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|Title:||"The Shifting Relation": Morality and Sexuality, Experience and Ideas, in the Work of Edith Wharton.|
|Keywords:||English Language and Literature;English Language and Literature|
|Abstract:||<p>The revival of interest in the work of Edith Wharton has brought new critical concerns, particularly with regard to her treatment of women. However, the best way to evaluate her work is to combine aspects of this new focus with the interest of her own contemporaries in her analysis of moral issues. A study of her explorations of morality and sexuality makes it possible to examine two very important aspects of her work, and thus to trace her weaknesses and her developing strengths. Her first major novel, The House o~ Hirth (1905), reveals her initial, somewhat uncertain, commitment to an aestheticized morality. Her concurrent interest in Darwin caused her serious difficulties, however, making it impossible to harmonize her own commitment to moral responsibility with Darwinian determinism. This novel is also weakened by her inability to recognize the centrality of sexuality to her subject, despite the stress that Darwin, himself, had placed upon it. However, in The Ree~ (1912), Wharton repudiated both aesthetic and Darwinian approaches to morality, and, having finally experienced the power of sexuality to affect her own life, was able to bring it into the centre of her vision and relate it directly to morality,although her treatment remained analytical. Though Summer (1917) brings sexuality into a curious relationship with morality, the latter being aligned on the side of an essentially incestuous marriage, it was with the writing of this novella that she was at last able to embody the exhilaration and power of sex in the qualities of her language. These works reveal how Wharton was able, to an impressive degree, to transmute her experience--the social and personal effects of her upbringing, her encounter with an influential socio-biological theory, and a personal crisis--through insight and judgment, into art of universal, because shared, significance.</p>|
|Appears in Collections:||Open Access Dissertations and Theses|
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