Study Guide

The Valley of Decision

by Edith Wharton

The Valley of Decision Characters

The Characters (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Odo Valsecca is a man divided. His sensitivity, his love of beauty, proves to be both his most admirable trait and his greatest weakness. He is a sensual idealist who romanticizes his love for liberty in Fulvia. This causes him to underestimate the passionate intensity of both the reactionaries and the revolutionaries. Although he has the reader’s sympathy, he does not earn his or her complete approval. He is well-intentioned—and consequently virtually unique in a world in which the lure of power and appearance are almost irresistible. Yet his early indulgence in the pleasures at court proves to be his Achilles’ heel. He is not so much torn between two worlds as he is easily diverted from his interest in liberty by luxury. Even after meeting Fulvia, Odo finds himself, amid the splendor of Venice, wondering “Why should today always be jilted for tomorrow, sensation sacrificed to thought?”

Although he travels widely, experiences life both in a hovel and at court, and comes in close contact with political opportunists and idealists, Odo’s character undergoes little development. In making Odo’s life the focus for the conflicts of a multitude of political ambitions and ideals in eighteenth century Italy, Wharton makes him too impressionable to be fully convincing. He becomes little more than an emblem for a confused and turbulent age. His high aims and his ultimate failure lack any tragic dimensions.

Odo begins his reign believing “that this new gospel of service was the base on which all sovereignty must henceforth repose.” Yet as his reforms are misinterpreted or mistrusted and as he loses the support of the peasants as well as the nobles, the liberals as well as the clergy, Odo begins to see himself as “a prisoner of his own folly.” He ends by believing that he is...

(The entire section is 740 words.)

The Valley of Decision Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)

Odo Valsecca

Odo Valsecca (oh-doh vahl-SEH-kah), a cousin to the duke of Pianura. Odo lives in neglect and poverty until, at the age of nine, his noble father dies and Odo is introduced to life at the duke’s court. The contemplative Odo, influenced by the pageantry of the church, desires to become a bishop. When the duke’s young son becomes ill, however, and the heir-presumptive (the marquess of Cerveno) dies, Odo becomes the heir-presumptive to the duke’s throne. During his education as a nobleman, he learns philosophy, including the teachings of Voltaire, which are banned by the church. Count Lelio Trescorre befriends Odo, but the duchess of Pianura warns Odo that the count is really Odo’s enemy and wants to discredit him.

Count Lelio Trescorre

Count Lelio Trescorre (lay-LEE-oh tray-SKOH-reh), the duke’s arrogant comptroller of finance and Master of the Horse. He has made himself indispensable to the court, and his engaging personality, handsome youthfulness, and sharp intellect allow him access to every area of political intrigue. The duchess is beholden to him for paying off her debts, an act that also made him popular with the tradesmen she had ruined. He immediately wins Odo’s trust by engaging him in philosophical discussions. By letting Odo openly express his views, he exposes Odo to danger from the church. If Odo is discredited, Trescorre hopes to be appointed regent of...

(The entire section is 626 words.)