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Extra info for Feminist Readings of Edith Wharton: From Silence to Speech

Sample text

40–41) Nevertheless, in the midst of such social turmoil, the cult of True Womanhood offered social norms, shaped cultural aspirations, and provided apparent consensus about accepted gender roles, behavior, and beliefs for many people. The stability afforded society by the assumed agreement about women’s roles encouraged acceptance of the status quo. Thus, as the nineteenth century drew to a close, although forces for change in women’s roles became stronger, they also evoked much cultural anxiety.

34 In 1899, she thanked Barrett Wendell, professor of English at Harvard, for his appreciative comments on her short story collection The Greater Inclination. She was pleased to learn that he had found “glimpses of that big outer world through my writing” and asserted, “I don’t mind being called ‘cynical & depressing’ by the sentimentalists, as long as those who see the ‘inherences’ recognize my ability to see them too” (Lewis, Letters 39). Wharton believed her novels and short stories avoided the limitations of romantic sentimentalism (and the limitations of female authorship).

In Wilson 58). Wharton clearly shared Munsey’s attitude. In her view the legacy of sentiment was precisely what American writers needed to oppose. In 1921, she wrote to Sinclair Lewis that he was one of the few writers who kept her from “despair” over the state of American literature (Lewis, Letters 445). She added, “Some sort of standard is emerging from the welter of cant & sentimentality, & if two or three of us are gathered together, I believe we can still save fiction in America” (445). 34 In 1899, she thanked Barrett Wendell, professor of English at Harvard, for his appreciative comments on her short story collection The Greater Inclination.

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