An insightful look at representations of women’s bodies and female authority.
This work explores Edith Wharton's career-long concern with a 19th-century visual culture that limited female artistic agency and expression. Wharton repeatedly invoked the visual arts--especially painting—as a medium for revealing the ways that women's bodies have been represented (as passive, sexualized, infantalized, sickly, dead). Well-versed in the Italian masters, Wharton made special use of the art of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, particularly its penchant for producing not portraits of individual women but instead icons onto whose bodies male desire is superimposed.
Emily Orlando contends that while Wharton's early work presents women enshrined by men through art, the middle and later fiction shifts the seat of power to women. From Lily Bart in The House of Mirth to Undine Spragg in The Custom of the Country and Ellen Olenska in The Age of Innocence, women evolve from victims to vital agents, securing for themselves a more empowering and satisfying relationship to art and to their own identities.
Orlando also studies the lesser-known short stories and novels, revealing Wharton’s re-workings of texts by Browning, Poe, Balzac, George Eliot, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and, most significantly, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Edith Wharton and the Visual Arts is the first extended study to examine the presence in Wharton's fiction of the Pre-Raphaelite poetry and painting of Rossetti and his muses, notably Elizabeth Siddall and Jane Morris. Wharton emerges as one of American literature's most gifted inter-textual realists, providing a vivid lens through which to view issues of power, resistance, and social change as they surface in American literature and culture.
Tintner provides a detailed analysis of the complex interplay between Wharton and James—how they influenced each other and how some of their writings operate as homages or personal jokes. So deeply was James in Wharton’s confidence, Tintner argues, that he provided her with source models for a number of her characters. In addition, Wharton found in his fiction structures for her own, especially for The Age of Innocence.
Tintner also brings her considerable knowledge of art history to bear in her study of art allusions in Wharton’s work. Wharton’s response both to the Italian painters active before Raphael and to the English Pre-Raphaelites of a generation before her own is analyzed here in three essays. These pieces demonstrate Wharton’s sensibility to changes in art tastes and collecting, the inheritance of Rossetti’s revolutionary paintings in the unfinished novel, The Buccaneers, and the importance of home in The Glimpses of the Moon, as demonstrated by Wharton’s use of Tiepolo’s fresco in the church of Scalzi.
Tintner concludes by considering Wharton’s literary legacy and who Wharton has figured in the imaginations of recent writers, including Richard Howard, Louis Auchincloss, and Cathleen Schine. Tintner finds some part of Wharton’s personality or work evoked in a number of contemporary works and argues that this presence signals the beginning of an increasing influence.
Edith Wharton on Film
Parley Ann Boswell Southern Illinois University Press, 2006 Library of Congress PS3545.H16Z625 2007 | Dewey Decimal 791.4375
Edith Wharton (1862–1937), who lived nearly half of her life during the cinema age when she published many of her well-known works, acknowledged that she disliked the movies, characterizing them as an enemy of the imagination. Yet her fiction often referenced film and popular Hollywood culture, and she even sold the rights to several of her novels to Hollywood studios.
Edith Wharton on Film explores these seeming contradictions and examines the relationships among Wharton’s writings, the popular culture in which she published them, and the subsequent film adaptations of her work (three from the 1930s and four from the 1990s). Author Parley Ann Boswell examines the texts in which Wharton referenced film and Hollywood culture and evaluates the extant films adapted from Wharton’s fiction.
The volume introduces Wharton’s use of cinema culture in her fiction through the 1917 novella Summer, written during the nation’s first wave of feminism, in which the heroine Charity Royall is moviegoer and new American woman, consumer and consumable. Boswell considers the source of this conformity and entrapment, especially for women. She discloses how Wharton struggled to write popular stories and then how she revealed her antipathy toward popular movie culture in two late novels.
Boswell describes Wharton’s financial dependence on the American movie industry, which fueled her antagonism toward Hollywood culture, her well-documented disdain for popular culture, and her struggles to publish in women’s magazines.
This first full-length study that examines the film adaptations of Wharton’s fiction covers seven films adapted from Wharton’s works between 1930 and 2000 and the fifty-year gap in Wharton film adaptations. The study also analyzes Sophy Viner in The Reef as pre-Hollywood ingénue, characters in Twilight Sleep and The Children and the real Hollywood figures who might have inspired them, and The Sheik and racial stereotypes.
Boswell traces the complicated relationship of fiction and narrative film, the adaptations and cinematic metaphors of Wharton’s work in the 1990s, and Wharton’s persona as an outsider. Wharton’s fiction on film corresponds in striking ways to American noir cinema, says Boswell, because contemporary filmmakers recognize and celebrate the subversive qualities of Wharton’s work.
