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The Great War as a creative catalyst in Edith Wharton's fiction

Emilie Fergin Mindrup, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This study explores the impact of the Great War on Edith Wharton's life and literature through an examination of her war-related writings: A Motor-Flight Through France (1908); Fighting France; From Dunkerque to Belfort (1915); Summer (1917); The Marne (1918); French Ways and Their Meaning (1919); The Age of Innocence (1920); A Son at the Front (1923); The Mother's Recompense (1925); and The Gods Arrive (1932). It relies in part on feminist approaches to literature, on socio-cultural examination of the historical era in which Wharton wrote, and on Erik H. Erikson's conception of the psychology of old age. The major thesis of this study is that Wharton's long-neglected war writings form a vital component of her vision as a writer and of her development as a mature woman. ^ Chapter One scrutinizes Edith Wharton's A Motor-Flight Through France (1908) and other writings to lay the foundation of the author's enduring veneration of France which compelled her to propagandize for an American military commitment during the Great War on behalf of that nation. Chapter Two offers a nontraditional reading of Summer (1917) as propaganda, allegorically presented to encourage Americans to petition their government to join the Allies. How cultural limitations compelled Wharton to challenge taboos against women and war by masking her voice is the focus of Chapter Three. A comparative analysis of Edith Wharton's A Son at the Front (1923) and Willa Cather's One of Ours (1922) indicates this “taboo” instigates numerous similarities in these war narratives. The impact of Modernism on postwar America—particularly as regards the past and tradition—and on Edith Wharton's imagination is addressed in Chapter Four, which scrutinizes The Mother's Recompense (1925), The Age of Innocence and The Gods Arrive (1932) as examples of how Modernism and the Great War impacted her later creative vision. Edith Wharton's war-related writings reveal an author fully cognizant of social and political issues in wartime and postwar “new America,” and of the potential to effect sociopolitical change through her fiction. ^

Subject Area

Biography|Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Mindrup, Emilie Fergin, "The Great War as a creative catalyst in Edith Wharton's fiction" (2004). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3159554.