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Edith Wharton's relationship to German literature: A study in creative affinity

Mercuri, Maria Novella; (1998) Edith Wharton's relationship to German literature: A study in creative affinity. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

Wharton's cultural relationship to Germany has so far remained neglected. The vastness of her reading in this subject is well documented and mentioned in various critical works, but the subtle and creative use she makes of her readings of German authors has so far been largely overlooked. Moreover, there are interpretatively revealing affinities between Wharton's work and the German novel tradition. This thesis is, then, less a study in demonstrable influence than in creative overlap. By far the most important German influence on Wharton's life and work is Goethe's. Her great admiration for Goethe is evident from the numerous references to his works recurring in her fiction and letters throughout her life. Goethe was a constant and shaping influence in Wharton's existence and her philosophy of life owes much to his. He also constitutes a literary antecedent for her writing as the highest representative of the classical Bildungsroman tradition.. Chapter I therefore studies the relationship of some of Wharton's most important novels to seminal German texts such as the Lehrjahre and the Wanderjahre and to Faust. Moreover, this chapter tries to situate Wharton's fiction in terms not only of the Bildungsroman but also of other literary genres such as the historical novel, romance, the naturalistic novel and the novel of manners, in order to highlight Wharton's original use of them. The exploration of her use of romance and of elements of fantastic literature is continued in Chapter II, where a comparison of Wharton's The Valley of Decision and Schiller's Der Geisterseher brings out likenesses of characterization and narrative technique. In Chapter III Wharton's most important novels are read alongside Fontane's, in order to highlight stylistic and thematic affinities between the two authors. This chapter focuses in particular on their treatment of the problem of the condition of women at the end of the 19th century, which leads Wharton and Fontane both to the criticism of a specific society, and to a wider philosophical consideration of the relationship between convention and morality, society and the individual, socialisation and personal freedom. In relation to these thematic concerns, the similarities between Wharton's work and Thomas Mann's are also considered. Finally, constituents and techniques of narrative in Wharton and Fontane are analysed by means of narratological tools as illustrated in the theoretical studies of Gerard Genette.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Edith Wharton's relationship to German literature: A study in creative affinity
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Language, literature and linguistics; Wharton, Edith
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10100919
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