Book Review: The Angel at the Grave (Edith Wharton).


The Angel at the Grave is a story written by Edith Wharton. I have read The Age of Innocence and liked it. So, this is my second read by Wharton. This story is not a novel-length, but it isn’t a short story. It is more like a novella. The story of The Angel at the Grave follows Paulina Anson. She is the granddaughter of Orestes Anson, a prominent literary figure.

Orestes Anson was a widely celebrated literary figure. He had three daughters who weren’t as intellectual as him. Pauline his granddaughter is the only one in the family who is an intellect like her grandfather. It falls on her to continue more, like preserve the legacy of her grandfather. Paulina is brought to the Anson house after Orestes passes away. She never met her grandfather. Everything she knows about him is through his works.

Paulina has developed an unconditioned love for him and his work, wanting to preserve the fading legacy. She even refuses to marry a young man because he wants her to move to New York with him, but she can’t even think of leaving the house. She is completely devoted to maintaining the legacy of her grandfather through writing, barely leaving the house. She completes a huge biography on his life and travels to Boston to meet a publisher. Only to be told that she is a little too late to publish a biography of Orestes Anson because his work is no longer popular or relevant.

Paulina is understandably devastated by this revelation and spends some time overthinking and sulking about it. She wants to know what has kept Anson’s contemporaries popular but not him. She spends time researching them and finds out that the contemporaries all had a larger-than-life type of personality, while her grandfather was known just for his ideas. She has given up on her work when a young man comes knocking on the door wanting to write an article about one of the pamphlets Anson wrote. Corby, the young man, assures Paulina that is it is because of her that Orestes Anson’s legacy and work is preserved and talked about again.

The story moves at a good pace from start to finish. The writing is dramatic in a way. I don’t know how else to describe it. The descriptions paint a vivid picture of the house and the characters. In the story, Orestes Anson, a popular figure, starts fading away in time because his focus was more on ideas than maintaining a big persona. Paulina is groomed from a young age to take over the task of maintaining and promoting her grandfather’s legacy. In a sense, she is free; yet, she is trapped by this responsibility on her shoulders. She is dedicated; too dedicated I felt at times. Her whole life is spent keeping her grandfather’s work alive, and other than that, she doesn’t have a life.

The story reaches its climax when Paulina’s biography on her grandfather is rejected. She is thrown for a loop after this. I mean, the girl dedicated her life to her grandfather’s work and maintaining his legacy only to be told it is not relevant anymore. At this moment, you feel so bad for Paulina. It is her life’s work, and just like that, it is rejected. Her reaction to this is completely understandable. She loses faith and hope in her work and the legacy she is supposed to continue. Then that twist at the end where her work is validated. She is rejuvenated and ready to focus on it again.

The style of Wharton’s style is hard to describe. This story is written quite dramatically, but I think that keeps you interested. I liked the way the story came to a full circle in the end. The happy ending was kind of surprising, to be honest. Overall, the plot was fascinating, the characters were unique, and I enjoyed reading the story.

*Click on the book cover above to get a copy.

Author: Aarti Athavle

Daydreamer - Writer - Bibliophile

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