The Letters of Edith Wharton Critical Essays

Edith Wharton


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Like her fiction, Wharton’s letters combine elements traditionally considered “female,” such as the detailing of daily activities, with elements traditionally considered “male,” such as consciously literary prose. Both she and her correspondents were conscious of her ability to work outside traditional gender limitations. When Fullerton addresses Wharton as “Cher Ami” (French for “Dear Friend”), he purposely uses the masculine form of each word. Wharton herself commented on a distinction between writing by men and by women in a response to criticism of her novel The Fruit of the Tree.I conceive my subjects like a man—that is, rather more architectonically & dramatically than most women—then execute them like a woman; or rather, I sacrifice, to my desire for construction & breadth, the small incidental effects that women have always excelled in, the episodical characterization, I mean.

In her June 8-11 letter to Fullerton, she says that they share the combination of these traits, the ability to feel the “dream-side of things” as well as clearness of thought. Then she aligns herself with the goddess of reason—a phrase that (if she is associating “reason” with maleness) combines the “female” and “male” worlds.

Wharton not only goes back and forth between the two styles but also combines them, a characteristic most clearly evident in the Fullerton letters. This intermingling of highly...

(The entire section is 451 words.)