Originally published in 1928, The Children is a late novel concerns Martin Boyne's distraction from his anticipated marriage to Rose Sellars, a recently widowed woman of his own age. The distraction comes in the form of seven children he meets aboard a ship sailing from South America to Italy, principally the eldest of them, the fifteen year-old Judith Wheater. Torn between his obligation to Rose and his gradual attraction to Judith, Martin begins to question his motive while nursing a regret for a life without children.
The novel has been interpreted as an autobiographical work of fiction in which Wharton expresses her own regret at not having children and in the process enthusing about her love for the younger people in her life. That said, in a modern society, the central relationship between Martin, a forty-six year old man and Judith, some thirty years younger and not yet out of puberty can't help to raise questions of propriety.