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"[T]he poetic value of the evolutionary conception" : Darwinian allegory in the major novels of Edith… Ohler, Paul Joseph 2003

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"[T]he poetic value of the evolutionary conception": Darwinian allegory in the major novels of Edith Wharton, 1905-1920 by Paul Joseph Ohler B . A . , The University of Calgary, 1990 M . A . , The University of British Columbia, 1995 A THESIS S U B M I T T E D I N P A R T I A L F U L F I L M E N T O F T H E R E Q U I R E M E N T S F O R T H E D E G R E E OF D O C T O R O F P H I L O S O P H Y in T H E F A C U L T Y O F G R A D U A T E S T U D I E S (Department of English) We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard T H E U N I V E R S I T Y O F B R I T I S H C O L U M B I A Apr i l 2003 © Paul Joseph Ohler, 2003 In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. Department of ^c^\ V The University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada •ate J \ r \ 11, ^ 3 DE-6 (2/88) A B S T R A C T M y study investigates Edith Wharton's engagement with Darwin's evolutionary theory in The House of Mir th (1905), The Custom of the Country (1913), and The Age o f Innocence (1920). The value of juxtaposing Wharton's narratives with her scientific knowledge has been recognized by critics since the 1950's. Yet, the few existing discussions of Darwinian allegory that examine these novels do not adequately describe the political dimension of Wharton's fictional sociobiology. M y investigation addresses this insufficiency in the criticism. Examining Wharton's fiction in relation to her autobiographical writings, letters, and literary criticism, I demonstrate that her major novels link those laws governing gradual change in the natural world—described by Darwin, and theorists such as Herbert Spencer—with the ideological shifts affecting privileged social groupings. The introductory chapter outlines the critical response to Wharton's sociobiology, and examines specific scientific texts that the author refers to in her extra-literary writing. In chapter two I examine The House of Mirth 's portrayal of cultural practices that lead to the elimination of unfit individuals such as L i l y Bart, and show how Wharton critiques the position that natural selection and other laws theorized in The Origin o f Species should apply within human society. The following chapter, on The Custom o f the Country, demonstrates Wharton's interest in representing the effects on existing leisure-class cultural practices of the newly-moneyed socioeconomic elite, whose rise Wharton attributes to social evolution. The novel also describes, I show, an inadequate leisure-class ethics that fails to confront the new elite's biological justification for expansion and dominance. Chapter four investigates The Age o f Innocence, in which Wharton takes aim at leisure-class morality by depicting it as a "negation" ( A l 212) of culturally obscured biological instinct, and by representing the sacrifice of individuals to a "collective interest" ( A l 111) that is portrayed as frivolous. In the concluding chapter, I summarize the ways I have extended existing Wharton scholarship, and describe potential pathways for future research. One key conclusion of my dissertation is that Wharton associates ideological change with natural selection, and sexual selection, in order to articulate the challenges to achieving social equality posed by "primitive" (CC 470) and "instinctive" (CC 355) energies. Ohler iv T A B L E O F C O N T E N T S Abstract i i Table of Contents iv List o f Abbreviations . v C H A P T E R I Introduction: Edith Wharton's Darwinian Poetic 1 1.1 Darwinian New York 1 1.2 Critical response to Wharton's fictional sociobiology 15 1.3 Sources and effects of Wharton's Scientific Study 31 C H A P T E R II "[B]lind inherited scruples": L i l y Bart's Evolutionary Ethics 46 2.1 "the requirements of the public" 46 2.2 Doing the "natural thing" 57 2.3 "What is your story L i l y ? " 73 2.4 "the essential baseness of [...] freedom from risk" 87 2.5 "that tuning-fork of the novelist's art" 97 C H A P T E R III Tradition and Contingency in The Custom of the Country 100 3.1 "the new spirit o f limitless concession" 100 3.2 "al l the hints in the Sunday papers" I l l 3.3 "the student of inheritance might have wondered" 130 3.4 "swept from the zenith like a pinch o f dust" 152 C H A P T E R IV Newland Archer's "Hieroglyphic Wor ld" 166 4.1 "twice removed from reality" 166 4.2 "a curious indifference to her bodily presence" 177 4.3 ' "Word Dust '" 190 4.4 "the knowledge o f ' fo rm ' must be congenital" 203 4.5 "Say I 'm old-fashioned" 219 C H A P T E R V Conclusion: Manners, Memes, and the Paradox of Progress in Wharton's Major Novels 224 Notes 237 Works Cited 259 Ohler v List of Abbreviations Lewis R . W . B . Lewis, Edith Wharton: A Biography. (1975) New York: Fromm, 1985 Letters R . W . B . Lewis and Nancy Lewis, eds, The Letters of Edith Wharton. N e w York: Collier Books, 1988 Yale The Edith Wharton Archive in the Yale collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University ( Y C A L MSS42) Page references to Wharton's published and unpublished works are indicated in the text using the following abbreviations, which refer to the given editions. A l The Age of Innocence (1920) (New York: Collier Books, 1993) BG A Backward Glance (New York: Appleton-Century, 1934) CC The Custom of the Country (1913) (New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1997) CSS The Collected Short Stories of Edith Wharton R . W . B . Lewis, Ed . (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1968) DH The Decoration of Houses (1897) (with Ogden Codman) (New York: W . W . Norton, 1997) FT The Fruit of the Tree (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1907) FW French Ways and their Meaning (New York: Appleton and Co. , 1919) HM The House of Mirth (1905) (New York: Penguin, 1985) IB Italian Backgrounds (1905) (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928) IM In Morocco (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1920) LI "Li fe and I" [n.d.] (Beinecke Library, Yale Collection of American Literature) (unpublished M S ) UCW The Uncollected Critical Writings Frederick Wegener, Ed . (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996) WF The Writing of Fiction (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925) Ohler 1 Chapter One Introduction: Edith Wharton's Darwinian Poetic I. Darwinian New York This study investigates Edith Wharton's engagement with evolutionary theory in The House of Mir th (1905), The Custom of the Country (1913). and The Age of Innocence (19201. In each of these novels, Wharton depicts the social practices of New York ' s traditional gentry, and a newly-moneyed elite, from a perspective informed in part by the central concerns o f Darwin's major works. M y main claim here is that these novels link those laws governing gradual change in the natural world described by Darwin, and theorists such as Herbert Spencer, with the "general process of intellectual, spiritual, and aesthetic development" (Williams 90) of privileged social groupings. The resulting fiction represents the effects on existing leisure-class cultural practices of a socioeconomic elite whose rise Wharton attributes to social evolution. The author associates such change, I show, with natural selection and sexual selection1 in order to articulate the challenges to achieving social equality posed by "primitive" (CC 470) and "instinctive" (CC 355) energies. The resultant conceptual interplay, wherein Wharton uses language and ideas specific to the physical sciences in the context of fictional social analysis, depends upon biological allegories of social relations that confront and show the limits of social Darwinist interpretations of the place of nature in culture. M y examination of three Wharton novels through the framework of her scientific knowledge is not exhaustive, for her work often demonstrates an interest in using this knowledge to produce fiction. What has guided my choice of The House o f Mir th , The Custom of the Country, and The Age of Innocence is their unique mating o f evolutionary Ohler 2 science to the task of social criticism. For example, The House o f Mir th draws on the theory of natural selection articulated in The Origin of Species (1859), and critiques N e w York society from a perspective informed by The Descent of Man's (1871) biological view of human social relations.4 The novel assaults the idea that intense competitions for resources, and the extermination of the unfit, are aspects of social relations permissible because they are analogous to natural processes. However, Wharton selectively exempts certain instinctive tendencies from her critique of the way contemporary social relations seem to reflect bloody nature. Most notable in this regard is her critique of the suppression of female sexual choice in The House of Mirth. In her fiction, Wharton faces the dilemma that "[njatural and sexual selection pose grave threats to liberal ideology, in general—to the ideal of democratic equality and to possible moral or social reform" (Bender 4); yet, she shows that without knowledge of the effect of nature on culture, no meaningful collective response to natural and sexual selection is possible. Against The House of Mir th I juxtapose The Custom of the Country's portrait o f its anti-heroine, Undine Spragg, who typifies a destructive, individual moral agency, during a time of "social disintegration" (CC 77). This novel is more sophisticated in its application of scientific language and ideas, particularly in its argument with social Darwinism's misinterpretations of evolutionary theory, an implicit criticism in the The House of Mirth. In The Custom of the Country, "Wharton's perception of the conflict between the gentry and the socioeconomic elite crystallized" (Bratton 211), making the novel a good test case for my claim that these classes are distinguished in the narrative by their respective assumptions about the value of excluding natural forces from cultural processes. Ohler 3 The hazards of a superficial scientific perspective are, themselves, a subject o f The Age of Innocence, which adds images and vocabulary drawn from anthropology and ethnography to the language of evolutionary biology present in the earlier novels. Here, classes are "tribes" ( A l 32) and stories regarding genealogy are passed down orally from one generation to the next. In this text, the omniscient voice uses anthropological images and phrases, as does the protagonist Newland Archer, who casually studies anthropology. But this is not to suggest that evolution and biology as subjects are obscured by the presence o f other discourses, for Archer's attraction to Ellen Olenska betrays an instinctive sexual response that causes his heart to beat "suffocatingly" ( A l 287). The Age o f Innocence maintains a particularly critical stance toward the distancing of Archer's instinct by his intellect. Simultaneously, though, the narrative relies on images and vocabulary from anthropology and ethnography to frame its subjects: coercive tradition, and rites of exclusion, to name just two. Moreover, the novel explicitly judges Archer's scientific viewpoint. He derives his objectivity from his scientific knowledge, which brings him into contact with the view that human culture grows from a biological foundation; but he is a "dilettante" ( A l 4), and thus unable to absorb this fact, which might free him from the constraints of his caste by demonstrating—the narrative's larger point—that instinct and culture are part o f a continuum, and not separate spheres. In one instance, Archer skips a social evening because "a new volume o f Herbert Spencer" ( A l 138) has arrived from his London bookseller. This detail is significant because Spencer's teleological interpretation of Darwinism argued that even in human culture only the fittest could, or should, survive. Spencer viewed the destruction of individuals as a part of social progress. Wharton takes issue with Spencer's thought in each o f the novels I examine. Ohler 4 Her ironic depiction of Archer's contact with Spencer shows that while the former "turned the pages with the sensuous joy of the book-lover, he did not know what he was reading" ( A l 138). Archer is not equipped, Wharton shows, to comprehend Spencer's biological interpretation of culture, which counters the separation of instinct and tradition valued by the leisure class. 