Edith Wharton: The Uncollected Critical Writings

Overview

The widespread resurgence of interest in Edith Wharton's career over the past twenty years has restored to print most of her fiction, travel books, and writings on architecture, gardening, and interior decoration. Yet one significant and substantial portion of her accomplishment has remained largely overlooked: Wharton's numerous exercises in literary criticism. Constituting an unusually little-known body of work by an otherwise preeminent American writer, Wharton's many scattered reviews and essays, literary ...

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Overview

The widespread resurgence of interest in Edith Wharton's career over the past twenty years has restored to print most of her fiction, travel books, and writings on architecture, gardening, and interior decoration. Yet one significant and substantial portion of her accomplishment has remained largely overlooked: Wharton's numerous exercises in literary criticism. Constituting an unusually little-known body of work by an otherwise preeminent American writer, Wharton's many scattered reviews and essays, literary eulogies, and forewords and introductions (to her own work, and to works of others) have never before been collected in a single volume. Covering works of various literary traditions, including eloquent general considerations of fiction and criticism, and embracing novels, volumes of lyric and dramatic verse, and works by other critics of literature, art, and architecture, these critical writings uniquely demonstrate the extraordinary range of Wharton's critical interests and intelligence.

A searching and comprehensive introductory essay places her critical prose in the context of Wharton's career as a whole, and draws on a wealth of unpublished materials in exploring the uncertainties and inhibitions against which she had to struggle in order to express herself as a critic at all. Assembling her miscellaneous critical writings (including some newly discovered texts), this authoritative edition makes an exceptional contribution not only to the ongoing "Wharton revival" but to the study of American literature, of literary criticism, and of women as writers of criticism.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"An impressive collection of individual gems as well as confirming evidence of an impressive critical intelligence. Mr. Wegener has done us all a great service. . . ."--James W. Tuttleton, Washington Times.

"Despite her astute critical mind, feelings of intellectual unworthiness made Wharton reluctant to publish her opinions. [This] well-researched book. . .gathers these intermittent writings (including some previously uncollected) [and contains] her superb considerations of George Eliot and Henry James. . . ."--Renee Tursi, New York Times Book Review

"Wharton may have written relatively little criticism, but she always tried to take the largest possible view of culture in general and literature in particular. Her aim was to enunciate as best she could the soundest and most enduring principles for judging the merit of any work of art and to apply them thoroughly and fairly."--Merle Rubin, Christian Science Monitor

"This collection shows that she is due a place in the developing history of women's critical writing and that her views of other writers are worth knowing. . . . The introduction is the best reason for graduate research libraries to add this volume to their Wharton holdings."--
Choice

"Frederick Wegener's introduction is, in itself, a substantial contribution to Wharton scholarship: it serves as a well-focused lens for viewing the essays he has edited so meticulously."--Julie Olin-Ammentorp, Edith Wharton Review

"Wharton aficionados will drink in every carefully chosen word and beautifully crafted sentence, but everyone interested in literature will find much to savor here."--
Booklist

