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The Touchstone

Edith Wharton

Book Overview: 

Stephen Glennard's career is falling apart and he desperately needs money so that he may marry his beautiful fiancee. He happens upon an advertisement in a London magazine promising the prospect of financial gain. Glennard was once pursued by Margaret Aubyn, a famous and recently deceased author, and he still has her passionate love letters to him. Glennard removes his name from the letters and sells them, making him a fortune and building a marriage based on the betrayal of another. (Summary by Wikipedia)

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .," she began, in the tone that seemed always rather to record a fact than to offer a reflection on it.

He answered with a discouraged gesture. "What was the use? We couldn't have talked."

"Not as well as here," she assented; adding, after a meditative pause, "As you didn't come I talked to Aunt Virginia instead."

"Ah!" he returned, the fact being hardly striking enough to detach him from the contemplation of her hands, which had fallen, as was their wont, into an attitude full of plastic possibilities. One felt them to be hands that, moving only to some purpose, were capable of intervals of serene inaction.

"We had a long talk," Miss Trent went on; and she waited again before adding, with the increased absence of stress that marked her graver communications, "Aunt Virginia wants me to go abroad with her."

Glennard looked up with a start. "Abroad? When?"

"Now—next month. To be gone two years."

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Community Reviews

I just finished reading The Touchstone again, in conjunction with reading Henry James's The Aspern Papers. I believe that The Touchstone may have been Wharton's first published work of fiction too.

The novella tells the story of Stephen Glennard a youngish gentleman of New York's upper-crust soci...more

Edith Wharton is probably one of best story tellers I have come across. Gilennard sells letters of a deceased author who once loved him to finance his way to marriage. The accrued guilt is a theme similar to that of Nostromo - but gets a much better treatment from author.

"The sensation was par...more

In 1900 New York, a wannabe so-called gentleman named Glennard secretly sells off a collection of letters he received from a now dead, now famous authoress. The public reaction is to despise the man who would sell these letters but also of fascination of their content. Glennard is initially happy...more

How can he betrayed his ex gf's (though dead) personal privacy and trust by publishing her love letters to him just to get rich and marry someone else? Hmm...more

Only her second published work, The Touchstone shows all the promise that Edith Wharton would later realize in her longer novels and short-stories. The central character, Stephen Glennard, sells for publication the private letters of a former, deceased lover, who had become a famous writer, so th...more

I vacillated between three or four stars for this novella and opted for three simply because the story didnt stay with me after I had finished the book, thought the writing did. It was Edith Whartons first published novella, her second published book (her first being a short story collection).


Maybe Wharton's charm and acerbity wear with the more of her books that you read or maybe this one just is not her best.

Lovely writing, some interesting insights but ultimately difficult to be invested in. The idea is compelling: selling out a not-love to secure your true love--who eventually fa...more

What is it with Edith Wharton and "unromantic" love? In The Age of Innocence we see love thwarted and denied; in Ethan Fromme, misguided and perverted; in Summer, disgraced and hardened. In The Touchstone, the theme of love continues to be unidealistic. It is betrayed and exposed, even sold.


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