5 Archer's inability to interpret the implications of Spencer's work is a critique of the failure to defend the integrity of the class hierarchy from misinterpretations of Darwin's thought which rationalized a voracious form of capitalism. Spencer's interpretation o f Darwin, as I discuss in detail in the coming chapters, offered a biological theory that applied to human culture, and provided a way to view social progress as just another natural process. Spencer's view, though, "was not Darwin's view of evolution—he [Darwin] dismissed the distinction between lower and higher animals as meaningless. [...] natural selection is a contingent, short-term process that works with accidental, rather than progressive, variation" (Ridley 3). Archer has great difficulty comprehending the contingent, or accidental aspect of nature. This is so for Archer because his appeal to scientific knowledge, like his wish "to keep the surface [forms of his wedding ceremony] pure" ( A l 23), is the product o f manners, rites, and traditions that would control disorder. A s a reader of scientific books, Archer seeks and supports a framework that orders chaotic nature. As a result, the marriage rite patterns sexual desire, which causes instinctive imperatives to recede from view. A l l three novels I examine represent acculturated biological imperatives with manners sublimating instinct. Ironically, the overarching narrative in The Age of Innocence frequently undermines Archer's sense of intellectual control, even as the omniscient frame seems to embrace a scientific perspective on social relations. Archer, through the flawed lens of his objectivity, Ohler 5 monitors his milieu. The aging leaders of his class, "gruesomely preserved in an airless atmosphere" ( A l 52) in an expansive mansion, also stand against a breakdown of values manifested in Archer's inherited wish to keep 'forms' pure. Yet, his attraction to Ellen Olenska illustrates the difficulty posed to the stability of forms by the conflicting impulses of his reasoning, policing intellect, and his biological instincts. Alongside Archer's example of how sexual energy and other urges foster cultural change, one finds illustrations in this text and others of Wharton's skepticism toward the idea that "Americans [...] regard the fact that a man has made money as something intrinsically meritorious" (FW 107). Wharton represents this insight by showing how members o f the developing socioeconomic elite in The Age of Innocence act out a common misinterpretation of Darwinian natural selection that links cultural progress and the buildup of material wealth through aggressive means. The confinement of biological instinct by the leisure-class, and the teleology of progress embraced by the new rich, are subjects of each work examined here. Social complexity wi l l not be equated with progress in these novels. Wharton takes aim at the moral authority of Archer's tribe by painting leisure-class morality or "niceness" as a "negation" ( A l 212) of culturally obscured biological instinct, and by depicting the sacrifice of individuals to a "collective interest" ( A l 111) that is portrayed as frivolous. Hence, the narratives render as inadequate a leisure-class ethics that does not confront the new elite's biological justification for expansion and dominance. T . H . Huxley, whose influence on Wharton's fiction o f the period is major, articulates one idea that becomes a central metaphor in each of the novels I investigate: [I]f our hemisphere were to cool again, the survival of the fittest might bring about, in the vegetable kingdom, a population of more and more stunted and humbler and Ohler 6 humbler organisms, until the 'fittest' that survived might be nothing but lichens [...] They, as the fittest, the best adapted to the changed conditions, would survive. ("Evolution and Ethics," 327) Applied to social transformation, Huxley's statement opposes the idea that change w i l l result in 'progress,' and opens Wharton's texts to the interpretation that they detail a downward trend, or devolution of culture. Adaptation to changing environments is the key to survival in nature, not complexity. Wharton imports this idea into her fictional social analysis where 'the best adapted to the changed conditions' o f culture believe falsely that their success is due not to a changing social environment, but to their fulfillment o f a distinctly American teleology o f progress that has, in fact, altered social conditions in a way favorable to a less morally oriented, yet more individualistic ethos of economic success. B y representing the damage to individuals caused by this misapplication of Darwinism to social evolution, the novels urge the recognition and regulation of the ways nature and culture interact. Control over a culture growing out of nature is a crucial responsibility carried out by an elite that, in Wharton's view, had abdicated its leadership role. She referred to the damage this caused in a letter written in 1905, the year The House of Mir th was published: New York society is still amply clad, & the little corner of its garment that I lifted was meant to show only that little atrophied organ—the group of idle & dull people— that exists in any big & wealthy social body. If it seems more conspicuous in New York than in an old civilization, it is because the whole social organization with us is so much smaller & less elaborate —& if, as I believe, it is more harmful in its Ohler 7 influence, it is because fewer responsibilities attach to money with us than in other societies. (Letters 97) The metaphors Lawrence Selden uses to talk about his class animate The House o f Mirth 's portrayal of competition between two versions of the relation between nature and culture. In the version held by the class Selden serves as a lawyer, and is nominally a member of, tradition ideally moderates change. In the period covered by the novel, though, this 'atrophied organ' of cultural dissemination has defaulted on its mission. What was high has been brought low by shifts in industry, technology, and economics. When Selden envisions "the great gilt cage in which they all were huddled for the crowd to gape at" ( H M 54) aristocrats become zoological exhibits, and lower-class spectators view the elite social fray from objective heights. The environment in which social evolution occurs is changing, and it w i l l determine which class 'species' is fittest; but as Wharton shows, the "atrophied organ of [...] idle & dul l" (Letters 97) members o f the leisure class, its former power o f cultural dissemination notwithstanding, relaxes control over the environment with the result that the tendrils of change invade the ecosystem of an old order. The novels in this study spark questions capable of extending current critical discussions of those allegories, metaphors, and vocabulary in Wharton's fiction informed by scientific contexts. Relating both to formal and thematic issues, these questions are as follows: what cultural work does the hybridization of social analysis and evolutionary and biological science perform in the novels; more specifically, what is at stake, politically, in the premise that social evolution is influenced by the laws of physical evolution? Furthermore, to what extent is Wharton's biological interpretation of culture an aesthetic conceit that capitalizes on a popular passion for things scientific? To what degree do the texts assert that Ohler 8 biological laws function as agents of social change? Lastly, how, from novel to novel, does Wharton refine her interjection in the public dialogue about social Darwinism's assertion that the 'survival of the fittest' not only does obtain in human culture, but should? In addressing these questions, the following chapters w i l l also examine how Wharton's narrative strategies negotiate with the market for popular fiction. To address these questions, my assessment of Wharton's interest in evolution, biology, and the fiction market between 1905 and 1920 examines her interests in light of the fact that she was "passionately addicted to scientific study" (Lewis 108). I show how she balanced this addiction with her desire to be a best-selling author, and her intense interest in the sales of her books. 