By Jennie A. Kassanoff
Edith Wharton feared that the 'ill-bred', international and negative may crush an American elite. Drawing on a number of turn-of-the-century social records, unpublished archival fabric and Wharton's significant novels, Kassanoff argues fuller appreciation of yankee tradition and democracy turns into to be had via an engagement with those debatable views.
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Extra resources for Edith Wharton and the politics of race
20 Wharton’s is a peculiarly American uncertainty: who are the invaders and who are the aborigines? Did American culture flower because of the conquest of the “aboriginal weed,” or did it spring instead from its roots in the aboriginal? Are a nation’s citizens authentic because they displace the aborigine, or because they are the aborigines? the racial aesthetic These issues were both personal and political for Edith Wharton. Having spent much of her early childhood in Rome, London, Paris and Seville, Wharton returned to New York in 1872 only to face “the mean monotonous streets” of Manhattan (Backward Glance 54).
As he grows increasingly aware of Moffatt’s “bodily presence,” Ralph is forced to acknowledge his predecessor’s phallic advantage. Moffatt begins “to loom, huge and portentous as some monster released from a magician’s bottle. His redness, his glossiness, his baldness, and the carefully brushed ring of hair encircling it . . all these solid witnesses to his reality and his proximity pressed on Ralph” (264). A serpent in Ralph’s frontier garden, Moffatt has a previous claim on Ralph’s virgin terrain.
In Baron 51). For Wharton, by contrast, linguistic instability was a symptom of political volatility. The “heterogeneous hundred millions” of immigrants coming into the United States were indifferent to the “recognised guidance” of the country’s hereditary elite and therefore agents of chaos and decline (French Ways 50). As H. L. Mencken acknowledged in his encyclopedic 1919 study, The American Language, the United States was the hub of impulse and gullibility. In rejecting Great Britain’s “relatively stable social order,” America had launched itself into a cultural free-for-all.