- Wharton and Cather
No book-length studies on Edith Wharton appear this year, but she is discussed exclusively or receives mention in 20 journal articles. The quality of work and range of topics covered in these articles, many of them comparative studies, demonstrate Wharton’s increasing centrality in American literature. The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, The Age of Innocence, and the late novels receive focused attention.
This year’s Willa Cather scholarship confirms the changes wrought by The Selected Letters of Willa Cather (2013) as scholars evaluate that volume and adjust to its presence as a feature of their work. While no critical books or collections of essays appear in 2014, a significant 2013 thematic collection in the Italian journal Letterature d’America, “Willa Cather: Enduringly ‘Contemporary,’” is of note, as are two fugitive essays from previous years that escaped prior attention here. The Professor’s House, which Thomas J. Ferraro rightly refers to as a “chock-full-everything text” (in his significant article on that novel treated here), continues to garner attention, as does Lucy Gayheart, with interest in that late novel prompted by its forthcoming publication in the Willa Cather Scholarly Edition from Nebraska. (With that, only Cather’s Poems remains to be done.) Of particular significance this year are essays by senior scholars who have long made major contributions to Cather studies: John J. Murphy, who edited the Rome collection and contributed an overview introduction to it, has published another comprehensive evaluation of Cather’s art in a 2014 festschrift; Richard H. Millington continues his ongoing work on Cather’s modernism in an especially significant essay [End Page 113] on that subject; Ann Romines continues to analyze Cather’s use of food culture, especially this year in Sapphira and the Slave Girl; and Janis P. Stout, one of the editors of the Selected Letters, continues her comparative analysis of Cather’s “highbrow” fiction in relation to Dorothy Canfield’s “middlebrow” work, extending her analysis to the latter’s political concerns.
The Wharton section of this chapter was contributed by Carol J. Singley and the Cather by Robert Thacker.
i Edith Wharton
a. Book Chapters and Articles
Among the comparative studies of Wharton is Laura Laffrado’s “The Pacific Northwest (Re)Writes New England: Civic Myth and Women’s Literary Regionalism in Ella Higginson’s Revision of The Scarlet Letter” (NHR 40, i: 18–40), which links Wharton to Nathaniel Hawthorne and a tradition of female regional writers. Wharton’s reading of Walt Whitman with Henry James and reference to Whitman in The Spark, part of her quartet Old New York, is described in Tamara L. Follini’s “Speaking Monuments: Henry James, Walt Whitman, and the Civil War Statues of Augustus Saint-Gaudens” (JAmS 48: 25–49). Follini cites Wharton’s depiction of Mrs. Mingott’s ground-floor living quarters in The Age of Innocence as an example of the movement from brownstone to flat in New York City at the end of the 19th century. John M. Gretchko observes in his discussion of Herman Melville, whose widow resided at the Florence Apartment House, that such French-inspired living, combining privacy and openness, engendered sensationalism and a sense of decadence (“The Florence,” Leviathan 16, i: 22–32). A letter Joseph Conrad wrote to Wharton in 1912 about the possible translation of “The Secret Sharer” into French is described in Nicholas Royle’s “Reading Joseph Conrad: Episodes from the Coast” (Mosaic 47, i: 41–67). In “Detecting Winnifred Eaton” (MELUS 39, i: 82–105) Jinny Huh observes that Wharton and Eaton traveled in some of the same circles.
Wharton’s influence on other writers receives attention in several essays. Rebecca Mark’s “Why Aren’t Middle-Class White Women Laughing in Eudora Welty’s Fiction?” (EuWN 6, vi: 39–53) notes that Welty makes use of Wharton’s allusion to Ecclesiastes in The House of Mirth to depict the liminal performance of laughter in middle-class women. I analyze Wharton’s importance to contemporary fiction in [End Page 114] “Claire McMillan and Francesca Segal Pay Tribute to Wharton’s The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence” (EWhR...