Analysis of Edith Wharton’s April Showers

In her short story April Showers, (1900) Edith Wharton tells the story of Theodora (writing under the pseudonym of Gladys Glyn), an aspiring young writer who has just completed her first novel, April Showers. Through the fictional Kathleen Kyd, Wharton wastes no time in using “April Showers” to criticize both the publishing business and America’s critique of sentimental writers. Wharton also uses the text, however, to stress the importance of relationships. Throughout, Wharton stresses the inherent loneliness in Theodora’s task: She must write and do so alone. In fact, in many instances, Theodora is seemingly misunderstood by her own family members, including both her mother and her father. Yet Theodora’s parents understand more than she gives them credit for. What appears to be a simple short story about one writer’s failure to be published functions as a much larger comment on the communality of life itself, of the interactive nature of families and their function in society.

Early in the narrative, Wharton informs her readers of Theodora’s solitary life. Wharton writes, “Downstairs the library clock struck two. Its muffled thump sounded like an admonitory knock against her bedroom floor” (189). In other words, a young girl is up until two in the morning, alone, working on her manuscript, even when she has promised her mother to be up early to care for her two younger siblings. But try as she may, Theodora cannot wake early enough to keep her promise to her mother. Wharton writes: “She sprang out of bed in dismay. She had been so determined not to disappoint her mother about Johnny’s buttons!” (191). Even so, Theodora imagines that her expected literary success will offset her isolation and ill attention to family matters: “Her contrition was softened by the thought that literary success would enable her to make up for all the little negligences of which she was guilty” (191).

Edith Wharton Bettmann/CORBIS

But Theodora is bent on playing the part of the misunderstood—and, of course, alienated and isolated—artist. After her late rise, Theodora hastily prepares her mother’s breakfast and decides that she must bear being misunderstood only until her manuscript is accepted. Wharton writes: “It was impossible to own to having forgotten Johnny’s buttons without revealing the cause of her forgetfulness. For a few weeks longer she must bear to be misunderstood; then . . . ah, then if her novel were accepted, how gladly would she forget and forgive!” (192). Even when Theodora is awake early enough to take care of the family, she cannot, because of the anxiety surrounding the unsure acceptance of her novel: “The week was a long nightmare. Theodora could neither eat nor sleep. She was up early enough, but instead of looking after the children and seeing that breakfast was ready, she wandered down the road to meet the postman, and came back wan and empty-handed, oblivious of her morning duties” (193).

But perhaps Theodora’s most isolated event occurs when she journeys to Boston—alone—to discover why her novel was not published. Wharton writes: “She never knew how she got back to the station. She struggled through the crowd on the platform, and a gold-banded arm pushed her into the train just starting for Norton. It would be dark when she reached home; but that didn’t matter. . . . Nothing mattered now” (194). Oblivious to her own actions—and of course to the actions and reactions of her family— Theodora chooses to suffer the trip alone. And she does not think of her family again until the train approaches Norton. Wharton writes: “Then for the first time she thought of home. She had fled away in the morning without a word, and her heart sank at the thought of her mother’s fears” (194).

Even so, what Theodora fails to realize is that her isolation has been self-imposed; her father has tried, earlier in his life, to publish a novel himself. Thus, her fears of abandonment and criticism for what she thinks her parents feel is an ill-fated occupation are not justified. After learning of her father’s attempt to write, Theodora feels relieved: “The doctor paused, and Theodora clung to him in a mute passion of commiseration. It was as if a drowning creature caught a live hand through the murderous fury of the waves” (196). Because of her reluctance to share her agonizing situation with her family, Theodora faces the news of her unpublished novel alone. Nonetheless, Wharton reminds us how important family is when we learn that Dr. Pace goes to meet Theodora at the train station because he remembers the pain caused by his novel’s rejection. He tells her, “It took me a year . . . a whole year’s hard work; and when I’d finished it the public wouldn’t have it, either; not at any price and that’s why I came down to meet you, because I remembered my walk home” (196).

Although “April Showers” clearly comments on what it means—or what it does not have to mean—to be a writer, Wharton uses the story to stress the importance of familial relationships. In her selfimposed isolation, Theodora bears most of the worry and all of the guilt associated with writing her novel and, consequently, ignores her family’s needs. Wharton uses the ending of the story to show her readers that this action was unnecessary, however, and that Theodora is ignorant of her father’s own writing ambitions. Perhaps the lesson Theodora learns is one for us all: Embrace those who can and will assist you.

April Showers Story

Wharton, Edith. “April Showers.” In The Collected Short Stories of Edith Wharton, edited by R. W. B. Lewis, 189–196. 2 vols. New York: Scribner, 1968.

Major Works
Novels: The Touchstone, 1900; The Valley of Decision, 1902; Sanctuary, 1903; The House of Mirth, 1905; Madame de Treymes, 1907; The Fruit of the Tree, 1907; Ethan Frome, 1911; The Reef, 1912; The Custom of the Country, 1913; Summer, 1917; The Marne, 1918; The Age of Innocence, 1920; The Glimpses of the Moon, 1922; A Son at the Front, 1923; Old New York, 1924 (4 volumes; includes False Dawn, The Old Maid, The Spark, and New Year’s Day); The Mother’s Recompense, 1925; Twilight Sleep, 1927; The Children, 1928; Hudson River Bracketed, 1929; The Gods Arrive, 1932; The Buccaneers, 1938.
Nonfiction: The Decoration of Houses, 1897 (with Ogden Codman, Jr.); Italian Villas and Their Gardens, 1904; Italian Backgrounds, 1905; A Motor-Flight Through France, 1908; Fighting France from Dunkerque to Belfort, 1915; French Ways and Their Meaning, 1919; In Morocco, 1920; The Writing of Fiction, 1925; A Backward Glance, 1934; The Letters of Edith Wharton, 1988; The Uncollected Critical Writings, 1997 (Frederick Wegener, editor); Yrs. Ever Affly: The Correspondence of Edith Wharton and Louis Bromfield, 2000 (Daniel Bratton, editor).
Poetry: Verses, 1878; Artemis to Actæon, 1909; Twelve Poems, 1926.

Categories: American Literature, Literary Criticism, Literature, Short Story

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