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In Between Cultures: Franco-American Encounters in the Work of Edith Wharton
Linköping University, Department of Culture and Communication. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
2008 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)Alternative title
Mellan kulturer : Fransk-Amerikanska möten i Edith Whartons verk (Swedish)
Abstract [en]

This thesis is a study of how the American author Edith Wharton (1862-1937) in a number of novels and short stories written between 1876 and 1937 depicts cultural encounters between Americans and Europeans, mostly Frenchmen. Chiefly concerned with Fast and Loose, “The Last Asset”, Madame de Treymes, “Les Metteurs en Scène”, The Custom of the Country and The Age of Innocence, each of which articulates ideas relevant to the theme investigated, the thesis also contains a supplementary discussion of The Reef, The Glimpses of the Moon, The Mother’s Recompense and The Buccaneers. Borrowing terms and theoretical perspectives from Pierre Bourdieu and postcolonial literary criticism, particularly Homi Bhabha’s theories about inbetweenness, mimicry and otherness, the study contends through detailed analyses of single works that Wharton’s descriptions of Franco-American encounters are dynamic processes through which the parties involved are made aware of their own and “the other’s” distinguishing qualities and, in some significant cases, reach a heightened state of consciousness resembling Bhabha’s inbetweenness. Wharton’s cultural encounters often involve people with different levels of education and different economic and social positions, which justifies the use of Bourdieu’s method of analyzing the relationship between educational and social status in terms of different kinds of capital.

While in her early works Wharton merely intimates the contours of the cultural encounter, in mature works such as Madame de Treymes and The Age of Innocence she views it as a highly complex process the many stages of which are intimated through the use of subtle narratological techniques. Throughout her work Wharton makes intricate use of imagery and keywords, some of them testifying to her interest in anthropology, to suggest the manifold dimensions of the cultural encounter, which is seen as both tempting and repelling. Her accounts of the Franco-American encounter are complexly related to the different phases of the American political and social situation described in her novels. The American experience of the meeting of the ‘old society’ and the ‘new’ is rendered even more complex by being seen as the background against which Europeans and Americans negotiate transactions of symbolic and economic capital. In most of her works these lead to tragic or tragic-comic misunderstandings; only in her last, unfinished novel does she describe a full-fledged Euro-American identity, a successful fusion of American and European experiences.

Abstract [sv]

Den här avhandlingen är en studie i hur den amerikanska författarinnan Edith Wharton (1862-1937) i ett antal romaner och noveller skrivna mellan 1876 and 1937 skildrar kulturella möten mellan amerikaner och européer, främst fransmän. Avhandlingen behandlar huvudsakligen verken Fast and Loose, “The Last Asset”, Madame de Treymes, ”Les Metteurs en Scène”, The Custom of the Country and The Age of Innocence, som alla uttrycker idéer om kulturmöten; den innehåller även en kompletterande diskussion av verken The Reef, The Glimpses of the Moon, The Mother’s Recompense and The Buccaneers. Med termer och perspektiv hämtade från Pierre Bourdieu och postkolonial litteraturforskning, främst Homi Bhabhas teorier om in-betweenness (”mellanskap”), mimicry och otherness hävdar studien genom detaljerade analyser av enskilda verk hur Whartons beskrivningar av fransmäns och amerikaners möten är dynamiska processer där i bästa fall båda parter blir medvetna om sin egen och ”den andres” särart, och i vissa fall även når ett intensifierat medvetande som påminner om Bhabhas in-betweenness. Whartons kulturmöten sker oftast mellan personer med olika bildning samt ekonomisk och social position, vilket gör att Bourdieus perspektiv för analys av relationen mellan utbildning och social status som styrd av olika sorters kapital kommer till användning.

I sina tidiga berättelser antyder Wharton konturerna av det kulturella mötet, i mogna verk som Madame de Treymes and The Age of Innocence gestaltar hon det som en mycket komplex process vars många skeden antyds via hennes användning av subtil berättarteknik. Alltigenom sina verk tillämpar Wharton ett komplext bildspråk och nyckelord, varav vissa vittnar om hennes intresse för antropologi, som antyder kulturmötets många dimensioner, framställt som samtidigt lockande och frånstötande/avskräckande. Hennes redogörelser av det fransk-amerikanska mötet är komplext relaterat till de olika faser av den amerikanska politiska och sociala situation som beskrivs i hennes berättelser. Den amerikanska erfarenheten av mötet mellan den ”gamla sociala grupperingen” och den ”nya” skildras som mer komplext genom att ses som den bakgrund mot vilken européerna och amerikanerna förhandlar transaktioner av symboliskt och ekonomiskt kapital. I merparten av hennes verk leder dessa transaktioner till tragiska eller tragikomiska missförstånd; bara i hennes sista, ofullbordade roman beskriver hon en fullt utvecklad euroamerikansk identitet, en lyckad sammansmältning av amerikanska och europeiska erfarenheter.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press , 2008. , 307 p.
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science, ISSN 0282-9800 ; 443Studies in Language and Culture, ISSN 1403-2570 ; 13
Keyword [en]
American literature, capital, economic, cultural, social and symbolic, cultural encounter, Edith Wharton, hybridity, in-betweenness, mimicry, narratology, nineteenth-century literature, twentieth-century literature, otherness, women’s literature
Keyword [sv]
Amerikansk litteratur, Edith Wharton, hybriditet; in-betweenness (mellanskap), kapital: ekonomiskt, kulturellt, socialt and symboliskt, kulturmöte, kvinnolitteratur, 1800-tals litteratur, 1900-tals litteratur, mimicry, narratologi, otherness (”den andre”)
National Category
General Literature Studies
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-12579ISBN: 978-91-7393-827-3OAI: diva2:1740
Public defence
2008-09-05, Key 1, Hus Key, Campus Valla, Linköpings universitet, Linköping, 13:15 (English)
Available from: 2008-09-16 Created: 2008-09-16 Last updated: 2014-09-24Bibliographically approved

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