WiSe 13/14: Muckraker, Fashionista, Cosmopolitan: Edith Wharton's Unconventional Life and Works
Although Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was an astoundingly prolific, critically acclaimed and commercially successful writer - and arguably the foremost U.S. woman writer of her time - she fell out of ... read more
Although Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was an astoundingly prolific, critically acclaimed and commercially successful writer - and arguably the foremost U.S. woman writer of her time - she fell out of favor with modern readers and critics, who found her style antiquated. Critical interest in Wharton's work was not reignited until the 1960s and the advent of second-wave feminism, when Wharton's scathing social satire and exploration of women's fates in the rapidly modernizing society of the fin de siècle spoke to the contemporary zeitgeist. Today, Wharton is considered one of the most astute cultural critics of the turn of the twentieth century, with many of her observations on American society in the age of industrialization ringing true for late capitalist American society, as well.
In this course, we will explore Wharton's take on the social question, her view on the possibility and desirability of women's self-fulfillment and sexual expression, her engagement with what she considered modernity's blessings (e.g. technological progress) and curses (e.g. addiction), and her negotiations of the relationship between the individual, society and the environment; we will critically engage with her "blind spots? (such as her anti-Semitism and opposition to the suffrage movement); and we will confront the question in how far Wharton is aptly characterized as a feminist. We will do so by reading representative novels and short fiction from Wharton's oeuvre in conversation with secondary literature on modernity, Victorianism, the Gilded Age, True Womanhood and Social Darwinism. Throughout this course, we will familiarize ourselves with Realism and Naturalism, and with literary subgenres such as satire, the novel of manners and sentimental fiction. In addition, we will read excerpts from Wharton's autobiography A Backward Glance and Shari Benstock's biography No Gifts from Chance.
To get credit for this seminar, you will be expected to regularly attend and actively participate in class; to act as lead discussant/respondent in assigned sessions; and to write a term paper (18 pages).
Please acquire copies of The Age of Innocence (1920), The House of Mirth (1905), Ethan Frome (1911) and The Fruit of the Tree (1907). Please make sure to have read The Age of Innocence by the second session, October 24.