Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Wharton wrote with such precision that every phrase seems fitting—Varick’s “handsome overblown face,” Alice’s “rosy-pale dress,” Haskett’s “made-up tie” and “air of mild obstinacy.” Reading “The Other Two” is like entering a crowded room where every artifact seems perfectly in place and appropriate to the setting. The dialogue is terse but pregnant with implications, as when Waythorn says to Alice, referring to Haskett’s visit, “You didn’t see him, of course?” Wharton is a master of the nuance, the “scarcely perceptible” glances, the various shades of red to measure embarrassment. Writing in the classic style of the nineteenth century drawing room, she blends realism with elements of satire and parody.

Although “The Other Two” is quite short, the main characters are fully rounded. Alice is so composed that, as much as she loves her daughter, when she “did all she could for Lily, [she] would not be ashamed to come down and enjoy a good dinner.” The reader senses the discomfort of the aristocratic Waythorn on the crowded train as he feels “crushed between two layers of pendulous humanity.” On the other hand, there is a comic flavor to the way he chooses his after-dinner cigar.

In The Writing of Fiction (1925), Wharton declared that in short stories, in contrast to novels, situation is more important than character development, and an illuminating incident or moment of truth should...

(The entire section is 448 words.)