Edith Wharton: Art and Allusion
Killoran demonstrates that an understanding of the particular types of literary allusion to be found in Edith Wharton's novels produces fresh readings of her work and her life. Edith Wharton was extremely well read in many areas of literature, literary criticism, travel writing, social and natural sciences, history, and philosophy. Furthermore, she read prolifically in these and other subjects in English, French, German, and Italian. Wharton was also intimately familiar with the fine arts, including painting, sculpture, architecture, and landscape gardening. Wharton's abiding knowledge of such a wide range of subjects became the foundation for her use and invention of many new types of literary allusion, some functioning much like the conceits of 17th-century metaphysical poetry and others working together to form an elaborate code. As her writing progressed, Wharton invented increasingly sophisticated and entirely original types of allusion. To show that developing complexity, Killoran examines ten of Wharton's novels chronologically. A final chapter discusses the many previously unnoticed subtexts in the novels examined and demonstrates that those subtexts provide unmistakable clues to intimate details of the author's life. Killoran calls for a reassessment not only of the critical possibilities of Wharton's work and the private life about which she was so reticent but also of her position in American literature. Killoran concludes that, as a bridge between the Victorians and the highly allusive modernists such as Eliot and Joyce, Edith Wharton stands independently as an American writer of the first rank.