The main subject of “Editha” is war. Editha blindly and ignorantly believes in the heroic romanticism of war and is totally oblivious to the real consequences of battle, and Howells shows his dislike in his portrayal of Editha though the plots. From the earliest of moments in the story, Editha is shown as one who has embraced the jingoistic claims of nationalism in a time of war. Editha sees war as a romantic pursuit, one in which there is no complexity. For Editha, when the nation has committed to war, there is no question of its authenticity and little room for doubt in terms of individuals paying heed to its call: “But don’t you see, dearest,” she said, “that it wouldn’t have come to this, if it hadn’t been in the order of Providence? And I call any war glorious that is for the liberation of people who have been struggling for years against the cruelest oppression. Don’t you think so too?” Editha views war in terms of providential design, “glorious” in its notion of “liberation,” and an exercise in which there can be no ambiguity.
For Editha, war is an exercise of Romantic valor, something expressed to George in a letter to him in which her love of the “adventure” in war is almost secondary to the affection of a beloved: “I shall always love you, and therefore I shall never marry anyone else. But the man I marry must love his country first of all, and be able to say to me, “‘I could not love thee, dear, so much, Loved I not honor more.’ “There is no honor above America with me. In this great hour there is no other honor.” “Honor” is something that Editha defines externally. George defines himself in a very different manner. For George, “honor” is internal, adhering to a conception from within.
In response to Editha’s zeal about war, George responds, “”But war! Is it glorious to break the peace of the world?” For George, the action of war is not honorable. George sees the world possessing doubt, something that he feels is present when he “differs” from Editha. In contrast to Editha’s certainty, George sees doubt and confusion. It is because of this that he is swayed to join the war effort, joining something in which he has doubt and uncertainty. It is in this point and counterpoint in which Editha and George operate. They function in relation to one another because they represent the entire emotional spectrum about love, war, and commitment.
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