- 7 Wharton and Cather
Although Wharton and Cather are concerned with distinctly different literary geographies, critics are drawn to explore ways in which each responds to natural, material, and social spaces. Themes of conservation and conservatism underlie several of this year's studies, as do claims of influence and affinity with contemporary writers and thinkers. Much of the best work blends close readings of texts with analysis of cultural and historical issues, attends to essential features of each writer's biography and creative processes, and solidly situates itself among previous critical inquiries. The result is scholarship that explores each writer's uniqueness as well as her place in an always-developing American literary tradition.
The Wharton section of this chapter is contributed by Carol J. Singley, the Cather section by Ann Moseley.
i Edith Wharton
Wharton scholarship reflects new critical approaches in psychoanalytic and cultural studies as well as lines of inquiry in feminism, realism, regionalism, modernism, and Gothicism. Critics as usual find The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence absorbing objects of study, and her war writings and racial politics receive particular attention. A special issue of The Edith Wharton Review (20, i) is dedicated to the memory of Daniel Scott Marshall, an accomplished Wharton scholar and officer of the Edith Wharton Restoration at The Mount, Wharton's Lenox, [End Page 127] Massachusetts, home. The issue includes reminiscences of Marshall by Annette Zilversmit, Barbara de Marneffe, Linda Costanzo Cahir, and Julie Olin-Ammentorp that give testimony to his extraordinary erudition and generosity and also provide interesting commentary on the rise of Wharton studies over the past 20 years. The issue includes essays on topics of particular interest to him, Wharton's war fiction, and film adaptations of her work, and it concludes with "'More & More Never Apart': Edith Wharton and Henry James at The Mount" (pp. 25–27), a dramatic reading drawn from Wharton's and James's letters and from Wharton's A Backward Glance, compiled and arranged by Marshall.
Julie Olin-Ammentorp's Edith Wharton's Writings from the Great War (Florida) is a welcome and comprehensive study. Shari Benstock and R. W. B. Lewis discuss the war in their biographies, and Alan Price devotes a book-length study to Wharton's relief efforts, but Olin Ammentorp is the first to analyze in detail the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that she produced. Olin-Ammentorp begins by correcting the assumption that Wharton's output declined during the war years and accounts for the dearth of scholarly attention to those writings by both feminists and general scholars of World War I. Subsequent chapters, excerpted in "Edith Wharton's Elegies" (EWhR 20, i: 6–12), trace the evolution of Wharton's views. In letters, Fighting France, and the story "Coming Home" she initially responded romantically to the war; as the conflict dragged on, she strove to normalize it, producing Summer, The Marne, French Ways and Their Meaning, elegies, poems, and the satirical stories "The Refugees" and "Writing a War Story." Her postwar efforts include the neglected A Son at the Front, which Olin-Ammentorp examines in detail and praises for its attempt to come to terms with the complexities of war. Final chapters analyze The Age of Innocence, Old New York, and Wharton's memoir, A Backward Glance. The volume is much enriched by inclusion of out-of-print and previously inaccessible writings, and it helps to illuminate Wharton's unique approach to gender, aesthetics, and polemics. Olin-Ammentorp convincingly documents Wharton's changing outlook toward war, coupled with her consistent love of France and desire to know "truth."
Jennie A. Kassanoff's perceptive and engaging study Edith Wharton and the Politics of Race (Cambridge) opens provocatively by observing that Wharton's elite background has given critics "license to see her conservatism as a birthright," fostering a "don't-ask-don't-tell approach" [End Page 128] that assumes a naive Wharton in need of protection. Kassanoff argues in contrast that Wharton's fiction is inflected with the political dissonance of modern experience and is occupied with notions of blood and racial purity. Her work, Kassanoff suggestively argues, "forces us...