The Touchstone: A Story
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The Touchstone: A Story

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  396 ratings  ·  45 reviews
This is a reproduction of a book published before 1923. This book may have occasional imperfections such as missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. that were either part of the original artifact, or were introduced by the scanning process. We believe this work is culturally important, and despite the imperfections, have elected to bring it back into pri...more
Paperback, 174 pages
Published January 10th 2010 by Nabu Press (first published 1900)
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Free download available at Project Gutenberg.

I didn't know but this is Wharton's first novella and her second book which was published in 1900. It was also published under the title "A Gift From The Grave".

Stephen Glennard betrays a former love - Mrs. Aubyn, selling her letters to him so that he may raise the money to marry his beautiful fiancee.

Excellent plot, a quite enjoyable reading. Another little gem of the literature.
Christopher H.
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 society who is trying to find the financial wherewithal to marry his fiance, Miss Alexa Trent. Sitting in his club one evening he encounters an advertisement from a Professor Joslin who is looking for any pa...more
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 falls a little flat. But if you've read Wharton, from the get-go you know it's not going to pan out all too well. And then it doesn't. And I couldn't quite get myself to care about any of the characters. A...more
Jennifer D. Munro
Fantastic plot, long chewy sentences, surprisingly happy ending, published in 1900 and stands the test of time. "Genius is of small use to a woman who does not know how to do her hair."
The Touchstone is an early Edith Wharton story about a man of no principles. He was loved, but could not return that love. He held letters from a woman who loved him and, after her death, sold them, creating a rift in his own marriage.
While critics write Wharton was depicting the universal roles of men and women in her time, I found the book loaded with phrases and instances that expressed subtle rage. No one I read has said this, but I think the book was an outlet for Wharton to express her a...more
Raised more questions than it answered, which is the best thing a book can do. Most notably for me, Wharton raises my favorite question asked by female writers of her period: is it better to realize our greatest desires or is true joy only possible outside of the move toward fulfillment? It brings to mind the dilemma at the background of most of Kate Chopin's work - the irreconcilable natures of the "life that is within and the life that is without."
This was the 2nd book by Wharton (a novella) that I read after THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. As compared to that wonderful book, this one is set in a slightly less aristocratic world, although the sensibility remains snobbish and self-absorbed. The language is intellectual, complex and elegant. Emphasis falls on subtle shades of emotion and morality.

“How could he continue to play his part, with this poison of indifference stealing through his veins? …What he wanted now was not immunity but castigation:...more
Wharton's novella captures the psychological problems of a young man who should be happy but who destroys his own chances. Owning a Nook has led me to read more books which I missed when young. This return to authors from the past may be an unforeseen consequence of the E reader.
My favorite line in chapter “VII”: We live in our own souls as in an unmapped region, a few acres of which we have cleared for our habitation; while of the nature of those nearest us we know but the boundaries that march with ours....more
Donna S
I struggled with whether to rate this a 3 or 4, but since almost two weeks have passed since I finished it and I still find myself thinking about the story, maybe it has more merit than I initially thought upon finishing it.

This book is an interesting look into what happens when we compromise our morals - regardless of the intentions. Glennard simply lacked the means to marry the woman he loved. He finds himself with an opportunity to change his circumstances by publishing letters he received fr...more
“The Touchstone” is Edith Wharton’s second book and it was published in 1900. It was also published under the title “A Gift From The Grave”. Her previous literary effort was a collection of short stories titled “The Greater Inclination” and this is a longer story, roughly what we would today call a novella. The author takes an interesting premise, and creates an engaging story which is easy to read and flows quickly. The reader doesn’t want to put this book down.

The premise of the story is that...more
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My 100th book on Goodreads! I intentionally made it a work by Edith Wharton. She is one of my favorite authors and deserved the distinction of my 100th book. Once again she has so eloquently written of the anguish of men's souls when confronted with their own weakness and pride, particularly in their relationships with women. This was illustrated when the main character Glennard contemplated this thought, ' one felt if she had been prettier she would have had emotions instead of ideas.' Maybe th...more
ace intro by the incomparable salley vickers. almost as good as the novel itself.
feckless chap can't marry classy lady because he has no money. *But* once upon a time he was loved by a lady he didnt love back. she went on to be mega famous writer and he has hundreds of her plaintive letters.
he sells them thru a go-between so no one knows it was him she loved (not even his beloved). they sell to the publishers for a goodly sum and then they sell en masse to the public. he can marry his love.the...more
my first brush with edith wharton. her language was sometimes a bit difficult to follow and there were many sentences i had to reread, though this was probably just a result of my limited processing capabilities as the story was still no less accessible. i wasn't sure about alexa's conclusions/justifications of glennard's actions/behavior in the end, because he didn't really seem a better person at all, just one who was more paranoid and still somewhat cruel (although to be fair his emotions wer...more
Typical Edith Wharton tale of someone getting exactly what they want but it being poisoned in some way. In this case a guy amasses enough wealth to nab the girl of his dreams, however the way he gets the cash means he is wracked by a guilt with which he cannot come to terms. Ever. It's a depressing read. It's mostly bramble-minded, woe-is-me, hate and blame from the protagonist for almost everyone he knows.
While I was reading I thought, this is taking too long. The tale might have suited a shor...more
Update: I am a moron. I located the Melville House cover image. But everything that I said about my adoration of them still stands!

