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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 622

"Editha" is a short story by William Dean Howells.

The story begins with Editha's fiance, George Gearson, announcing that war is imminent. For Editha, George's exuberance is a change from his usual tentative manner. Once inclined to be a minister, George never demonstrates the kind of earnestness Editha favors in a man.

Editha believes that a man should prove himself worthy of her. She would have preferred that George do something grand to secure her love from the beginning rather than after they had become engaged. Now that war is seemingly upon them, Editha believes that Providence has intervened on her behalf. She likens the coming war to a sacred undertaking. Editha also believes that George's ability to show courage proves his worthiness of her, and makes him the kind of man she would prefer to marry.

During their interaction, however, George expresses some clear reservations. He questions the rush to moralize war and begs to know what Editha would have him believe. Privately, Editha is frustrated. She believes that George should not need her prompting to act purposefully. She does not like his timidity that champions her thinking above his own. In other words, she wants him to have an opinion and stick to it.

When George does not stay for dinner, Editha's mother is surprised. For her part, Editha will only say that war has been declared. Meanwhile, Editha's mother hopes that George will not go to war. Editha disagrees with the sentiment. She then decides to send her engagement ring and all of George's gifts and letters back to him.

In her letter, Editha tells George that a husband must share her convictions about war to be worthy of her. She claims that she will never marry anyone else; she will entrust the package to his care until he makes up his mind about fighting for his country. Editha decides that her desire to express her feelings has been met by writing the letter; she decides not to send it and allows George a proper amount of time to get back to her about it.

Later, George comes to Editha and reveals that he was the first in their community to sign up to fight. He calls himself a "convert" to war, and even appears to be inibriated. This is unusual for George, and he possesses an excitability that neither Editha nor her parents can quite comprehend. Editha hands her letter (and package) to him to open at a later date.

For his part, George fears that his mother will take his change of heart poorly. After all, he is her only son. George’s father fought in the Civil War and lost his arm. As a result, George’s parents were not keen on the concept of war and instilled a similar belief in George. Editha and George soon part ways at the train station, where George leaves with his regiment.

In due time, Editha receives news that George has been killed in battle. She descends into a deep depression and mourns for a time. Eventually, Editha visits Mrs. Gearson, who castigates her for sending her son off to war. Mrs. Gearson admonishes Editha for not counting the true cost of the war. She maintains that girls and women never expect their men to die, yet are fine with their loved ones killing people they will never encounter. In short, she makes it clear that the true consequences of war are lost on most people.

The story ends with an artist consoling Editha. The painter tells Editha that she cannot understand people who discount the positive consequences of war. Her support buoys Editha, who rises from her "shame and self-pity" to embrace the ideal of war once again.

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