Edith Wharton's Prisoners of Consciousness: A Study of Theme and Technique in the Tales

Edith Wharton's Prisoners of Consciousness: A Study of Theme and Technique in the Tales

Edith Wharton's Prisoners of Consciousness: A Study of Theme and Technique in the Tales

Edith Wharton's Prisoners of Consciousness: A Study of Theme and Technique in the Tales

Synopsis

The metaphor of life as prison obsessed Edith Wharton, and, consequently, the theme of imprisonment appears in most of her 86 short stories. In the last several decades, critical studies of Wharton's fiction have focused on this theme of imprisonment, but invariably it is related to biographical considerations. This study, however, is not concerned with such insights and influences; rather, it concentrates on Wharton's skill as a craftsman in consciously and carefully fitting her narrative techniques to the imprisonment theme. Representative tales from Wharton's early period (1891-1904), her major phase (1905-1919), and her later years (1926-1937) have been examined and divided into four categories: individuals trapped by love and marriage, men and women imprisoned by the dictates of society, human beings victimized by the demands of art and morality, and persons paralyzed by fear of the supernatural.

Excerpt

In the summer of 1986, I came upon R.W.B. Lewis's two-volume edition of Edith Wharton's short stories in the Quinnipiac College Library. I read each of them with delight--even those that critics have deemed inferior. At that time there was no critical text devoted to Wharton's short stories (Barbara A. White Edith Wharton: a Study of the Short Fiction was not published until 1991) and certainly no comprehensive examination of the techniques she employs in her stories. This study, therefore, concentrates on Wharton's narrative art and its application to the theme of imprisonment in her tales. It shows, too, that Wharton, as Lewis notes in the "Preface" to his biography of Wharton, "took to drawing upon her writings for her writings" (xiv).

I am deeply indebted to a number of people for their help with this study. I want to express my gratitude to Professor Gale C. Schricker of Fordham University for her guidance and encouragement. I also owe a debt of gratitude to several of my Quinnipiac College colleagues: the library staff, in particular, Ellen Kissner, Margot Roten, and Janet Valeski for securing materials; the Computer Center staff, especially Janice Esposito and Peter DiDomenico for help with the computer; and the Faculty Research Committee, chaired by Linda Broker, for granting released time from my teaching.

Thanks are also due the Watkins/Loomis Agency, Inc.; Charles Scribner's Sons, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Company; the Yale Collection of . . .

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