Edith Wharton American Literature Analysis
Too often known only as “that society lady author,” a writer of irrelevant and obsolete books, Wharton cannot be dismissed so easily. Although primarily dealing with a narrow social range and short historical span—the upper echelons of New York society from the 1870’s to the 1920’s—she mines verities about the whole of human nature from these small, seemingly unrepresentative samples of humanity. Far from being anachronistic or irrelevant, Wharton’s novels go deeper than their surface manners and mores to reveal universal truths about individuals in relation to their society, and she explores themes relevant to any era.
Regarded as one of America’s finest realists, along with her friend and literary inspiration Henry James, Wharton emphasized verisimilitude, character development, and the psychological dimensions of experience, all of which placed her in this tradition, although with some significant variations. Some of her fiction, such as Ethan Frome, owes a greater debt to romantics such as Nathaniel Hawthorne than to the realists, and most of her work deals with the upper rather than the middle classes more common to realist fiction; critic Blake Nevius remarks: “She was destined from the beginning to be a realist. As a child in Paris, she used to . . . make up stories about the only people who were real to her imagination—the grownups with whom she was surrounded. . . . Mother Goose and Hans Christian Andersen bored...
(The entire section is 3857 words.)
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