scribner's Magazine" in November of 1902. A ghost story, where Miss Hartley becomes the lady's maid to Mrs. Brympton, a woman who is a near-invalid. A previous maid, had died, and Miss Hartley sees and hear things which have driven those who have taken the job between out of the house within six months of accepting the position.
"The Mission of Jane" - Published originally in "Harper's Monthly" in December of 1902. Lethbury consents to adopting a child when his wife Alice insists. Their marriage was not going well, and Lethbury feels that Jane will keep his wife happy. Initially he is kept out of Jane's life, but as she grows up he is forced to participate more and be a part of both Jane and Alice's life.
"The Reckoning" - Published originally in "Harper's Magazine" in August of 1902. Clement Westall and his wife Julia have agreed on a different kind of marriage. Julia had been married before, and was allowed to walk away when she decided to. Thus, she wanted for both her and Clement to have the same ability. She is surprised when Clement exercises that option, forcing her to reflect back on what she had done to her first husband, John Arment.
"The Letter" - First published in "Harper's Magazine" in April of 1904. When Colonel Alington dies, the narrator reflects back on the one story he told that said the most about who he was, and the bravery of one woman and the sacrifice she was willing to make for Italy. This is my favourite story in this collection, one in which Edith Wharton very artfully mixes history, character, and story.
"The Dilettante" - Published originally in "Harper's Monthly" in December of 1903. After seeing Miss Ruth Gaynor off at the train station, Thursdale pays a call on Mrs. Vervain to discuss his previous visit which he and Miss Gaynor had paid to Mrs. Vervain. Mrs. Vervain tells him a story about how Miss Gaynor doesn't like the friendship between Thursdale and Mrs. Vervain.
"The Quicksand" - Published originally in "Harper's Magazine" in June of 1902. Mrs. Quentin is upset when her son Alan is rejected by Hope Fenno because of his owning a newspaper which is ruthless in its reporting. He asks her to go see Miss Fenno, but when she does so, she recognizes a bit of herself and remembers the sacrifice she had to make when she married as well as the kind of person her son is.
"A Venetian Night's Entertainment" - First published in "Scribner's Magazine" in December of 1903. An amusing story about Tony Bracknell and his first time in Venice as a sailor on a merchant ship.
This is a very nice collection of stories, with a good amount of diversity in the subject matter and styles. Edith Wharton once again shows that she can write short fiction very well, and that she can use all aspects to create an engaging story which keeps the reader's interest. Not quite as good as the collection "Crucial Instances" in my opinion, but worthwhile nonetheless.