6 Wharton was, of course, not alone in her desire for sales that would reward her work. American realists and naturalists who were Wharton's contemporaries— Wil l iam Dean Howells, Henry James, and FrankNorris—"[c]ollectively [...] fashioned a theory of how to write a novel under the conditions imposed by the mass market in literature" (Borus 10). Wharton was no less compelled by these 'conditions,' as correspondence with her editors confirms. But one obstacle Wharton had to surmount in achieving popular success was what W . D . Howells articulated when he acknowledged that "what the American Public wants is a tragedy with a happy ending" (FW 65). Valuable for its snapshot of the way Howells saw the serious writer's predicament, Wharton's reference to his comment in French Ways and their Meaning (1919) also demonstrates her concern with the literary tastes of the American reader. What accommodates these tastes in the three novels examined here, even i f it does not render a potential tragedy happy in the way seen in The Rise o f Silas Lapham (1885), 7 is the sense that L i l y Bart, Undine Spragg, and Ellen Olenska are subject to natural laws that Ohler 9 cause the elimination of the unfit, the triumph of aggression, and the expulsion of difference. The severely qualified happy ending, in these cases, would originate in a critique of the elite that readers would have found satisfying, allowing them to confirm their conviction that the rich are cruel and decadent. Al luding initially to the Malthusian principle o f excess population so useful to Darwin in formulating his theory o f natural selection, and, thereby, aligning her social analysis with biological inquiry, Wharton characterizes her 'tragedy' in an introduction to the 1936 Oxford edition of The House of Mir th as focusing on lost opportunities for intervention by the privileged into the conditions that destroy L i l y Bart: The fact is that nature, always wasteful, and apparently compelled to create dozens of stupid people in order to produce a single genius, seems to reverse the process in manufacturing the shallow and the idle. Such groups always rest on an underpinning o f wasted human possibilities; and it seemed to me that the fate of the persons embodying these possibilities ought to redeem my subject from insignificance. This is the key to The House of Mirth, and its meaning; and I believe the book has owed its success, from the first, as much to my picture of the slow disintegration of L i l y Bart as to the details of the 'conversation piece' o f which she forms the central figure. ( U C W 266) Here, 'wasteful' nature exerts its effects on L i l y . Moreover, nature manufactures many who are 'shallow' and who might otherwise create the conditions wherein 'possibilities' such as those possessed by L i l y would not result in her 'disintegration.' In rendering The House of Mirth 's 'happy ending' by detailing L i l y ' s vulnerability and extermination, Wharton depicts with intense irony the rotted fruits to be harvested from the sowing of a social Darwinist Ohler 10 ethos. The sense that the novel's ending confirms the efficacy of the social mechanisms it depicts places L i l y ' s fate in 'happy' concord with the spirit o f her times. Wharton presents tragedy as a diminished aesthetic category that in her contemporary setting has no correlative in a society textured by radically indifferent nature ungoverned by decaying upper-class social controls. The social context in which tragedy would produce its effects on its audience is melting away. If the teleology of social progress that includes the idea that only the fittest should survive is morally invalid, as Wharton maintains, its disruption must be encouraged; the novels I investigate take this as their central task. In depicting the 'slow disintegration of L i l y Bart,' however, Wharton compromises with the social Darwinist view that individual agency is entirely subordinate to natural processes uncontrolled within society. Even as this fictional technique negotiates with popular ideas about evolution by partly validating social Darwinism (Li ly is unsuited to her environment and does perish), it coexists with psychological and social textual spaces in which individual volition and imagination are shown by Wharton to provide a path away from the domination of reason by nature. Evolution argues for invisibly slow, but inescapable change, an idea that assaulted not only theological principles, but the a-historical tenor of an America society that saw itself as exempt from the political dialectics of the old world. For the novels investigated here, evolution figures as a theoretical framework that can help explain how emerging social conditions that favor Simon Rosedale, Elmer Moffatt, and Julius Beaufort might cause a powerful leisure class to decline. Wharton formally suggests that social evolution progresses by chance variation, aligning historical dialectics and nature in a way that predicts old-world troubles for the new. In doing so she questions the proposition that the United States can Ohler 11 make progress toward a pre-ordained ideal holding that self-interested individuals can pursue enrichment unfettered. This ideal relies upon the notion that the "fierce interplay" ( C C 195) of the forces of capitalism, and the "business instinct" (CC 212) of Undine Spragg's father, can produce benefits for the wider collective in The Custom of the Country, but the ideal w i l l yield nothing but a collocation o f blinkered individual interests according to the texts discussed here. The chaos and aggression on display in conflicts within and between classes are juxtaposed with the possibility of controlling these tendencies. Wharton identifies, in eroding leisure-class values, a traditional and conservative counterforce able to act centripetally against nature's contingent essence. But these timeworn values also foreclose positive change by being intolerant of difference. This is illustrated when Newland Archer's mother remarks that "people should respect our ways when they come among us" ( A l 86-87). In such a world stability is simultaneously repressive, desirable, and loathsome, and ultimately impossible to maintain. In the novel's focus on an age that ushered in radical changes to technology, business, and the class structure, however, Wharton again shows her concern with the possibility of progress in a society composed of instinctive subjects. In discussing The Custom of the Country I show that Undine Spragg is a regression, a flashback to a remote point in the cultural history of the United States. She is an atavistic character representative of a violent stage in the social evolution of her country marked by revolution, and colonial savagery directed against Native Americans; in this she is quintessentially of the United States. The narrative thus uses the variegating tendency of biological evolution to illustrate the inevitability o f unpredictable social change, which includes the recurrence of what is viewed by the leisure class as primitive. Undine succeeds Ohler 12 in the avaricious environment of new New York because she possesses variations such as aggressiveness, beauty, and superficiality that suit her to a social world where the "inner life" (CC 194) is valued less than "the forces o f business" (CC 195). Wharton's application to New York culture of a Darwinian interpretation of change in nature illustrates how chance variations manifested in Undine undermine the idea that social development occurs in a logical and linear way. Rather, random mutations of ideology steer social change in unforeseeable directions. In depicting evolutionary laws as applying to culture, Wharton delineates the specter of contingency at the center of Darwin's work on natural selection, and finds no predetermined goal or direction for social change. The narrative thus confronts a pervasive ideal that views humankind, and the nation, as perfectible.9 In The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, and The Age of Innocence, the principle o f chance, figured as the speculative economic activities o f an elite made up o f financiers and industry titans, exists in opposition to a leisure class adherence to order and stasis; the new rich exemplify the idea that nature underwrites the relation of the individual to the social collective. Amongst this set, accumulation is more valued than philanthropy, and advantage is taken whenever it is glimpsed, as when Simon Rosedale buys "the newly finished house of one of the victims" ( H M 121) of a stock-market crash. In The Custom of the Country in particular, the aristocratic Marvel l , who invites the upstart Undine Spragg into his circle and eventually marries her, does not anticipate that introducing a new species into his environment wi l l result in disaster. Undine, Marvell discovers too late, is a mutation immune to the moderating capacity of socialization, which would soften her tendency to "assert herself as the dominant figure of the scene" (CC 48). In this way Wharton portrays a sequence in which an altered social Ohler 13 environment produces and confirms the viability of Undine by a kind of natural selection. Her rise occurs within a social 'environment' now subject to evolutionary forces no longer acting exclusively on "the plants and bushes clothing an entangled bank" (Origin 125), for the socioeconomic elite have dismantled the old stone walls of insular values to build palatial monuments to capital. Representative of this reality is the displacement by the new socioeconomic elite of a familiar leisure class species that is the repository of cultural memory and aesthetic achievement. Charles Bowen, Wharton's "sociologist" ( C C 249) and double in The Custom of the Country, calls this established animal of the N e w York landscape "Homo Sapiens Americanus" (CC 188). The suicide of Ralph Marvel l , the representative of this species, personifies its extinction. The Custom of the Country presents, as the 'genetic' material of cultural heredity, an ideology of gentility and ritual that governs Ralph MarvelPs caste. Distinguishing an oppositional ideology is its market orientation, lack of ritual, and encouragement of the vital instinct that guides the business dynamo Elmer Moffatt, and those like him. In presenting these ideological equivalents of heredity, Wharton synthesizes the vocabulary and imagery she encountered in her study of works by principally Charles Darwin and T . H . Huxley. The language used to carry out this narrative activity lends her depiction of characters living within particular class ideologies a sense o f objectivity associated with scientific analysis. 1 0 L i l y Bart is variously a "sea-anemone" ( H M 301) and a "blue-bottle" fly ( H M 115). Undine Spragg is "instinctive" (CC 355) and "primitive" (CC 470), and Newland Archer sees himself as "a wi ld animal" ( A l 67). Archer, however, feels that this is a "coarse view" ( A l 67), demonstrating that his class makes a careful distinction between biology and culture that the narrative counters. It does so by critiquing Archer's aversion to the idea that he is an Ohler 14 'animal, ' and by encouraging sexual selection as a basis for pairing. Indeed, each of these texts proffers the idea that culture grows from its biological foundation, but must assert control over the hazards to equality posed by natural law. The Dorsets in The House of Mirth, and the Marvells and Dagonets in The Custom of the Country, obsess over a process of cultural heredity defined as a passing on of rites and values. Newland Archer's distinction between his social sensibilities and his biological instincts exhibits a belief that cultural heredity delivers its ideological content without the potential for mutation that occurs in 'coarse' nature. The preoccupation o f this class with ritual displaces interest in the plain facts of biological inheritance and the variations it introduces, and the possibility that the inheritance o f values is subject to similarly disruptive laws. This leisure-class attitude appears from Wharton's viewpoint to completely mask an undervalued "naked instinct" (Letters 159) that asserts itself in the unfulfilled desire shared by L i l y Bart and Lawrence Selden in The House of Mirth, and Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska in The Age of Innocence.1 1 Unsurprisingly, the passion of these characters carries them outside the pale of the permitted, something Wharton makes concrete in the geography of empty houses and distant shores where forbidden expressions of sexuality surface only to be repressed. Acknowledging instinct as an ineradicable facet of culture, Wharton suggests, is a step toward accounting for, and limiting, powerful and disruptive natural laws at work on social groupings. Ohler 15 II. Critical response to Wharton's fictional sociobiology Critics