This is a little gem of a book.

The Touchstone tells the story of Stephen Glennard, who is in love with the beautiful but poor Alexa Tennant but who can’t afford to marry her. When confronted with the possibility of losing her to a lengthy trip in Europe with her aunt, and having come across a newspaper advertisement seeking the letters of the late author Margaret Aubyn, he resolves to publish her correspondence to him as a means of funding his marriage. But of course it isn’t that straightforward, as the reaction to the letters and his own feelings about what he has done to the memory of a woman who had loved him begin to intrude into his domestic bliss.

This is all about moral ambiguity, how we live with the consequences of the choices we have made, and how we might redeem ourselves. It is a powerful story, beautifully written, full of wonderfully quotable passages such as “there are times when the constancy of the woman one cannot marry is almost as trying as that of the woman one does not want to.”

This is a lovely edition, with a striking cover and an excellent foreword by Sally Vickers which is full of interesting insights, including the suggestion that Margaret Aubyn may have been based in part on George Eliot (with the implcation that Edith Wharton dd not like her).

I haven’t read as much Wharton as I should, though I’ve always been attracted by her work ever since reading The House of Mirth as a teenager. I will definitely read this novella again, and will probably pick up more.

This is my sixth and final read for the Novella Challenge.