Date of Award

1-1-2010

Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Department

English Language and Literatures

Sub-Department

English

First Advisor

Brian Glavey

Abstract

Edith Wharton is undoubtedly one of American literature's foremost critics of society; however, little has been written of her use of the Gothic as part of her social commentary. Within all of Wharton's fiction, ranging from her ghost stories to her more celebrated classics such as The House of Mirth, there is a Gothic strain; Wharton illustrates the grave consequences of normalizing discourses surrounding gender, class, and sexuality through her employment of Gothic conventions. Her use of the Gothic differs from other women writers in that she does not simply critique domesticity. Instead, Wharton's Gothic is an indictment of an entire system and the mindless following of such. In this work I will examine two of Wharton's texts that, to me, most fully illustrate her Gothic. First, I will discuss the short novel Summer to examine the ambiguously mutual feelings held between a foster father and daughter. This incestuous relationship questions the idea of perversity, maintaining a complicated perspective on sexuality and showing the entrapment from following gender roles. The Age of Innocence, Wharton's most celebrated novel and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, shows the haunting effects of following social rules and rituals. Each of the main characters is buried prematurely by the suffocating society in which they reside. I will show that both novels, despite their differences, offer similar criticisms of society and provide equally powerful indictments of the sex/gender system.

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