"In this fascinating collection of Wharton's critical prose, Wegener demonstrates that Wharton was a far better critic than she realized, and one only regrets, after reading these works, that she was not more prolific in that arena. Wegener's introduction to this collection benefits from being scholarly, readable and cogent."--
Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
One of America's most beloved novelists, Wharton cut a niche for herself in American letters as the leading chronicler of upper-crust New York society and the purveyor of a style that mixed the respective strengths of American naturalism and the realism of her colleague and mentor, Henry James. In this fascinating collection of Wharton's critical prose, Wegener demonstrates that Wharton was a far better critic than she realized, and one only regrets, after reading these works, that she was not more prolific in that arena. Wegener's introduction to this collection benefits from being scholarly, readable and cogent. As he suggests, Wharton is simply a good critic, which is justification enough to reprint many of these otherwise inaccessible items. Even where one disagrees with Wharton's assessments (she held low opinions of Lawrence and Woolf) and assertions (the lives of the rich make for better novels than those of the poor), her criticisms remain rooted in an appreciation of novel-writing few today can match. Ably aided by Wegener's careful annotations, lovers of Wharton will be pleased by the variety of assembled material: critical essays, literary and theater reviews, tributes and eulogies, prefaces, introductions and forewords to her writings and those of others as well as several unpublished items.
Library Journal
From this collection of critical writings, Wharton emerges as a literary critic whose voice is characterized at once by an ambivalence toward the critical role and a sententious prose that imitates the critical style of Henry James and William Dean Howells. Editor Wegener (English, Baruch College) divides the collection into five sections, the first two of which contain reviews and essays dating from 1896 to 1934. A third section collects Wharton's tributes and eulogies to her friends, and a fourth section contains the introductions Wharton wrote for a number of books. The final section collects Wharton's "self-reconsiderations" of Ethan Frome and The House of Mirth. Typical of the tone of Wharton's criticism is this sentence from the essay "The Criticism of Fiction": "All intelligent criticism of art presupposes an intelligent criticism of life in general." -- Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Westerville P.L., Ohio
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691002699
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 11/30/1998
  • Pages: 350
  • Product dimensions: 6.09 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Edith Wharton
One of America's most important novelists, Edith Wharton was a refined, relentless chronicler of the Gilded Age and its social mores. Along with close friend Henry James, she helped define literature at the turn of the 20th century, even as she wrote classic nonfiction on travel, decorating and her own life.

Biography

Edith Newbold Jones was born January 24, 1862, into such wealth and privilege that her family inspired the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses." The youngest of three children, Edith spent her early years touring Europe with her parents and, upon the family's return to the United States, enjoyed a privileged childhood in New York and Newport, Rhode Island. Edith's creativity and talent soon became obvious: By the age of eighteen she had written a novella, (as well as witty reviews of it) and published poetry in the Atlantic Monthly.

After a failed engagement, Edith married a wealthy sportsman, Edward Wharton. Despite similar backgrounds and a shared taste for travel, the marriage was not a success. Many of Wharton's novels chronicle unhappy marriages, in which the demands of love and vocation often conflict with the expectations of society. Wharton's first major novel, The House of Mirth, published in 1905, enjoyed considerable Literary Success. Ethan Frome appeared six years later, solidifying Wharton's reputation as an important novelist. Often in the company of her close friend, Henry James, Wharton mingled with some of the most famous writers and artists of the day, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, André Gide, Sinclair Lewis, Jean Cocteau, and Jack London.

In 1913 Edith divorced Edward. She lived mostly in France for the remainder of her life. When World War I broke out, she organized hostels for refugees, worked as a fund-raiser, and wrote for American publications from battlefield frontlines. She was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her courage and distinguished work.

The Age of Innocence, a novel about New York in the 1870s, earned Wharton the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1921 -- the first time the award had been bestowed upon a woman. Wharton traveled throughout Europe to encourage young authors. She also continued to write, lying in her bed every morning, as she had always done, dropping each newly penned page on the floor to be collected and arranged when she was finished. Wharton suffered a stroke and died on August 11, 1937. She is buried in the American Cemetery in Versailles, France.

Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of The Age of Innocence.

Good To Know

Upon the publication of The House of Mirth in 1905, Wharton became an instant celebrity, and the the book was an instant bestseller, with 80,000 copies ordered from Scribner's six weeks after its release.

Wharton had a great fondness for dogs, and owned several throughout her life.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Edith Newbold Jones Wharton (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 24, 1862
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      August 11, 1937
    2. Place of Death:
      Saint-Brice-sous-ForĂȘt, France

Table of Contents


XI April 28, 1852-July 8, 1852 1
XII July 9, 1852-August 31, 1852 201
XIII August 31, 1852-January 7, 1853 325
XIV January 8, 1853-March 8, 1853 433
Appendix 477
Indexes of MS Volumes
Annotations 501
Map 536
Index 539
EDITORIAL APPENDIX
Notes on Illustrations 555
Acknowledgments 556
Editorial Contributions 558
Historical Introduction 559
Textual Introduction 588
Textual Notes 599
Table of Emendations 609
Table of Alterations 630
End-of-Line Hyphenation 690
Later Revisions 694
Cross-References to Published Versions 712
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