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From world war to consumer culture: an investigation into Edith Wharton and the 1920s

Jordan, Elizabeth A. (2003) From world war to consumer culture: an investigation into Edith Wharton and the 1920s. Masters thesis, Durham University.

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Abstract

Chapter 1For decades, many critics assumed Edith Wharton's post-World War I fiction to be valuable only in the shadow of her earlier, and supposedly greater, writing. In this thesis, I intend to explore three of these novels in further critical detail. The Glimpses of the Moon (1922), Twilight Sleep (1927), and The Children (1928). Their combination allows for a solid, comprehensive and multifaceted sample of Wharton in the 1920s. Integral to this thesis are the Marxist reasoning of Fredric Jameson and the utilisation of his semantic rectangle. Chapter 2At the time of its publication The Glimpses of the Moon was critically ignored. However, the exploration, at length, of the semantic rectangles produced from this novel has directed us to four points of conclusion. First, that The Glimpses of the Moon provides a transition from the tragic historical romance to the modern problematic lifestyle. Secondly, that the novel is displaced in time. Thirdly, the knowledge gained from this new exploration has worth at least equal to novels written prior to 1920. And finally, that the conclusion of this novel has significant ambivalence hidden within the neatness of the resolution. Chapter 3Wharton's task in this novel, Twilight Sleep, is much more to act as an illustrator of the ambivalence that marked the later 1920s. Each incarnation of the binary between power and subordination reveals a separate area of uncertainty and two dichotomous manners of resolving it. What follows from them is an intense inability or refusal to endorse any of them by Wharton. Without providing answers, Wharton equitably divides failure between the characters and binaries. Rather than success, this novel and rectangle are about failure. Chapter 4The warring notions of modernity and tradition produced, pragmatically, the conflict between change and stability. As modernity crept into being, social guidelines slowly disappeared, leaving people awash in a sea of possibilities. Wharton was deeply troubled by the uncertainty and transience that characterised once solid worlds. In The Children, she explores the questions posed by debating the merits of change and stability and ultimately expresses her inability to come to terms with either through the ambivalence that marks this novel. Chapter The body of contemporary Wharton critics have managed to identify the factors that precipitated the change in Wharton's post-World War I fiction. This thesis, employing Marxist critic Fredric Jameson's methodology and tools, has attempted to show the critical worth of the 1920s works through examining three selections. Jameson's ability to merge historicism, ideology, criticism and philosophy extends into a synthesized methodology for literary critique applicable to Wharton.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Thesis Date:2003
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:01 Aug 2012 11:37

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