Wharton’s wry humor and wryer ironies displayed in a decalogue of moralistic sketches, some of them small feminist manifestos. The first is about a little girl who leaves the valley and returns a grown woman, while the rest of her friends remained behind. She returns learned and curious. The others are still playing. One boy had done likewise, but when he returns, he’s enamored with one of the little girls and pays no heed to the educated woman but to remark on her look: “Really, my dear, you ought to have taken better care of your complexion.” The fifth tale is about a man who marries a woman who was never taught to walk. She’s an immense burden when they come to a wide, deep river. He carries her across and nearly drowns. The other side is “beyond all imagining delightful.” The burdens-are-their-own-rewards moral of the tale: “Perhaps if I hadn’t had to carry her over, I shouldn’t have kept up long enough to get here myself.” It’s followed by a wonderful sketch about an architect ion heaven who never did anything great but one temple, though he knows it’s got one flaw. An angel asks him if he’d rather have it fixed. Of course he doesn’t. But his two choices are that either someone else is sent down to fix it, making him, the architect, look like a laughing stock, or they let it be, and he must, in his heavenly life, live with the knowledge of a flaw, deceiving those below. Of course he chooses the latter: all is vanity. And so on.
The Century Magazine, July 1896