Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Cynthia Davis


This project examines the relationship between divorce and masculinity as presented in several realist novels written around the turn of the century, including A Modern Instance by William Dean Howells, What Maisie Knew by Henry James, and The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. It looks closely at how divorce, which saw a dramatic rise between the years 1880 and 1920, seemingly threatened an elite version of manhood that was already on the decline at this time, a version of manhood increasingly viewed within society as weak and effeminate and one represented in each of these novels by a recurring liminal male figure who suffers most from divorce, even when not directly involved in one himself. Moving this seemingly marginal character to the forefront illuminates the classed and gendered implications surrounding the impact of divorce on this figure in real life and helps us understand the ways in which these realists were actively participating in and engaging with the social issues of their day, rather than simply reflecting life as they saw it. In each of these novels, this anachronistic figure is presented with a sort of sympathetic disdain, creating a tension in these texts rendered thematically by the divisive subject of divorce and informed by conflicting aesthetic and social priorities that shape a critique of both the present moment and the past on which it depends.


© 2013, Melissa Pluta Parker