The Cambridge Companion to Edith Wharton (Cambridge Companions to Literature)
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The Cambridge Companion to Edith Wharton offers a series of fresh examinations of Edith Wharton's fiction written both to meet the interest of the student or general reader who encounters this major American writer for the first time and to be valuable to advanced scholars looking for new insights into her creative achievement. The essays cover Wharton's most important novels as well as some of her shorter fiction, and utilise both traditional and innovative critical techniques, applying the perspectives of literary history, feminist theory, psychology or biography, sociology or anthropology, or social history. The Introduction supplies a valuable review of the history of Wharton criticism which shows how her writing has provoked varying responses from its first publication, and how current interests have emerged from earlier ones. A detailed chronology of Wharton's life and publications and a useful bibliography are also provided.
situation between the two principals” and its “Racinian” unity.17 The terms of James’s praise suggest that The Reef may have been Wharton’s most serious effort to adapt his method to her own purposes. But, if so, it was pretty much her last attempt in this direction. When The Custom of the Country appeared, it was clear that she had taken up again the line begun with The House of Mirth, reversing the earlier novel’s spiral, episodic downward design and substituting the picaresque ascent of a
identity based on the rejection of the mother. According to the traditional marriage ceremony, the “two become one,” the provisional maiden name gives way to permanent masculine nomenclature, the semiotic succumbs to the symbolic, difference consolidates into unity under the power of the closed system of word and symbol. Were this truly to happen, death – absolute stasis – would result, as suggested by the fact that this ceremony reminds Charity of her mother’s funeral. But in what is basically
reputation never returned to its 1920 high point in her lifetime. She had a while to go, industriously turning out, in the next few years, novels that were greeted respectfully; her preeminence was not really denied. Her “consummate art” (399) in The Mother’s Recompense (1925) was still acknowledged, although at least one reviewer called it “competent, skillful work, adequately chiseled and polished like a painting by a competent, but rather tired, artist” (402). Her touch seemed to be growing
movement of Emma depends largely on the propagation of gossip and on conjecture, on the uses and misuses of information. In The House of Mirth we understand that chatter is self-serving, destructive. The reader is privy to what is said of Lily Bart before the compromising news reaches her, a stage-worn device that co-opts us, makes us seemingly wiser. But Wharton is up to a more engaged use of Lily’s reputation: Selden’s first assessment of Lily Bart is in the nature of gossip. Throughout their
story, insofar as it is ever their story, he will allow his estimate of her conduct to be adjusted by what is said of her. His tracking of events – “. . . had she indeed reached the nine-and-twentieth birthday with which her rivals credited her?” – is gossip, cutely retold, secondhand. The rhetorical question does not let him off the hook: what people say matters to Selden. A woman may be victimized by prattle; but a man may not. It is Selden who let on to the readers of the first installment in