have long been aware of Edith Wharton's scientific interests. A n appreciation of the effect on her narratives of Wharton's devotion to scientific study, however, has emerged slowly. The Atheneum's 1913 review o f The Custom of the Country states that "Mrs . Wharton, by [. . .] laying stress upon the sequence of environment, upbringing, character, has made her character a natural and pathetic figure" (Reviews 209-210). While one reads 'natural' as 'realistic' in this context, ample evidence exists in the novel to indicate that its protagonist, Undine Spragg, is also to be seen as natural in a biological sense. She is an "organism" (CC 64) adrift in a strange environment where "all was blurred and puzzling to the girl in this world of half-lights, half-tones" ( C C 48). Wharton's characterization of Undine as a biological specimen coexists with a detailed rendering of the 'puzzl ing ' leisure-class social environment. Ralph Marvell and his kind, through their bifurcation of nature and culture, elicit Undine's confusion; 'organisms' and social 'abbreviations' are incommensurable in their world. The leisure-class express (heir interpretation of the relation between nature and culture in a way that reveals their interest in moderating "impulses" (CC 39), and in channeling base energies represented by the "grotesque saurian head" (CC 58) of the lascivious Peter Van Degen. So while the contemporary review of the novel published in the Atheneum identifies "the sequence of environment, upbringing, character" as a central concern that reflects the novel's objectivity, links between natural and social environments explored in the novel escape the scrutiny of the reviewer. In 1953 Blake Nevius addressed the difficulty o f charting the relation between evolutionary theory and Wharton's "naturalistic tragedy," concluding that "it is impossible, perhaps, to calculate [...] but it has never been considered" (56). The past decade has seen Ohler 16 scholarship taking up the task of considering the relation of Wharton's writing to the fields of biology and evolution, as well as to anthropology and sociology. These disciplines are now visible as defining constituents of the author's fiction.12 Nancy Bentley, for example, has persuasively shown that Wharton's fictional framework peers "[t]hrough an ethnographic lens, [to find that] manners become the keys to the secrets of social control and cohesion" (Bentley, The Ethnography of Manners 70). Wharton, however, demonstrates that instinct and the contingency of the natural world are also objects of social control. These forces are symbolized by 'manners,' rites, and other practices that anthropology and ethnography describe, but whose biological essence cannot be fully explored by them. Nevius's study is valuable too for its implicit claim that ideology is a subject of The House of Mirth. This is evident in his reference to L i l y ' s loose "theoretical grasp of the principles which enable Selden to preserve his weak idealism" (57). Nevius writes, furthermore, that L i l y Bart "is as completely and typically the product of her heredity, environment, and the historical moment which found American materialism in the ascendant" (57). In choosing the word 'heredity,' Nevius perpetuates that which makes it difficult to explicate Wharton's fictionalized examination of the term, for heredity is an aggregation of both biological and cultural inheritance conceived of in conflicting and contradictory ways by different characters, and the omniscient voices of the narratives. One difficulty the analysis of this aggregate encounters is Wharton's propensity to represent social change within the terminological framework of physical evolution. Wi th ideology being presented as the cultural analogue of the medium of physical heredity in The House of Mirth, Wharton's application of theories from the physical sciences to a domain more properly the subject of sociology poses the question of whether the text identifies a biological Ohler 17 basis for cultural change, or whether its application of natural law is a conceit intended to illustrate the need to resist ideological evolution by associating it with ungovernable instinct. Nevius's suggestion that evolutionary theory and ideology are aspects of Wharton's narratives was an initial step toward exploring the ways these aspects of the texts are related. In The House o f Mirth, Selden's idealism is a trait o f the class to which he belongs, and is a core principle that he inherits. He is an agent of a social stratum that asserts "concepts and categories that distort the whole of reality in a direction useful to the prevailing power" (Makaryk 558), which he diligently serves as a lawyer. Yet he also has a sense of the way he is limited by his class values, and how the price of stepping out of his role is the termination of the privilege he enjoys. Compared to L i l y , he is a different species, and she recognizes that he belongs "to a more specialized race" ( H M 65). Selden's heightened consciousness exists in contrast to L i l y ' s nature, which is multifaceted in being socially conditioned to pursue a place in the preserve of the elite, and in driving her pursuit of a life unconstrained by the tradeoffs that accompany L i l y ' s need to "marry the first rich man she could get" ( H M 84). She has an instinctive reaction to "agreeable tones and textures that was one of her inmost susceptibilities" ( H M 10). Her instinctive simplicity in this regard leaves little-doubt that L i l y Bart demurs marriage, and her rejection o f a string o f potential husbands manifests a variation from standard ideology. Claire Preston sees L i l y as a "non-viable mutation" (51), critically employing Darwinian language that elides Wharton's defining mixture of evolutionary theory and sociology, which views the former as helping to create cultural conditions wherein L i l y can be viewed as a 'non-viable' creature whose death benefits a collective fixated upon a social Darwinist Ohler 18 interpretation of evolution. This fictional method sees Darwinian rules of physical heredity regulating the way governing ideological principles are handed down. When Nancy Bentley reports that "Wharton, at certain fictional extremes, make[s] the exchanges of drawing-room culture indistinguishable from acts of coercive force" (The Ethnography of Manners 70), one can build on this insight to claim that this coercion is a patterning o f biological imperatives such as competition for resources and sexual partners. The 'exchanges of the drawing-room' also contain and limit the visibility of the biological reality represented in strictly prescribed social relations. Manners imply a process o f signification that intrigues Lawrence Selden. Yet as an observer of habit, he often fails to connect normative behavior to the concern over preserving his hereditary caste that manners represent. Thus blinded to passion and enervating desperation in ways L i l y is not, he is "as much as L i l y , the victim of his environment" ( H M 152). Similarly, Newland Archer in The Age o f Innocence is insensible to impending social change. Whereas he can foresee life in the house that his father-in-law wi l l build for M a y Welland and himself, "beyond that his imagination could not travel" ( A l 71). The exchanges of the drawing room offer rites and forms that restrict the imagination in a way that disrupts access to instinct. Indeed, L i l y is "a captured dryad subdued to the conventions o f the drawing room" ( H M 13). Mannered exchanges signify victimization by an ideology that shrinks the horizon of the imagination. Bentley's comment thus directs one to consider why force must be used in the 'drawing-room,' opening the subject of manners in the texts to an examination of their relation to disruptive instincts that, as we have already seen, the novels depict as poorly understood, and whose potential to spark social renewal is undervalued. Ohler 19 . Bentley's insight about manners as agents of coercive force enable one to view Selden's preoccupation with social forms as playing a causative role in his interpretation that L i l y ' s every move is part of a "carefully-elaborated plan" ( H M 5). His expectations regarding L i l y ' s wishes mislead him; he knows that she must marry to survive, but he doesn't comprehend her desire to do the "natural thing" ( H M 15) (to choose whom she w i l l love) even though he is told that in being compelled to find a rich husband, "she despises the things she's trying for" ( H M 189). In this way L i l y reacts to traditions and values that direct the reader's attention to the imperfection of Selden's world. He, though, interprets even L i l y ' s weeping "as an art" ( H M 72), and could "never be long with her without trying to find a reason for what she was doing" ( H M 11) because "his own view of her was [...] colored by any mind in which he saw her reflected" ( H M 159). But where Selden conventionally sees L i l y as a grasping and artful marriageable woman, she, ironically, "had never been able to understand the laws of the universe [her social world] which was so ready to leave her out of its calculations" ( H M 27). Juxtaposed with Selden's opinion of L i l y is her sense that she is, by the novel's end, "rootless and ephemeral, mere spindrift o f the whirling surface of existence" ( H M 319). The "exchanges of the drawing-room" do a disservice to them both; social forms displace instinct, yet Selden has little understanding that their functioning denies him a part o f himself. Acted upon by these same exchanges, L i l y is badly served by the formal social categories o f wife, mistress, and worker that the standard ideology makes available. The coercive force Bentley assigns to manners is interconnected in the narratives with the principles that foster and police a leisure class ordering of female sexual selection and male desire. Ohler 20 I build on Bentley's relation of Wharton's fiction to anthropology and ethnography, and on Nevius's suggestion that Wharton's interest in evolution carries over to her depiction of the principles of idealism relied upon by Selden's caste. I look beyond the limits of anthropological influences for a narrative remainder that can only be addressed by investigating Wharton's knowledge of biology and evolutionary theory. One rationale for my method is that the influence on Wharton of leading contemporary practitioners o f the natural sciences is discussed in her letters and memoirs, a subject I address in detail below. Another reason for this approach is evident in a statement made by Dale Bauer, who has elaborated on Wharton's response to "the nineteenth-century anthropological model, [in which] culture functions as an imposed restraint upon the primitive and unlimited impulses and desires" (16). This view allows one to see Newland Archer's reading o f books on "Primitive M a n " ( A l 44) as contributing to his analysis of his world, giving him insight into the ways he is controlled, and his sacrifice of instinct to conformity. Restraint of the primitive affects such leisure class characters as Lawrence Selden, Ralph Marvell , and Newland Archer, redirecting the 'naked instinct' of each character into aesthetic pursuits. For all three men, sexual matters vaporize in an aesthetic fog where cultural narratives envelope the 'impulses and desires' they encode, control, and dematerialize. Wharton's own literary criticism also displays her interest in 'impulses and desires,' and evolutionary biology. In discussing the weaknesses of early novels in her 1934 essay, "Tendencies in Modern Fiction," she observes that "most of the characters in fiction were either 'stylized' abstractions or merely passive subjects of experiment, or both" ( U C W 170). She states too, however, that "presently someone [...] noticed the impact o f surrounding circumstances on every individual life, [...] the religious and atmospheric influences, and Ohler 21 those subtler differences produced by the then scarcely apprehended law o f variability" ( U C W 171). 