A Feast of Words (Magill's Literary Annual 1978)
While Edith Wharton has been recognized as one of America’s outstanding novelists ever since the publication of The House of Mirth in 1905, interest in her life and work has increased dramatically in the last ten years as a result both of the new focus on women writers and of the opening of her private papers to scholars in 1968. R. W. B. Lewis’ fine biography, published in 1975, has contributed much to a new understanding and appreciation of Wharton’s achievements, and A Feast of Words should bring many more readers to her books. Cynthia Griffin Wolff’s study is a brilliant synthesis of biography, literary criticism, and psychological analysis that provides new insights into Wharton’s novels and short stories through a discussion of her emotional development, and at the same time demonstrates how her writing contributed to her transformation from an affection-starved child and neurotic young wife into a confident, creative, mature woman.
Drawing on Lewis’ Edith Wharton: A Biography, Wharton’s own autobiographical writings, and studies of her psychological development by Anna Freud, Eric Erikson, R. D. Laing, and others, Wolff shows how Wharton struggled for much of her life to compensate for the emotional deprivations of her childhood in the most privileged stratum of New York society. The villainess of the story in Wolff’s view was Edith’s mother, Lucretia Jones, a domineering, often cold and moody socialite...
(The entire section is 2191 words.)
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