Edith Wharton on Film, which includes eleven illustrations, enhances Wharton’s stature as a major American author and provides persuasive evidence that her fiction should be read as American noir literature.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the majority of women were forced to seek their education outside the walls of American universities. Many turned to museums and libraries, for their own enlightenment, for formal education, and also for their careers. In Roffman’s close readings of four modernist writers—Edith Wharton, Nella Larsen, Marianne Moore, and Ruth Benedict—she studied the that modernist women writers were simultaneously critical of and shaped by these institutions.
From the Modernist Annex offers new and critically significant ways of understanding these writers and their texts, the distribution of knowledge, and the complicated place of women in modernist institutions.
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.
In Edith Wharton’s works, references to architecture, interior decoration, painting, sculpture, and fashion abound. As these essays demonstrate, art and objects are for Wharton evidence of cultural belief and reflect the values, assumptions, and customs of the burgeoning consumer culture in which she lived and about which she wrote. Furthermore, her meditations about issues of architecture, design, and decoration serve as important commentaries on her vision of the literary arts.
In The Decoration of Houses she notes that furniture and bric-à-brac are often crowded into a room in order to compensate for a "lack of architectural composition in the treatment of the walls," and that unless an ornamental object "adequately expresses an artistic conception" it is better removed from the room. These aesthetic standards apply equally to her construction of narratives and are evidence of a sensibility that counters typical understandings of Wharton as a novelist of manners and place her instead as an important figure in the development of American literary modernism.
Essays in this collection address issues such as parallels between her characters and the houses they occupy; dress as a metaphor for the flux of critical fashion; the marketing of Wharton's work to a growing female readership ; her relationship to mass culture industries such as advertising, theater, and cinema; the tableaux vivant both as set piece and as fictional strategy; the representation of female bodies as objets d’art; and her characters’ attempts at self-definition through the acquisition and consumption of material goods. All of Wharton’s major novels—The House of Mirth, The Fruit of the Tree, Ethan Frome, The Custom of the Country, Summer, The Age of Innocence, and Twilight Sleep—as well as her short stories, criticism, and essays are explored.
Winner of the Evans Handcart Prize 2009
Winner of the Mormon History Assn Best Biography Award 2009
By the early twentieth century, the era of organized Mormon colonization of the West from a base in Salt Lake City was all but over. One significant region of Utah had not been colonized because it remained in Native American hands--the Uinta Basin, site of a reservation for the Northern Utes. When the federal government decided to open the reservation to white settlement, William H. Smart--a nineteenth-century Mormon traditionalist living in the twentieth century, a polygamist in an era when it was banned, a fervently moral stake president who as a youth had struggled mightily with his own sense of sinfulness, and an entrepreneurial businessman with theocratic, communal instincts--set out to ensure that the Uinta Basin also would be part of the Mormon kingdom.
Included with the biography is a searchable CD containing William H. Smart's extensive journals, a monumental personal record of Mormondom and its transitional period from nineteenth-century cultural isolation into twentieth-century national integration.
Written a generation apart and rarely treated together by scholars, Little Women (1868) and The House of Mirth (1905) share a deep concern with materialism, moral development, and self-construction. The heroines in both grapple with conspicuous consumption, an aspect of modernity that challenges older beliefs about ethical behavior and core identity.
Placing both novels at the historical intersection of modern consumer culture and older religious discourse on materialism and identity, Sarah Way Sherman analyzes how Alcott and Wharton rework traditional Protestant discourse to interpret their heroines’ struggle with modern consumerism. Her conclusion reveals how Little Women’s optimism, still buoyed by otherworldly justice, providential interventions, and the notion of essential identity, ultimately gives way to the much darker vision of modern materialistic culture in The House of Mirth.
Examining the personal library and the making of self
When writer Edith Wharton died in 1937, without any children, her library of more than five thousand volumes was divided and subsequently sold. Decades later, it was reassembled and returned to The Mount, her historic Massachusetts estate. What a Library Means to a Woman examines personal libraries as technologies of self-creation in modern America, focusing on Wharton and her remarkable collection of books.
Sheila Liming explores the connection between libraries and self-making in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American culture, from the 1860s to the 1930s. She tells the story of Wharton’s library in concert with Wharton scholarship and treatises from this era concerning the wider fields of book history, material and print culture, and the histories (and pathologies) of collecting. Liming’s study blends literary and historical analysis while engaging with modern discussions about gender, inheritance, and hoarding. It offers a review of the many meanings of a library collection, while reading one specific collection in light of its owner’s literary celebrity.
What a Library Means to a Woman was born from Liming’s ongoing work digitizing the Wharton library collection. It ultimately argues for a multifaceted understanding of authorship by linking Wharton’s literary persona to her library, which was, as she saw it, the site of her self-making.