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Editha Summary

"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. Now that war is 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.

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.

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 packageto his care until he makes up his mind about fighting for his country. 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 Editha hands her letter (and package) to him.

For his part, George fears that his mother will take his change of heart poorly. After all, he is her only son. 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 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. In short, 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.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

An impressionable young woman, Editha bases her sentimental views about war on the yellow journalism that she reads in the current newspapers. She insists that her fiancé, George Gearson, a conscientious objector, fight in the Spanish-American War. She is ecstatic that war is being declared and cannot understand his dislike for war and his unwillingness to fight in a war. She believes that a man who wants to win her must do something to deserve her. Now is his chance, because the Spanish-American War has been declared. Editha joyfully repeats jingoistic newspaper phrases to George, but he remains ironic, thoughtful, and rational. When George leaves Editha’s presence after war has been declared, Editha’s mother says that she hopes that George will not enlist, but Editha hopes that he will. Editha puts her engagement ring and various mementos into a package with a letter to George telling him to keep them until he enlists. She decides to keep the package for a while in case George does the right thing. George returns to the Balcom household that evening with...

(The entire section is 990 words.)