Judging by Edith Wharton’s success as a writer, the fascination for her characters equals the interest of her readers in the American society as it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What was that time really like? What forces influenced the thoughts and actions of Wharton’s characters? What made the difference between the privileged and the poor? Given her own social status, could Wharton really grasp the realities of her time? Was there a social and moral conflict in her works and, if so, how do we perceive it, as readers of the 21st century? Most of Edith Wharton’s critics have qualified her as a novelist of manners, and indeed she is one, but there is a significant moral component in her works as well. Wharton illustrates the social and the moral conflicts of her time, thus contributing to our image about turn-of-the-century America. More recently, probably influenced by the film adaptations in the 1990s and the publishing of the author’s personal letters, other approaches can also be identified, which address the diversity and complexity (both thematic and narrative) of her works.
Oana Alexandra Alexa