Inventing the Real
Introduction by Mary Ann Caws
Ironies upon ironies unfold as two kindred writers (in life as well as art) and masters of the short story dance along the border between reality and appearance. Wharton explores the secret love of a woman for her illegitimate daughter, whom her married sister has adopted in an effort to save the mother’s reputation and to allow her daughter to have a peaceful childhood. James probes a portrait painter’s art as he deals with a couple of threadbare aristocrats, who are seeking employment as his models. They are the “real thing” he is seeking to portray—denizens of drawing room society—but his work is thwarted when he discovers that plucky lower-class models are, in fact, far better able to take on the personae of a rarified class.
"This remarkable volume is . . . a small treasure."
"The inimitable Edith Wharton and her friend, the unerring Henry James—their ironies pristine as ever—[produce]: brilliant satires pitting convention and patent-leather against the moral complexity of the human heart."
"There is something deeply adventurous about these works. . . . Both Wharton and James hold our attention, unceasingly, by opposing forces, male and female, and more subtly, by the counterfoils."
"This elegant and insightful series of little books could easily function as mandatory reading in a college course on women's studies or comparative literature . . . 'The Old Maid' and 'The Real Thing' . . . are every bit as skillful and nuanced as the best of their works, but until now they have bafflingly resided off the beaten path. Hats off to The Feminist Press for reissuing these often overlooked masterpieces."