1 4 Noteworthy here is Wharton's focus on the way material reality or 'circumstances,' and social institutions such as religion, are subject to the ' law of variability' so central to Darwin's work. Fiction, according to this passage, can represent the complex interaction of social environment and natural laws, a claim further evidenced by her belief that "[djrama, situation, is made out of the conflicts [...] produced between social order and individual appetites" (WF 13-14). The relevance to the study of Wharton's work of literary criticism that explores how other writers were affected by advances in evolutionary theory has also propelled the present investigation. Gi l l ian Beer's Darwin's Plots (1983), which elegantly demonstrates the explanatory potential of evolutionary theory for late nineteenth-century literature, is a case in point. In another work by Beer—Open Fields: Science in Cultural Encounter (1995)—she quotes the final paragraph of The Origin of Species as an epigraph. This passage resonates with Wharton's concerns as I have thus far defined them: "In the distant future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology wi l l be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. Light w i l l be thrown on the origin of man and his history" (3). Darwin's statement seems centrally relevant to Wharton's extension of his ideas into cultural spaces, for it postulates that processes described by evolution were active in the development of capacities for conceptual thought that define human beings. The affinities between the passage Beer cites and the texts I investigate provide a frame for viewing Wharton's interest in American society's gradual acquisition of 'mental power and capacity,' and a resultant cultural capital that can curb contingent and recursive evolutionary processes affecting social collectives. Ohler 22 Claire Preston, whose Edith Wharton's Social Register (2000) was published while this study was being written, notes that "Edith Wharton's work is difficult to place within the conventions of 'women V writing; she is influenced instead by social fictions and by non-fictional work in biology and evolution, anthropology and sociology" (xii). Wharton's act of redirecting biology, and evolutionary theory, toward the task of fictional social criticism, suggests that the physical laws studied by science play on individual and social bodies in unacknowledged ways. The methods of science help her create work "supplemented by the intellectual range and detachment needed for the survey of culture" ( U C W 205). Preston discusses The House of Mirth 's objectivity, or 'detachment,' affirming that a biologically framed portrait of culture exists in the novel. Her discussion, however, points toward social commentary in this aesthetic: L i l y is not a self-supporting organism; she can only live in unnatural, ultimately insupportable conditions. Her dainty ideas of social suitability are unsustainably specialised: archaic, outmoded, they are more appropriate to an O ld N e w York which social evolution has left behind, impossible in a New York in which 'the purely decorative mission' ( H M 487) is no longer a sufficient modus vivendi. (50) According to the values of the text, L i l y should be able to live. The old New York left behind by 'social evolution' had created a niche in which she could thrive, though such an existence limited her options. Whereas old N e w York aspired to fence itself off from contingency, the socioeconomic elite has dispersed this ideal and altered an environment that formerly offered sustenance to creatures like L i l y . Wharton's depiction o f this process is persuasive, not neutral; her method is argumentative, not objective. Preston's suggestion that the conditions L i l y does live in are natural is correct. Yet this must Ohler 23 be qualified by stating that L i l y succumbs in an environment where the predatory activities of Wal l Street seep into a protected social sphere. L i l y has been "fashioned to adorn and delight; to what other end does nature round the rose-leaf ( H M 301), but this trait has flourished in the context of an idea o f nature symbolized by the hothouse, or conservatory, that appears in the novels. Wharton is clear in showing that Lawrence Selden's view of L i l y as artificial is correct, but only to the extent that her delicate beauty is a product of an older patterning of contingent nature. This pattern is dissolving in a new idea; nature is not only uncontrollable, but should be allowed into the enclosed garden of New York as something that w i l l invigorate "the blind inherited scruples" ( H M 104) of a desiccated world. Yet, as I show in my chapter on The House of Mirth, L i l y would be a 'self-supporting organism' in a social context that acknowledged the example of a natural world wherein Darwin's "ecological image o f the 'inextricable web of affinities'" (Beer, Darwin's Plots 19) serves as a model for social relations that Wharton shows to be an option for a society composed of reasoning beings. Preston's book has furthered this project by focusing it on those novels most amenable to being apposed to Wharton's studies in biology and evolution, and by articulating "the severe logic of natural competition" that has penetrated "the social hot-house" (51) of The House of Mirth. I build on her work by connecting Wharton's evolutionary interests to the goals of the author's didactic fictional social analysis. Despite Preston's claim about the difficulty of placing Wharton's work 'within the conventions of 'women Y writing, Hildegard Hoeller has recently argued for the presence o f "a dialogue between the realist and sentimental voice in Edith Wharton—who is praised for her mastery of the former and deplored for her lapse into the latter" (10). Hoeller asks, Ohler 24 "[w]hat, aesthetically and ideologically, did the sentimental tradition have to give to Wharton" (10)? This is an important question, one relevant here for its suggestion that Wharton used the sentimental tradition for particular aesthetic ends, one of which, I argue, was to balance, with humanistic conventionality, the objectivity that permeates narratives which embrace scientific modes of description. Hoeller's identification of a dialogue between women's sentimental writing and a realist, masculine gendered tradition, is particularly valuable for its assertion that Wharton's fiction drew on both modes. Although the novels examined here were aesthetically not "o f the highly sensational and sentimentally romantic type" created by the best-selling author E . D . E . N Southworth, for example (New York Times 1 Jul. 1899: 7), they drew from the tradition Southworth shaped. Wharton's sentimental 'lapses' can be read as counterweights to her scientific realism. L i l y Bart's nostalgic inspection in her boarding-house room o f fine dresses that are "survivals of her last stage of splendour" ( H M 317) is but one example of sentimental writing that carries to the market Wharton's biologically influenced narrative line, which otherwise depersonalizes L i l y by classifying her as a cultivated and "rare flower grown for exhibition" ( H M 317). Wharton's affiliation with, and skepticism toward, certain aspects o f American realism and naturalism intersects with my interest in building on the work o f these critics because both of these literary tendencies have been associated with a scientific perspective. Daniel Bonis describes how those "who have tried to answer the question of why realism emerged in the late nineteenth century have often pointed to the prevailing cachet of science and its stress on observation and exactness" (9). Wharton's pronouncements on naturalism in particular are harshly critical, even though she was clearly interested in 'observation and Ohler 25 exactness' in her own work. While she shows a lack of sympathy in her criticism for fiction unwilling to represent the potential response o f the individual to deterministic forces, critics have found in her fiction links to Crane, Dreiser, Howells, Norris, and lesser-known writers like Robert Grant. Wharton was a friend of Grant's and was acquainted with Howells through Henry James and Charles Norton. She "had a great admiration for ' A Modern Instance' and 'Silas Lapham'" ( B G 146-147), for example. Nevertheless, one can identify a significantly different texture in the grain of Wharton's representation of determinism in comparison to this group of writers. The House of Mir th demonstrates, in the consequences of L i l y ' s repayment of the money she has received from Trenor, the harm o f a purely instrumental model of human relations, showing that such an implicit "[cjontract might, as A Modern Instance dramatizes, undermine appeals to a higher standard of equity" (Thomas 33). Wharton's novel presses her case that biological models that bypass a 'higher standard' w i l l result in extreme forms of competition. Hoeller claims that Wharton's The Writing of Fiction is her "most self-conscious attempt to place herself inside the critically approved, and predominantly male, realist tradition" (12). Yet once inside, Wharton looked to the possibility that the individual acting in concert with the collective can take saving action in a hostile environment "against which only genius can prevail" (WF 133), differentiating her perspective from Stephen Crane's depiction of chance and the implacability of nature in "The Open Boat" (1894), for example. Representing, in the psychology of her characters, a potential to respond to indifferent forces, Wharton's beautiful failures (Li ly Bart, Ralph Marvel l , and Newland Archer, among others) diagnose their society's malaise by coming to naught. Yet each character gamely plays out his or her straitened options: L i l y by trying, uselessly, to work, Marvell by playing the Ohler 26 market to purchase the custody of his beloved son from Undine, and Archer by moving as far toward Ellen Olenska as his tribe w i l l allow him. Drawing upon another 'predominantly male' tradition, that of science, Wharton represents tensions between agency and determinism, and analyzes the way social-Darwinist attitudes create the reality they were thought merely to reflect. Through these characters, Wharton participates in naturalism's affirmation o f "the significance and worth of the skeptical and seeking temperament, of the character