Edith Wharton in the house of Hawthorne: the triumph of a literary daughter

MacMaster, Anne Cecelia, Department of English, University of Virginia
Levin, David, Department of English, University of Virginia
Lane, Ann J., Department of History, University of Virginia

Although Wharton draws upon the themes of Hawthorne as much as any writer except Henry James--and arguably as much as James himself--her place in the school of Hawthorne has been overlooked by all its major commentators. Critics of this continuity have traced Hawthorne's influence down a number of paths that branch out widely, but have left the line of descent from Hawthorne to Wharton uncharted. This dissertation claims Wharton's place in the school of Hawthorne by comparing her descent from Hawthorne to that of Henry James, the best known of all family resemblances in this literary lineage.

Since Wharton sought out male rivals rather than female role models, her boldness as a feminist is best brought out by insistence on her descent from Hawthorne and her sibling rivalry with James. Each chapter charts how one of Wharton's fictions swerves from Hawthorne and competes with James's own divergence from him. In chapters one and two, I contrast the thwarted feminist possibilities of certain gothic elements in Hawthorne's fiction with Wharton's forthrightly feminist marshalling of their power. These chapters, by tracing certain supernatural topoi from Hawthorne's romances to certain ghost stories of James and Wharton ("The Romance of Certain Old Clothes," "Bewitched," "The Jolly Corner," and "Pomegranate Seed") contrast the two younger writers' uses of the supernatural: Each writer uses the obligatory terror of the ghost story to represent fears that culture renders specific to his or her own gender. Chapter three discusses Wharton's juggling of genders in three ghostly fables with parallel plots ("Wakefield," "The Beast in the Jungle," and "The Angel at the Grave"). The final three chapters focus on Wharton's reaction against Hawthorne and James' s uses of certain tropes integral to the international theme: their fetishizing of female innocence (chapter 4), their likening female ignorance of business to art's liberation from commerce (chapter 5), and their representation of the (male) artist's marginal status in America through the figure of the outcast woman (chapter 6). Each chapter shows how Wharton, through strong mis-readings of her major male precursor, introduces a feminist perspective to the school of Hawthorne.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Wharton, Edith -- 1862-1937 -- Criticism and interpretation, Hawthorne, Nathaniel -- 1804-1864 -- Influence
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