- 7 Wharton and Cather
Critical interest in Wharton and Cather remains strong. The year's scholarship includes six books, more than 50 articles and chapters in books, and a special issue of ALR on Cather as a realist writer. Both the Wharton and Cather reviews continue to serve their readers well, publishing some of the year's most noteworthy scholarship. New editions of the best-known novels—e.g., The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, and My Ántonia—continue to multiply. Almost all Wharton's short stories are now in print again in the Library of America's two-volume edition, with bibliographical references by Maureen Howard. With a few exceptions, however, the short fiction of both writers remains a neglected area of study, Wharton's stories having received even less attention than usual in 2001.
i Edith Wharton
a. Critical Books
A highlight of the year's scholarship, Deborah Lindsay Williams's Not in Sisterhood is an engrossing study of literary relationships based on correspondence that Wharton and Cather maintained for more than a decade with Zona Gale, a well-established writer in the 1920s now virtually erased from American literary history. Williams attributes the literary fates of the three novelists to their different views of themselves as artists, as revealed in their letters. While Gale, who initiated the correspondence with both Cather and Wharton, championed sisterhood and sought community with other women, Wharton and Cather, fearing that identification with women writers and feminist causes would threaten their status as literary artists, held themselves aloof, although they appeared to welcome literary exchange with Gale and to value her admiration: "Desire and recoil are the two movements of the letters," Williams states. In writing to Wharton, Gale at first assumed the role of worshipful [End Page 139] disciple, but Williams treats the three writers as literary equals in chapters on their best-known works: The House of Mirth, My Ántonia, and Miss Lulu Bett; and on their war novels: A Son at the Front, One of Ours, and Heart's Kindred. One may question whether "the consequences of choosing sisterhood as a model for literary authority" so fully account for Gale's obscurity as Williams maintains. But her book is important for its many astute insights and for bringing to light significant correspondence, which none of the biographers of Wharton or Cather even mentions.
In Mysteries of Paris: The Quest for Morton Fullerton (New England) Marion Mainwaring presents the results of three decades of research into the career of the American journalist William Morton Fullerton, a prolific writer she describes as "a strangely hollow man," who now owes his place in literary history primarily to his three-year love affair with Edith Wharton, long kept secret. Many of Wharton's letters to Fullerton have been published, and the main outlines of the relationship are now well known. But Mainwaring gives the most detailed account of the vicissitudes of the affair—the meetings, the correspondence, and the role of Henry James as the friend and confidant of both lovers. Mainwaring constructs her book as a narrative of her search for information in libraries, newspapers, archives, letters, and interviews, seeking not only to recapture the suspense and excitement of the quest, but also to establish the extent of her contribution as a research assistant to R. W. B. Lewis (referred to throughout as "the biographer"), who, she claims, mispresented the results of her work.
In The Critical Reception of Edith Wharton (Camden House) Helen Killoran surveys a century of criticism in chapters on The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, The Custom of the Country, Summer, The Age of Innocence, and Ghosts. Beginning with the contemporary reviews, she identifies the main trends in the criticism of each work, the salient issues and points of controversy, and the effects of national politics and literary theories on the fiction, as seen in representative books and articles. In an introductory chapter and elsewhere she emphatically rejects the familiar view of Wharton as the disciple of Henry James. She sides with critics who question whether Wharton is accurately described as a "feminist" but maintains that feminist theory has shaped criticism of Wharton since the 1970s...