Abstract

Drawing on the nineteenth-century analogic tradition exemplified by Walter Pater, Honoré de Balzac, and Henry James, this essay considers the conjunction of literature and architecture in Edith Wharton's oeuvre, and particularly her custom of relating novelistic form to architectural design. Her bestselling novel The House of Mirth and her non-fiction work The Writing of Fiction are identified as literary counterparts to Wharton's first book, The Decoration of Houses, a manual of interior design co-authored with architect Ogden Codman. Given Wharton's lifelong interest in architecture and material culture, this essay suggests that she conceived of the modern novel as a product of design, as primarily architectural or constructed space. Windows, thresholds, and furniture, as well as libraries and other interior spaces, figure centrally in her work. The confluence of literary and architectural principles is featured in The House of Mirth, a novel in which the author's skill is equivalent to the architect's, and where the decorative allure of protagonist Lily Bart renders her disturbingly analogous to a rare book. By examining key library scenes in the novel, this essay offers new insight on the decorative appeal of Wharton's work while calling attention to an underlying ethical dimension of her literary architecture.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 1096-1104
Launched on MUSE
2010-11-24
Open Access
No
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