- Wharton and Cather
Scholarship on Wharton is robust, with critics focusing on major novels as well as lesser known and later works. Six full-length studies, including a volume of letters edited by Shafquat Towheed; a new biography by Hermione Lee; a critical anthology of 17 essays edited by Gary Totten; and book-length critical studies by Emily Orlando, Annette Benert, and Parley Ann Boswell, as well as 16 articles explore a range of subjects, including Wharton's relationship to publishing and celebrity status, Gothic conventions, material culture, and European as well as American literary culture. Work continues to focus on Wharton's modernism as well as her realism. Whereas past critics saw a decline in Wharton's late writing, recent critics view it as evidence of bold, successful experimentation. The year's abundance of Cather scholarship includes books by major Cather scholars Janis P. Stout and Merrill Maguire Skaggs; the Scholarly Edition of Alexander's Bridge; two fine collections, including nearly 50 essays; and 25 separate articles and book chapters. Explorations of Cather's sources and her historical contexts remain popular and scholars continue to examine Cather's role in promoting her own work. There is an increase in both psychological and comparative studies, especially those dealing with Cather and Faulkner, and the debate about Cather's regionalism and internationalism is ongoing. Moreover, interest in gender studies, which seemed to wane for a couple of years, is strong this year.
The Wharton section of this chapter is contributed by Carol J. Singley, the Cather section by Ann Moseley. [End Page 139]
i Edith Wharton
a. Editions and Books
The well-researched volume The Correspondence of Edith Wharton and Macmillan, 1901–1930, ed. Shafquat Towheed (Palgrave), addresses an "astonishingly" wide gap in Wharton scholarship: a failure to understand the full extent of Wharton's relationship with her publishers. Wharton's history with Scribner's and Appleton-Century is well known. Towheed focuses exclusively on her relationship with Macmillan, drawing on the Macmillan Archive in the British Library. He includes nearly 30 years of correspondence; only one letter of the 400 he includes has appeared previously, making the volume a valuable resource for scholars and general readers. Towheed charts Macmillan's rise in the 19th century to eminence as a publisher of critically and popularly acclaimed fiction and documents the satisfying working relationship of Wharton and Frederick Macmillan, who were social peers as well as professional colleagues. He provides evidence that Wharton benefited from a favored relationship with Macmillan, was intimately involved with all aspects of the publishing process, and privileged the London Macmillan editions of her works over the New York editions. Despite this congenial relationship, she felt no qualms about terminating the relationship when it became obvious that the firm could not compete with the likes of Appleton in the size of advances they could offer. Towheed contributes to the understanding of Wharton as transatlantic celebrity author and professional.
Hermione Lee's impressive Edith Wharton (Knopf) joins important biographies by Lewis, Wolff, Benstock, and Dwight. Lee gives us an international Wharton, a woman "greedy for cultural adventures and experiences" and a writer "passionately interested in France, England and Italy" who "could never be done with the subject of America and Americans." A thematic rather than strictly chronological pattern of development allows reflection on the import of events as well as the events themselves. Lee describes the family dynamics and social mores of Old New York that profoundly shaped Wharton's life and art, exhibiting surprising sympathy for Wharton's mother, Lucretia Jones, who suffered slights in her own childhood. She establishes Wharton's early literary ambitions, sense of confinement in New York society, and love of design and European culture. Lee persuasively demonstrates that Italy "dominated [Wharton's] life for twenty years" and that friendship with Henry James as well as with English hostesses nearly led to her [End Page 140] permanent residence in England. Lee notes the transformative influence of France, arguing that Wharton's much noted Francophilia was tempered by an "optimistic American individualism" and a postwar sense of displacement and preoccupation with ephemerality. She argues that Wharton was neither a...