Event Title

Frivolous Societies: Realism and Corruption in Henry James’s and Edith Wharton’s Lives and Novels

College

College of Arts and Sciences

Department

Department of English

Honors Thesis Committee

Leslie Bickford, Ph.D.; Kelly Richardson, Ph.D.; and Gloria Jones, Ph.D.

Location

West Center, Room 219

Start Date

21-4-2017 1:30 PM

Description

Literary realism draws unquestionable New Historical ties. To read a novel or story with intent of depicting life as it truly is, it is practically impossible not to draw on the history surrounding the time and plot of the story. These stories beg the reader to compare their own lives with the lives of the characters. Such is the case with the works of Henry James and Edith Wharton. Both realist writers of the 19th and 20th century, these authors focused on the perils of upper class society. James and Wharton, themselves being members of the aristocracy, seemed to have no problem representing the superficial and nefarious aspects of their lives. Forming a close friendship throughout their life, Wharton and James bonded through their mockery of society. Edith Wharton, in talking about her writing once said, “A frivolous society can acquire dramatic significance only through what its frivolity destroys." The duo created stories with similar themes and motifs and even characters, Wharton even naming one of her characters after one of his. James’ Portrait of a Lady and Wharton’s Age of Innocence particularly play off of each other in their representations of the time periods. Henry James and Edith Wharton use realism to create a stark commentary on societal corruption and demonstrate the battle between duty and free will that they themselves faced in their own lives.

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Apr 21st, 1:30 PM

Frivolous Societies: Realism and Corruption in Henry James’s and Edith Wharton’s Lives and Novels

West Center, Room 219

Literary realism draws unquestionable New Historical ties. To read a novel or story with intent of depicting life as it truly is, it is practically impossible not to draw on the history surrounding the time and plot of the story. These stories beg the reader to compare their own lives with the lives of the characters. Such is the case with the works of Henry James and Edith Wharton. Both realist writers of the 19th and 20th century, these authors focused on the perils of upper class society. James and Wharton, themselves being members of the aristocracy, seemed to have no problem representing the superficial and nefarious aspects of their lives. Forming a close friendship throughout their life, Wharton and James bonded through their mockery of society. Edith Wharton, in talking about her writing once said, “A frivolous society can acquire dramatic significance only through what its frivolity destroys." The duo created stories with similar themes and motifs and even characters, Wharton even naming one of her characters after one of his. James’ Portrait of a Lady and Wharton’s Age of Innocence particularly play off of each other in their representations of the time periods. Henry James and Edith Wharton use realism to create a stark commentary on societal corruption and demonstrate the battle between duty and free will that they themselves faced in their own lives.