An investigation into Wharton’s extensive use and adaptation of the Gothic in her fiction
Gender and the Gothic in the Fiction of Edith Wharton is an innovative study that provides fresh insights into Wharton’s male characters while at the same time showing how Wharton’s imagining of a fe/male self evolves throughout her career. Using feminist archetypal theory and theory of the female Gothic, Kathy A. Fedorko shows how Wharton, in sixteen short stories and six major novels written during four distinct periods of her life, adopts and adapts Gothic elements to explore the nature of feminine and masculine ways of knowing and being and to dramatize the tension between them.
Edith Wharton’s contradictory views of women and men—her attitudes toward the feminine and the masculine—reflect a complicated interweaving of family and social environment, historical time, and individual psychology. Studies of Wharton have exhibited this same kind of contradiction, with some seeing her as disparaging men and the masculine and others depicting her as disparaging women and the feminine. The use of Gothic elements in her fiction provided Wharton, who was often considered the consummate realist, with a way to dramatize the conflict between feminine and masculine selves as she experienced them and to evolve an alternative to the dualism.
Fedorko’s work is unique in its careful consideration of Wharton’s sixteen Gothic works, which are seldom discussed. Further, the revelation of how these Gothic stories are reflected in her major realistic novels. In the novels with Gothic texts, Wharton draws multiple parallels between male and female protagonists, indicating the commonalities between women and men and the potential for a female self. Eventually, in her last completed novel and her last short story, Wharton imagines human beings who are comfortable with both gender selves.