Wretched Exotic: Essays on Edith Wharton in Europe

Wretched Exotic: Essays on Edith Wharton in Europe

Wretched Exotic: Essays on Edith Wharton in Europe

Wretched Exotic: Essays on Edith Wharton in Europe

Excerpt

Katherine Joslin and Alan Price

My first few weeks in America are always miserable, because the tastes I am cursed with are all of a kind that cannot be gratified here, & I am not enough in sympathy with our "gros public" to make up for the lack on the aesthetic side. One's friends are delightful; but we are none of us Americans, we don't think or feel as the Americans do, we are the wretched exotics produced in a European glass-house, the most déplacé & useless class on earth!

Edith Wharton to Sara Norton, June 5, 1903

The wistful tone of Edith Wharton's defense of her preference for Europe in this letter to her confidante Sara Norton suggests that Wharton's affinity for Europe and things European already had a long history. It suggests, too, that while her life was never "wretched" economically or socially, she clearly felt wretchedly displaced in a very elemental sense from culture and life in the United States. Her community of upper-class New Yorkers spurned the westward destiny of their lower- class compatriots. Wharton travelled only once to the American Midwest and never to the West, both areas teeming with newly arrived immigrants. Her social class and cultural experiences set her apart from the throng of European-Americans who journeyed westward to escape . . .

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