who continues to look for meaning in experience even though there probably is no meaning" (Pizer, Realism and Naturalism 37). Yet, her own criticism depicts naturalism as a mode in which "the novelist exchanged his creative faculty for a Kodak" [...] and "statistics crowded out psychology" ( U C W 171). Ironically, in The Custom of the Country's Undine Spragg, Wharton perpetuates just the kind of shallow characterization she criticizes. Wharton's negative characterization of existing representations of social determinism chides writers inattentive to the ability of disenfranchised subjects to comprehend and reply to the effects of determinism, and for the failure of such authors to assert that where there is 'no meaning,' meaning can be made. Wharton counters texts that mute the actions of higher perception via the outcast Ellen Olenska's ability to identify "the blind conformity to tradition—somebody else's tradition—that I see among our own friends" ( A l 240). Ellen's difficulties present the effects of tradition on the individual, but her reaction demonstrates her capacity to respond with a reasoned and critical reaction to the pressures she faces. Her rational judgment confirms the soundness of the narrative's probing of tradition, for Wharton carefully represents conformity, and articulates the attempt to control sexuality such conformity serves. Ohler 27 The author's focus on the socially useful response to determinism of characters expelled or extinguished by it differentiates Wharton's protagonists from W . D . Howells ' depiction of moral salvation through independent action in The Rise o f Silas Lapham. Although Wharton admired the novel, Howells ' hero makes a redemptive decision despite the fact that he is characterized throughout the narrative as a man who acts out an ethos of economic individualism. In Wharton's fiction, no ghost in the machine o f social mechanism facilitates unrealistic combinations of hyper-competitiveness and moral agency. The effort at self-redemption in L i l y Bart's repayment of her debt to Gus Trenor, or Ralph Marvel l ' s attempt in The Custom of the Country to regain the custody of his son, ends in failure and death that are attributed in both narratives to a collective abdication to a natural model of interpersonal competition that renders the moral impulse irrelevant. This is an important difference between Howells and Wharton, for the latter refutes the notion that moral progress can spring from the cultural politics of her age. In her discussion o f Dreiser, Rachel Bowlby notes that his "reading of Herbert Spencer is evident in a picture o f an individual wholly subject to distant 'invisible forces'" (53). A s much as this description might seem to apply to The House of Mir th as well , Wharton does not emulate Dreiser's uncritical depiction of a Spencerian interpretation of natural selection, whose reach, and qualification for representation in realist novels, is facilitated by a popular belief that nature is unconstrained within society, and should be. Wharton admired Dreiser's A n American Tragedy when she read it in 1933, and was evidently struck by "his compassionate vision of the human being trapped and doomed to disaster by the very nature of things" (Lewis 520). So, too, did she respect Robert Grant's Unleavened Bread, a model for The Custom of the Country (Lewis 148), and Norris 's McTeague. These were "great novels" Ohler 28 which had a "bitter taste" ( U C W 132). Wharton was dissatisfied, though, with presentations of determinism that portrayed society as necessarily reflecting natural processes, for this only fed back into the perception that social Darwinism described a relation between nature and culture that was absolute. For all her respect for the American realists and naturalists whose work she read, Wharton believed that "copying can never be a substitute for creative vision" ( U C W 171). Her realism extended beyond depicting the material effects of determinism, taking her French masters as its model. In The Writing of Fiction she relates how "Balzac was the first not only to see his people, physically and morally, in their habit as they lived [...] but to draw his dramatic action as much from the relation of his characters to their houses, streets, towns, professions, inherited habits and opinions, as from their fortuitous contacts with each other" (5). One explanation for Wharton's sensitivity to the presence of social evolution implicit in the hereditary system of values she notes in Balzac is the fact that "she had immersed herself -in the skeptical sciences, especially in evolutionary Darwinism, and she understood both manners and morals to be evolved products of slowly altering social and ethical conventions" (James Tuttleton, "Justine and the Perils of Abstract Idealism" 165). From this immersion in science Wharton finds a way to focus on her characters' w i l l to evade the effects of 'inherited habit and opinion' seen in Ellen Olenska's wish to ignore the instruction offered by "our little social signposts" ( A l 122). Wharton offered "a much more complicated notion o f selfhood and human agency than they [realists] are given credit for" (Thomas 23). St i l l , those writers who did not represent the complexity of the human response to determinism "beat their brains out against the blank wall of [a] 'naturalism'" ( U C W 171) which did not represent the Ohler 29 coercive aspect of inherited manners invisible in fictional portraits of mere 'houses, streets, towns, professions.' Wharton's ambivalence toward fiction that lacked an affirmative perspective on the individual's search for meaning is evident, too, in her sympathetic recollection of Henry James's attitude toward naturalism. James, she recalls, noted that in such writing whatever was "smelt, seen, tasted, or touched, was given precedence over moral characteristics" ( U C W 171). This recollection of James's opinion on the subject admits the importance o f a moral dimension that in Wharton's fiction appears as an advocacy of reasoned action responsive to that which "seizes the characters in its steely grip, and jiu-jitsus them into the required attitude" (WF 133). In The House of Mirth, L i l y ' s casting into the fire of Bertha Dorset's letters to Selden is one such deliberate act, the negative consequences of which are clear to L i l y even as she acknowledges the potential "triumph" ( H M 104) her possession of the letters represents. Whereas it is evident that Wharton reifies in her work the pessimistic determinism she critiques in her pronouncements on naturalism, it is her characters' active response to damaging circumstances that brings into being a sense of control, despite the fact that these acts can be self-abnegating. Looking at the matter from this angle helps to clarify Wharton's statement that "real drama is soul drama" (WF 132). Indeed, acknowledging the role of 'soul drama' in her writing can help the reader avoid one interpretive trap in particular. The critic who would see in a fictional lens ground from biology and evolution a tendency to believe that for Wharton determinism is unanswerable must keep in mind that she tempers her realist "novel [s] of manners" with a sensitivity to less tangible human psychological faculties. This sensitivity results in the depiction of the "crowded stage" of each tale, where a "continual interweaving Ohler 30 of individuals with social analysis" ( U C W 14) reveals her interest in representing her characters' desire to transcend a rigidly determined fate as perhaps the only consolation available to them. This imaginative, creative desire is also one way in which a deterministic environment might be transformed. In the preceding pages, I have shown aspects of the critical reaction to the fact that the narratives I investigate make the case that whereas nature and culture exist on a continuum, "[e]ach of us flows imperceptibly into adjacent people and things" ( U C W 6). The theme of interconnectedness is palpable in Wharton's fiction. Natural selection operates in social evolution; instinct and manners, and even fiction and science, are richly connected. Wharton doesn't plead against the central Darwinian principle that "many more individuals o f each species are born than can possibly survive" (Origin 68) in suggesting that L i l y Bart or Ralph Marvell should be spared. However, what ought to stand against the ideological reconstruction of unfettered natural selection within a rapacious elite culture in these novels is a collective capacity for reason that can preserve manners, traditions, and rites as a stabilizing influence in an increasingly complex civilization. Despite the fact that Wharton is a materialist in her recognition o f the realities o f class, capital, and labor, the politics o f these texts argue, through insisting that agency and choice can negotiate with natural law, that ideas, not biology, are destiny. These novels attempt to critique the contemporary emergence of a "Darwinian ecosystem" (Preston 50) within society that downplays the potential for moral agency. Yet they face great difficulty in suggesting a way to fix the social problems that flow from a social-Darwinist model of social evolution unwilling to confront the moral questions it generates. Ohler 31 III. Sources and effects of Wharton's scientific study In A Backward Glance (1934) Wharton acknowledges the role in her intellectual development of "the wonder-world of nineteenth century science" and in particular '"The Origin of Species '[ . . .] Huxley, Herbert Spencer, Romanes, Haeckel, Westermarck, and the various popular exponents of the great evolutionary movement" (94). Furthermore, her letters refer to her reading of neo-Darwinist 1 5 works such as R . H . Lock 's Variation, Heredity and Evolution (1906) and Vernon Kellog 's Darwinism Today (1907). The French writer Paul Bourget, who met Wharton in 1893 and was thought by her to be "brilliant and stimulating" ( B G 103), described Wharton in a way that rounds this portrait of the writer as deeply engaged in scientific study: "there is not a book of Darwin, Huxley, Spencer, Renan, Taine, which she has not studied" (qtd. in Lewis 69). Furthermore, Wharton explored these interests during a period in which an "overwhelming interest in scientific developments and the new rationalism" (Hofstadter 24) took hold in the United States. In the framework offered by evolutionary theory, the novelist's depictions of class competition dramatize a statement made in Darwin's masterwork: A s species of the same genus have usually, though by no means invariably, some similarity in habits and constitution, and always in structure, the struggle w i l l generally be more severe between species of the same genus, when they come into competition with each other, than between species of distinct genera. (Origin 127) That Wharton tended to see a human dimension in her biological reading is related in a 1908 letter wherein the author admitted that "[m]y biological reading is always embarrassed by the fact that I can't help seeing all these funny creatures with faces and gestures" (Letters 151). Ohler 32 These 'creatures' were the "biophors and determinants" (Letters 151) she encountered in contemporary texts on evolution. In The Custom of the Country the social inheritance of values so important to a leisure class nonetheless "doomed to rapid extinction" (CC 78) orders primitive impulses and longings. In The Age of Innocence, similar patterning results from "Taste" and "Form" ( A l 14), both of which overlie the instinctive energies they ultimately represent. Each o f these narratives describes characteristics of the elite class through the reductive materialism of a biological viewpoint concerned, outside of its use in the fictional realm, with reproduction, biological change, and extinction. In the context of Wharton's 'biological reading,' this viewpoint juxtaposes the principle of mutability in nature—a central tenet o f scientific texts that are metaphorical seedbeds for her portraits of social change—against the desire for cultural stasis. Newland Archer exemplifies the desire to control social evolution when he derides "[t]he stupid law of change" ( A l 310). 