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From Fifth Avenue Residence to Boarding House: Setting in Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth

Abstract : Although the action of The House of Mirth begins in the upper-middle - class world and the heart of Manhattan, around Washington Square, that Edith Wharton knew so well, the reader is soon taken into successive parallel worlds that always go one notch down. All along the book, and particularly in the last pages, Wharton regularly draws on her intimate knowledge of the lay - out of the city, giving such specific geographical references that one might locate the characters on a map. These street scenes are pitted against indoor scenes which provide her with an opportunity to display what an eye she had for interior decoration. I shall therefore look at what specific places Wharton mentions and depicts and try to establish their function. However, since quite a number of scenes and episodes do not take place in New York (Book 1, for instance, depicts the Trenors’ country residence, while Book 2 opens in Mont e Carlo), one may perhaps question the actual usefulness of such a precise setting. Indeed, Wharton seems to indicate that the location does not matter much as long as it is a place favoured by the very rich, into which they displace the way of life they are used to pursuing in New York; in other words, New York is not just a city, it is a society. What is also interesting, in this novel, is that Wharton is not content with describing the world of the very rich and the replica that the nouveaux riches and up starts strive to create (cheap, vulgar, garish, uncouth). She is also quite incisive in her depiction of the living conditions of the lower and working classes (and one may wonder whether she had first - hand knowledge of them): Nettie Struthers’ place, the milliner’s, Lily’s room at the boarding - house, for example. A close look at the depictions of these places will lead me to try and assert their realism.
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Submitted on : Friday, May 19, 2017 - 10:09:47 AM
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Brigitte Zaugg. From Fifth Avenue Residence to Boarding House: Setting in Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. Analele Universitatii din Bucuresti. Limba si literatura, 2014, pp.47-56. ⟨hal-01524919⟩



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