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Reading and Discussion Questions on W. D. Howells's "Editha"

  1.  In what ways does this story exemplify or embody Howells’s ideas of realism?   See his “Editor’s Study” columns or “Criticism and Fiction” for some of the principles.

2. What’s the nature of the relationship between George Gearson and Editha Bascom?  In what ways can their relationship itself be characterized as a struggle for power over ideals?

3. What tactics does Editha use to make George believe as she does about the war?

4. Was George brought up to want to go to war?  What are his mother’s and father’s beliefs?  What profession did he wish to follow before becoming a lawyer?

5. Howells gives ample evidence that Editha is as much interested in “reading” herself as the heroine of a sentimental story as she is in George.  What evidence in the story shows this?

6. Why does she give him a “clouded” liquid to drink?  Note the language in that section: George gulps the liquid but refuses to drink hers as well.  What might the liquid signify?

7. Editha is described as having a “throaty” voice.  What does this suggest about her appeal for George?

8. Howells is careful to distinguish between women’s and men’s motives when he describes Editha’s and George’s response to the war. In what ways is this a story about gender as well as about idealism?

9. What is her father’s response to war?

10. Why does Howells specify that her mother sits in a “Shaker” chair?  Who were the Shakers, and how do their beliefs reflect on the story’s themes?

11. What is the purpose of Editha’s letter?  She hopes to accomplish her objective, but what does the reader see in this note?

12. Editha quotes Richard Lovelace’s “To Lucasta” in her letter. In what other ways does this poem fit perfectly her aims in the letter?

13. How has George’s attitude toward the war changed when he comes to visit after being elected Captain?  Why does he demand lots of clear ice-water this time?  What does her father understand about George’s condition that Editha doesn't?  Why is he now so brave?  Compare the “ice-water” here with the clouded liquid mentioned earlier.

14. Note the description George gives of Editha: her red hair, blue eyes, and white skin in the moonlight.  What is the significance of this description?
15. George’s speech in this second meeting is humorous: he teases Editha and mocks himself (“you've had a long row to hoe”), quotes from old popular songs (“When this cruel war is over” was a popular song during the Civil War), and otherwise says what he really thinks.  How does this contribute to the depiction of his character?

16. Editha sees herself as being religious.  Note the many references to God in this story; is she right about her religious beliefs?  In what ways does the narrative voice undercut them? What place does God play in the conduct of war, according to this story?

17. When George is killed, why does Editha expect that shell have a fever?

18. Does George’s mother greet Editha with the respect and sympathy that she believes is her due?  Why or why not?

19. What sort of comfort does the “lady” artist give Editha?  What does this suggest about “ideal” artists generally?

20. Comment on the meaning of this sentence: “The mystery that had bewildered her was solved by the word [the artist had called George’s mother’s conduct “vulgar”] ; and from that moment she rose from groveling in shame and self-pity, and began to live again in the ideal.”  Is there ever a time in which Editha truly understands what she has done?  Does she ever experience an epiphany?

Comments to D. Campbell.