1 6 In addition to immersing herself in the study of scientific works, Wharton encountered in her reading of fiction varying literary responses to developments in biology and evolutionary theory. Donald Pizer 1 7 describes the influence o f evolution on American literature during the period examined by this study. He identifies a key misinterpretation of Darwinian thought that the novels I examine refute in a systematic way: [...] Darwin's belief that biological change is the product of variation and natural selection was immediately available as a possible means of examining change in other phases of man's experience. The application to literary study of the environmental determinism implicit in the theory of natural selection was also encouraged, of course, by Taine's belief that literature is the product o f a nation's Ohler 33 physical and social conditions. But the basic pattern of evolutionary change which was joined to Taine's environmental determinism to produce an evolutionary critical system was seldom Darwinian. Rather most critics accepted and absorbed Herbert Spencer's doctrine that evolution is, in all phases of life, a progress from the simplicity of incoherent homogeneity to the complexity of coherent heterogeneity. [...] The combination of Taine and Spencer is therefore the basic pattern in most evolutionary critical systems of the 1880's and the 1890's. (Realism and Naturalism, 88) Born in 1862, Wharton came of age intellectually in the period Pizer discusses. In recalling that "Taine was one of the formative influences of my youth, the greatest after Darwin, [and] [...] Spencer" (Letters 136), she alludes to Taine's role in her creation of an 'evolutionary critical system' that would take up subject matter familiar to her contemporaries. However, Wharton would not share the optimism implied by Spencer's doctrine, which viewed evolution as a goa- directed process. Informed as she was in these matters, Wharton would have encountered criticism of Spencer's views on evolution. He had, for example, come under attack from the American sociologist Alb ion Small who wrote that "biological sociology" had unfortunate ethical and social consequences, as Wharton dramatizes. In 1897 Small charged that Spencer's alleged "principles of sociology" were really "supposed principles of biology prematurely extended to cover social relations" (qtd. in Bannister 45). Something similar to this exception to Spencer's work figures ever more prominently in Wharton's texts between 1905 and 1920. Spencer's influential interpretation of evolution as "a general law, applying outside biology as well as within, provided a justification for ethical action" (Ridley, Evolution 368) Ohler 34 that damned those at the margin. Wharton's literary application of evolution drew more from Darwin than Spencer. Hence, it is difficult to make the argument that her fiction is sympathetic to the idea that "the history o f literature" and the history of her country displayed "progress toward a democratic individualism in expression and subject" (Realism and Naturalism, 88). Literature itself, particularly naturalism, could potentially play a role in propagating ethical action that eliminated the unfit by representing deterministic influences neutrally; without moral comment. In self-consciously inscribing her place in the literary history of the United States by writing her memoir, Wharton clarified how her methodology differed when she asked, "[i]n what aspect could a society of irresponsible pleasure-seekers be said to have on the 'o ld woe of the world ' , any deeper bearing than the people composing such a society could guess? The answer lies in its power of debasing people and ideas" ( B G 207). For Wharton, the optimistic and progressive idea that social evolution results in coherence is not reconcilable with the view she would have encountered in Huxley's writing that "social progress means a checking of the cosmic process at every step" ("Evolution and Ethics" 327). 1 8 In the novels, Wharton assigns metaphorical meaning to this 'cosmic process' by associating the 'power of debasing people and ideas' with a relaxation of concern about the dangers to social selves of intense competition. Wharton, of course, was not alone in seeing commonalities between nature and society, but her vision is easily distinguished from intellectuals in Spencer's corner. In 1901, for instance, Thorstein Veblen wrote that "[t]he life of man in society, just like the life of other species, is a struggle for existence, and therefore it is a process of selective adaptation. The evolution of the social structure has been a process of natural selection of institutions" Ohler 35 (147). One of my claims is that Wharton's fiction represents the extension of biological principles to cover 'social relations' alluded to by Veblen in order to articulate the limits that ought ideally to be placed on such principles, and to offer a counter-interpretation. The portraits of class conflict in the texts I address fictionally amplify points of tension between Darwin and Huxley, and Spencer's interpretation of how, or whether, to control nature's role in human society. Different interpretations of natural selection 1 9 found in the work o f these figures surface in the fiction as varying attitudes toward competition and sexuality held by the leisure class and the socioeconomic elite. One way of quantifying the claim that certain of Wharton's texts work against the idea that literary history in the United States depicts progress toward democratic individualism is to locate and describe the uses of science visible in her own 'expression and subject matter.' This is an important activity because it can demonstrate ways that Wharton evades reproducing in her narratives a positive valuation of the ideology of progress she represents. While Darwin "never ceased to admire the clearness and condensed vigor of Huxley's prose" (Desmond 313), it is likely that Darwin's bulldog made a similar impression on Wharton, for she sought an "economy of material" (WF 56) that is at least partially responsible for the critical perception that "objectivity is practically a hallmark of her realism" (Karin Garlepp-Burns 39). Attentive also to Huxley's standard of proof, Wharton copied into a notebook his refusal "to put faith in that which does not rest on sufficient evidence" (qtd. in Lewis 229-230). Her remark that dialogue "should be reserved for the culminating moments, and regarded as the spray into which the great wave of narrative breaks in curving toward the watcher on the shore" (WF 73) illustrates her pursuit of an 'economy of material' with an organic image that makes of the reader an objective observer. Ohler 36 This rigorous basis for the avoidance of subjective and impressionistic fictional representation combines with her focus on claim and proof to suggest that Wharton questioned the application of a Spencerian evolutionary system to social relations. Huxley's "Evolution and Ethics" (1893) appears to have influenced the formulation of the approach I have just described. This essay portrays "ethical man revolting 'against the moral indifference of nature.' [...] 'Evolution and Ethics' split the world; it separated a wi ld zoological nature from our ethical existence. 'Social progress means a checking of the cosmic process'. It selects not the 'fittest' but 'ethically the best'" (Desmond 597-598). Recalling Bourget's remark about Wharton that "there is not a book of Darwin, Huxley, Spencer, Renan, Taine, which she has not studied" (qtd. in Lewis 69), one feels justified in claiming points of contact between Huxley's essay and Wharton's fiction. In The Age of Innocence, Newland Archer's observation that M a y Welland "was making the answers that instinct and tradition taught her to make" ( A l 82) demonstrates Wharton's sensitivity to the interplay of ' cosmic ' and ethical processes in the social stratum she chronicles, and her protagonist's confusion over how to manage the conflicts they produce. Archer's inability to distinguish between instinct and tradition, evident in his conflation of the terms, illuminates cultural work that remains undone; the leisure class must come to understand that their "instinctive recoil [...] [from] unusual situations" ( A l 108) is a hindrance to social stability whose guardians must rationally react to a random cosmic process in order to forestall it. Evidence that this narrative perspective had been forming in the years before The House of Mir th is visible in Wharton's review of Leslie Stephens' biography o f George Eliot (1902). Here Wharton defends Eliot against the charge "that she was too scientific, that she sterilised her imagination and deformed her style by the study of biology and metaphysics" Ohler 37 ( U C W 71). Troubled by a perceived split between literary and scientific disciplines that she saw as richly connected, Wharton writes against the "belief that scientific studies have this [sterilising] effect on the literary faculty" ( U C W 71). In this review, she refutes the principle implicit in "Darwin's well-known statement that, as he grew more engrossed in his physiological investigations, he lost his taste for poetry" ( U C W 71). Wharton's reply to Darwin argues that there is more than one way o f studying the phenomena of life [...] the fixity o f purpose and limited range of investigation to which the scientific specialist is committed differ totally from the cultivated reader's bird's-eye view of the field of scientific speculation. George Eliot was simply the cultivated reader, and her biological acquirements probably differed in degree, rather than in kind, from those, for instance, of Tennyson, who is acknowledged to have enlarged the range of poetic imagery by his use of metaphors and analogies drawn from the discoveries of modern science. ( U C W 71) Putting her observations about Eliot into practice, Wharton's metaphors and analogies draw together organisms and individuals, but also literary and scientific methods. The resulting narratives reflect a refusal to be limited by disciplinary boundaries in her fictional use of evolutionary thought. Promoting her own combination of scientific method and social criticism in the review of Stephens' book on Eliot, Wharton differentiates her own work from the necessarily narrow concerns of science without excluding the use of its methods. While she can praise Robert Grant for "his consistent abstinence from comment, explanation & partisanship" ( U C W 25), her objectivity is, however, deeply compromised by the interpretive social Ohler 38 commentary that is an element of her work. Even in a statement on the scientific theory that was an intellectual touchstone, one detects Wharton's appreciation of the persuasive uses to which it can be put: "No one can deny," she writes, "the poetic value of the evolutionary conception [...] almost all the famous scientific hypotheses have an imaginative boldness and beauty" ( U C W 72). This 'beauty' lies in the metaphorical richness and transferability to social evolution of Darwin's 'conception.' Gi l l ian Beer relates one reason for this when she remarks on how the "readerly community of the educated mid-nineteenth century in Britain assumed that it could rely on gaining access to whatever knowledge was current even within specialist groups. It was, consequently, often taken for granted that words retain the same signification across widely divergent fields" (Open Fields 203). Wharton was a member of this community, too, systematically educating herself in the science of the period, and reading her way through swaths of her father's l ibrary. 