The image of the edition I read was not available online, but it was from Melville House's "Art of the Novella" series. Melville House is one of my fave small presses, all these editions make make me drool (designwise), and the titles in the series are all outstanding. I talked to one of their editors at the Brooklyn Book Festival and was psyched to hear that they'r...more
Not my favorite Wharton. The bar was set high. Her prose seemed less elegant than in her popular novels and when I read her I expect to be swept away with her words. Still, the plot was intriguing and that sort of torturous Wharton you get in her short stories. I couldn't help thinking of this one in conjunction with her life's work. Considering the topic, it was hard to separate Wharton from the female author. Faux pas, sorry. Would be neat to look at this one alongside epistolary texts or with...more
This is I believe my first book by Edith Wharton. I like her writing style, the psychology around her characters. There are many themes in here that could be comparable to Jane Austen’s books, but I think Edith’s writing is much more profound and subtle as well. Deception and/or self-deception is surrounded by lots of circumstances that could play in the favor of the character at play, so much so that I was leaning more towards compassion than judgment.

Original post:
A seething, tightly-wound little story. Glennard's journey to shame feels a bit hard to believe at points, as one can easily imagine the Glennard of the first chapter resting more easily with his decision to betray Aubyn. But Wharton's description of Glennard's marriage--and the way Glennard inexpertly uses women to hide or enhance his own insecurities--is just fantastic.

"Genius is of small use to a woman who does not know how to do her hair" is one of the most delightful, simmering lines I've e...more
Wharton is a master at depicting the domestic crisis: this one is about the sale of some celebrity letters and surprisingly relevant today: everybody tut-tutting about the intrusion into privacy, but salaciously enjoying reading the letters anyway.
But for the seller, there's guilt, and he eventually has to reconcile things in ways he didn't expect.
A very good narration, too.
Melville House Publishing
This beautifully packaged series of classic novellas includes the works of Anton Chekhov, Colette, Henry James, Herman Melville, and Leo Tolstoy. These collectible editions are the first single-volume publications of these classic tales, offering a closer look at this underappreciated literary form and providing a fresh take on the world's most celebrated authors.
Wharton's first long story/novella. Very quick listen on Librivox. Didn't manage to draw me in at all nor did I feel any sympathy for the characters. Just very cold story that should have been brimming with some kind of palpable anguish or any feeling whatsoever. Didn't work for me, but the language is lovely and the story is interesting enough.
Tanya Marie
Loving the classic, Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton so much, it surprised me that the same author wrote this book! The narrator of this audio version was soooooooo dry and slow and about put me to sleep every time I started it. The story itself was interesting but hard to follow at times. Gave up towards the end - just couldn't finish :(
A good feminist book. My edition had a preface explaining that women didn't used to write about their own experiences in fiction; a practice common for men.
This was a very short book, and a good read. It tests the relationship between a husband and wife and shows the subleties of how they know each other from being together so long.
A fantastic portrait of a lost art. The story of a man who sells love letters after the object of his affection has died and the effect that it has on him. I think with a proper understanding of how correspondence was a part of life in the period of the novel (1890-1900), the book becomes much more moving.
Perhaps the ending was a bit... too much, but it was a quick and enjoyable read--slightly intense, as always with Wharton, it was emotionally-jarring and thought-provoking. You can tell after reading some of her later works that this was her first published novella, but nevertheless, well-crafted.
This is a beautifully written piece about a moral dilemma and a bad conscience. The character of the wife doesn't quite come to life for me, so 4 stars not 5, but it's an interestingly painful read.
It was fascinating how the main character's guilt over his decision affected his whole life. That being said, it's not a book that I'm going to remember for long. It just didn't touch me.
My favorite author, but not my favorite work. It's a quick and sometimes simple read, filled with the anxieties of a writer who was extremely private.
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Edith Newbold Jones was born into such wealth and privilege that her family inspired the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses." The youngest of three children, Edith spent her early years touring Europe with her parents and, upon the family's return to the United States, enjoyed a privileged childhood in New York and Newport, Rhode Island. Edith's creativity and talent soon became obvious: By the a...more
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