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Title: American ways and their meaning : Edith Wharton's post-war fiction and American history, ideology, and national identity
Author: Glennon, Jenny L.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2711 9837
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis argues that Edith Wharton’s assessment of American ways and their meaning in her post-war fiction has been widely misread. Its title derives from French Ways and Their Meaning (1919), which she wrote to educate her countrymen about French culture and society. Making sense of America was as great a challenge to Wharton. Much of her later fiction was for a long time dismissed by critics on the grounds that she had failed to ‘make sense’ of America. Wharton was troubled by American materialism and optimism, yet she believed in a culturally significant future for her nation. She advocated – and wrote – an American fiction that looked critically at society and acknowledged the nation’s ties to Europe. Sometimes her assessment of American ways is reductive, and presented in a tone that her critics, then and since, found off- putting and snobbish. But her skepticism about American modernity was penetrating and prophetic, and has not been given its due. In criticism over the last two decades, a case for the place of Wharton’s post-war fiction in canons of feminism and modernism has been persuasively made. The thesis responds to these positions, but makes its own argument that the post-war writing reflects broader shift in American identity and ideology. The thesis is broadly historicist in its strategy, opening with a discussionofthereputationofthesetextsandthatoftheauthormoregenerally. Afterthat entry-point, it is organized thematically, with four chapters covering topics that are seen as key components of American ideology in Wharton’s post-war writing. These include modernity, gender equality, the American Dream of social mobility, and American exceptionalism. The thesis concludes with an assessment of Wharton’s prognostications in the context of twenty-first century America.
Supervisor: Lee, Hermione Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: English Language and Literature ; American literature in English ; Edith Wharton ; Jazz Age ; 1920s ; 1930s ; World War I ; flapper ; American Dream ; Americanization ; globalization ; Sinclair Lewis ; Scott Fitzgerald ; 'The Age of Innocence' ; 'The Buccaneers' ; 'Twilight Sleep ; ' modernism