The rage of conformity: Halston Merrick falls in love with a married woman but for the life of him can’t bring himself to diverge from conforming norms even as he sees his cowardice for what it is. The story is told from an unnamed first-person man long after the events of the tale, by which time “Merrick had grown conventional and dull.” The most he could do with the woman he loved was “take a night and not a life,” the closest allusion to a one-night stand you’ll see in Wharton. That line, “the rage of conformity,” occurs toward the end of the story, summing up Wharton’s indictment of her character. I’m afraid Merrick’s dullness contaminates the story.
The Atlantic, February 1912