- 7 Wharton and Cather
Wharton and Cather scholarship remains noteworthy for its quality and its variety. In addition to several books and collections, this year brought significant editions of Wharton's fiction and poetry and of Cather's Shadows on the Rock, as well as 50 essays and book chapters. Scholars exhibit interest in Wharton's poetry and nonfiction, as well as in her novels and short stories. As in the past, The House of Mirth receives most attention, followed by The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, and Summer. New commentary also appears on The Fruit of the Tree, The Custom of the Country, and The Children. Scholarship focuses on familiar themes in Wharton's fiction related to the impact of society and environment. Approaches are wide-ranging and draw from cultural studies, feminist theory, postcolonialism, and theories of the gothic. Critics repeatedly characterize Wharton as "complex" in her wide-ranging dialogue with literary, social, political, scientific, and philosophical issues of her day and her often ironic, difficult-to-pin-down stance on social dilemmas. In Cather studies, My Ántonia regains the place of prominence it lost in 2004. Formalist analysis remains a part of much Cather scholarship, and multiethnic, multicultural, and gender studies, as well as ecocritical and pedagogical studies, continue to be important. The bulk of this year's scholarship, however, approaches Cather through history, material culture, and cultural politics. Not only textual and archival studies but also genre and source approaches have attracted greater interest. The appearance of articles on both Wharton and Cather in international journals suggests these writers' increasingly global profiles. (The Wharton [End Page 141] section of this chapter is contributed by Carol J. Singley, the Cather section by Ann Moseley.)
i Edith Wharton
a. Editions and Books
Edith Wharton: Selected Poems, ed. Louis Auchincloss (Library of America), will be welcomed by scholars and general readers. Auchincloss includes the complete texts of Wharton's three published books of poetry—Verses (1878), Artemis to Actæon (1909), and Twelve Poems (1926)—along with uncollected, individually published poems and a selection of poems left in manuscript form, including 12 poems that appear for the first time. Although a minor portion of her writing, poetry was important to Wharton because it allowed her to express emotion that she normally kept under tight control. The subjects of her verse range from meditations on landscape and myth to chronicles of the horrors of war to celebrations of the erotic and the aesthetic. Romantic models inspire her early verse, but later Wharton absorbed the influences of symbolism and modernism. Auchincloss praises Wharton's "unfailing ear for the right word" and her Browning-like mastery of dramatic monologue.
Of major importance is Robin Peel's Apart from Modernism: Edith Wharton, Politics, and Fiction Before World War I (Fairleigh Dickinson). Peel discusses writings from The Valley of Decision, Wharton's "most explicitly political" fiction, to The Custom of the Country, which demonstrates her decision not to move in the direction of the new experimentalists. Peel argues that Wharton was a writer engaged with but ultimately separate from modernist preoccupations and innovations.
Wharton's rejection of experimental modernist styles is well known; Peel probes the subtleties of modernist aesthetics and politics to build the case for Wharton's conservativism. Wharton, he argues, is an ethical writer concerned primarily with the effects of society on individuals, not on the interiority of the individual. His contextualized study places Wharton in the company of British and continental writers and emphasizes the importance of political and historical contexts in her prewar writing. Of special interest are his nuanced analysis of the Wharton Henry James connection, his finding that French rather than English or American novelists had the greatest effect on her writing, and his analysis of how Wharton used Fullerton's writing to stretch sexual and international boundaries in her fiction. His chapter on The Reef also [End Page 142] appears as "Vulgarity, Bohemia, and Edith Wharton's The Reef" (ALR 37: 187–201).
Edgar F. Harden provides a biography in the form of an annotated timeline in An Edith Wharton Chronology (Palgrave). Prose notations let readers know what Wharton was...