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The visual figures in Edith Wharton’s The house of mirth, The age of innocence and Ethan Frome


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Gerić, Petra. (2018). The visual figures in Edith Wharton’s The house of mirth, The age of innocence and Ethan Frome. Diploma Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of English Language and Literature. [mentor Jukić, Tatjana].

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Vision and the visual play an important role in Edith Wharton’s works. Wharton uses a wide scope of visual figures – ranging from high art, technology, transportation, nature, even waste – in order to express her views on art, her skepticism toward modernity and progress, and her unsentimental view of the past. Wharton uses ekphrasis in The House of Mirth to express her views on art and whether art should be treated as a material object. Moreover, her choice of visual figures shows “how much Wharton was negotiating modernity in her writing.” (Hoeller, p 137) Images of transportation, technology and rubbish found in The House of Mirth have very negative connotations – something that betrays her skepticism towards the idea of progress. Moreover, the style used in Ethan Frome is modernist. The same way modernist writers “(…) achieved a hard-edged quality with images of metals, especially steel,” (Singley, p 125) Wharton does “with New England granite.” (125) Moreover, Wharton’s skepticism towards progress is by no means a sign of her favoring the past. Her ambivalence toward the past is apparent in her use of tribal imagery, and imagery of tombs, doomed cities and pyramids in The Age of Innocence; the society of old New York is portrayed as oppressive and suffocating. The main characters in all three novels possess a certain “tendency toward visual sensibility,” (Miller, p 15) and an “artistic temperament.” (Miller, p 18) Their “visual sensibility” is very influential in the way they view themselves, each other and the world around them I oYen through the lens of visual arts, but also nature, technology etc. Moreover, Wharton continually draws attention to the discrepancy between their vision of the world and the reality around them. Therefore, vision and the visual are of great importance when analyzing the focalizing consciousnesses in Edith Wharton’s fiction.

Item Type: Diploma Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: vision, visual sensibility, visual arts, ekphrasis, symbolism, imagery
Subjects: English language and literature > American Studies
Departments: Department of English Language and Literature
Supervisor: Jukić, Tatjana
Date Deposited: 12 Feb 2018 13:13
Last Modified: 12 Feb 2018 13:13

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