This story’s from the point of view of an older gentleman, newly married to a young twice-divorced woman. It was written in 1904. You might imagine the story is remarkably different than if it was written today.
But it’s not. Instead, the story taps into the timeless suspicion of ‘what was my spouse like before I met them.’ At the beginning Waythorn is pleased with his wife, younger than him and making him feel younger. The fact that she was married twice before is easily ignorable. The first was to a Mr. Haskett, which neither Waythorn nor any of his friends has ever met, and is thus forgettable. As for the second marriage to Gus Varick:
“…the alliance was brief and stormy, and this time the husband had his champions. Still, even Varick’s stanchest supporters admitted that he was not meant for matrimony, and Mrs. Varick’s grievances were of a nature to bear the inspection of the New York courts. A New York divorce is in itself a diploma of virtue, and in the semi-widowhood of this second separation Mrs. Varick took on an air of sanctity, and was allowed to confide her wrongs to some of the most scrupulous ears in town. But when it was known that she was to marry Waythorn there was a momentary reaction. Her best friends would have preferred to see her remain in the role of the injured wife, which was as becoming to her as crape to a rosy complexion. True, a decent time had elapsed, and it was not even suggested that Waythorn had supplanted his predecessor. Still, people shook their heads over him, and one grudging friend, to whom he affirmed that he took the step with his eyes open, replied oracularly: “Yes—and with your ears shut.””
But, as the story unfolds, Waythorn finds himself in business with Varick. The two start seeing each other regularly, even occasionally meeting at Waythorn’s house. This is enough to start making Waythorn uncomfortable about Varick’s previous claim over his wife, and this only increases once Mr. Haskett re-enters their lives.
There appears to be a number of scholarly papers discussing this story, some of which are excerpted here. Rather than compete with them I’ll simply say I really enjoyed the story, and Waythorn’s gradually changing attitude to his wife is fascinating.
The Other Two by Edith Wharton
Availability: free online (out of copyright), print
Word count: 7,400
First published: Collier’s, 13 Feb 1904
50 Great Short Stories, edited by Milton Crane, 1983, Bantam Classics
Wharton Collected Stories: 1891-1910, collection, 2001, Library of America