Inspired primarily by their readings of French realist fiction, Henry James and Edith Wharton were drawn to the subject of illicit sexuality throughout their careers. Their attempts to address that theme took place within the context of a Victorian literary establishment and reading culture that was extremely prudish about topics such as adultery and illegitimate pregnancy. Professionally astute and generally cautious, James and Wharton resorted to discretion to approach dangerous material and make it palatable to their American readers and publishers. But discretion was more than a stylistic interest for these authors. They were also interested in the ways the characters they depicted either observed or violated the codes of discretion demanded by the American Victorian social order or by European manners-codes whose superficial resemblances usually concealed important differences.