2 0 Beer's remark provides one possible reason for Wharton's imposition of scientific language on a social field seemingly removed from the study of natural selection. Wharton's texts, moreover, posit real connections between the development of human culture and biological processes.2 1 Contemporary skepticism toward this idea not specific to Wharton's fiction is easy to find. E .O . Wilson cautions that while there is evidence for a "hereditary human nature. [...] it is still risky to [see social practices] as evidence of the linkage between genes and culture" (149). In creating fiction and not scientific knowledge, though, Wharton is free to imagine connections unproven by the available evidence, but clear enough to a writer working out how instinct coerced into submission for the greater good results in misery for individuals. One potential source of encouragement for Wharton's creation of a linkage between genes and culture is Huxley's argument that "man, physical, intellectual, and moral, is as much a Ohler 39 part of nature, as purely a product of the cosmic process, as the humblest weed" ("Evolution and Ethics" 290). A n d while this may strike one as similar to Spencer's inclusion of social relations in the sphere covered by biology, Huxley finds in moral agency a way to differentiate nature and culture. Social evolution can be constrained to a degree, not by embracing social Darwinism, which is shown to rest on an economically exigent interpretation of evolutionary theory, but by considering and acting on Huxley's statement that the "optimism of philosophers [...] prevented them from seeing that cosmic nature is no school of virtue, but the headquarters o f the enemy of ethical nature" ("Evolution and Ethics" 324). 2 2 It is this perspective that frames Wharton's critical representation of a hereditary leisure-class whose values the socioeconomic elite dissipate. The material success of this latter class has no collective benefit; social Darwinism is a sham model of the culture's biological foundation that disregards the ability of the human collective to grow toward a virtuous limiting of 'cosmic nature.' One encounters a similar view in Darwin's The Descent of Man : It must not be forgotten that although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe, yet that an advancement in the standard of morality [...] w i l l certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another. (185) When Wharton writes that "George Eliot 's noblest characters shrink with a peculiar dread from any personal happiness acquired at the cost of the social organism" ( U C W 76), it is a positive valuation of Darwinian interconnectedness that also endorses morality as a way to reasonably confront mute nature. Ironically, such a conflation of natural dependency and Ohler 40 human moral judgment affirms the need to suppress instinct, which can potentially vitiate the social model that attempts to exclude it. Such ironies exist, too, in The Age of Innocence, where a representation of "the inscrutable totem terrors that had ruled the destinies of his [Newland Archer's] forefathers" ( A l 4) finds Wharton both utilizing and examining anthropology in her fiction. Archer muses on his "readings in anthropology" ( A l 67). But his studies distance him from the ability to understand why it is that he feels that he has been "cunningly trapped" ( C C 67) by class values that arrest his passion for Ellen Olenska. Alienated by these values from his ability to enact his passion, normal social relations blanket an understanding of sexuality for Archer. He evaluates his situation through his scientific readings, which allow him to analyze the 'totem terrors' that ruled his ancestors, but this simultaneously distances him from the passions such terrors symbolize. Wharton uses an anthropologically inclined narrative omniscience for the negative valuation of such a perspective in Archer. But the text's implicit comparison of Archer's dilettantish knowledge to the narrative's authoritative critique of the analytical scientific perspective that deadens instinct seems ambivalent about strict control over the 'cosmic process' discussed by Huxley. L i l y Bart's death in The House of Mir th is the logical outcome of the belief that 'the survival of the fittest' is a valid basis for social progress. The increased complexity of a society that creates members of a socioeconomic elite such as Simon Rosedale, Elmer Moffatt, and Julius Beaufort, to take an example from each of the novels I examine, should not be equated with progress in the moral sphere. For Spencer, nature and culture were not divisible. They developed in tandem. Wharton learned this from Spencer. For Wharton, though, Elmer Moffatt's "weapons of aggression" (CC 180), an unsheathed sign of the "new Ohler 41 spirit o f limitless concession" ( H M 272), assault the building blocks of literature, painting, and architecture that symbolize a cultural bulwark against filthy, unpredictable nature. In the monstrous combinations of old and new world architectural styles used to build their garish mansions, the titans reassemble elements of culture. Doing so breaks the "spell [...] [that] "seemed to emanate from the old house which had long been the custodian of an unbroken tradition" (CC 445); this 'spell, ' of course, is a set of leisure-class principles that constitute a facade of order and control. Violent fragmentation of a leisure-class symbolic order occurs in The Custom of the Country when Undine Spragg shows Moffatt the art treasures secreted in the private collections to which she has gained access; having already purchased a key symbol of a French aristocrat's familial association with royalty when he acquired a valuable Boucher tapestry, Moffatt eventually corners the art market and puts these symbols beyond the reach of the penurious aristocracy. In demonstrating that the 'success' o f Undine and Moffatt is destructive to those around them, and to the fabric of leisure-class ideology the tapestry could stand for, Wharton holds with the fact that "Darwin's anti-teleological, anti-rationalist proposition demotes volition of all kinds, and with it human determinism" (Preston 51). These two ungovernable characters embody energies disruptive to the symbolic order of the aesthetically-inclined aristocracy. The natural law that they epitomize, once introduced into the social garden, disrupts the leisure-class performance of control over chance. The Custom of the Country's Charles Bowen thinks that "the surest sign of human permanence" ( C C 243) is the impulse to create an illusion of volition. But whether leisure-class ideology is an illusion or not, Wharton's narratives assign to it the ability to enervate human determinism, and supply a response to Darwinian anti-rationalism. Ohler 42 Wharton's rejection of social Darwinism is also palpable in The House o f Mir th 's depiction of L i l y as a fly banging "irrationally against a window pane" ( H M 115). She is an "organism" with "inherited tendencies" ( H M 301) who, though highly moral, is eliminated because the 'cosmic process' is poorly regulated. The Custom of the Country draws Undine Spragg as an example of an earlier stage in the evolution of society, as I have shown, who finds her "impulses" (CC 39) untrustworthy in a leisure-class context devoted to arresting the process that kil ls L i l y in The House of Mirth. But Undine soon gravitates to Elmer Moffatt's sphere, where she can release her primal power. Undine is the logical outcome of Spencer's interpretation of Darwinian theory: "[t]he 'survival of the fittest' [...] is not just Mother Nature's way, but ought to be our way. According to the Social Darwinists, it is 'natural' for the strong to vanquish the weak, and for the rich to exploit the poor" (Dennett 461). Wharton's depiction of Undine's aggression illustrates this contemporary 'scientific' devaluation of moral agency, and judges it negatively. The degradation suffered by L i l y in The House o f Mirth, and the triumph o f aggression in The Custom of the Country, expertly describe the problem posed by an overt biological sense of social 'progress.' In these novels, Wharton portrays the eroding authority of a leisure-class that imagines a society wherein "the cosmic struggle for existence, as between man and man, would be rigorously suppressed, and selection, by its means, would be as completely excluded as it is from the garden" ("Evolution and Ethics" 293). In The Custom of the Country Ralph Marvell does not initially recognize the relationship between the social gardening Huxley describes and the 'cosmic' processes that necessitate it. Marvell 's is a world that has lost sight of the hazards posed to social evolution by instinct. One such hazard is Undine, a protagonist who exemplifies Huxley's characterization of the Ohler 43 struggle for existence as "the unscrupulous seizing upon of all that can be grasped" ("Evolution and Ethics" 311). In her instinctive appetite for wealth, she displays a lack of the qualities ideally possessed by members of Marvell 's class. His stratum, forgetful o f its obligations, has yielded to her, and become "frivolous" ( B G 207). The narrative shows Marvell 's romanticism blinding him to the need to 'rigorously' suppress the struggle for existence. He sees Undine through a scrim of myth, and fantasizes about lifting her to his own level of aestheticism. From his vantage he "seemed to see her like a lovely rock-bound Andromeda" (CC 86) and not the vestigial form she is. While Marvel l criticizes a brand of capitalism associated with ungoverned nature that buoys the rise of the socioeconomic elite in the novel, he doesn't divine the danger it presents to his way o f life. Behind the new capitalism is a destructive "Wal l Street code" (CC 233) fostering a "chaos of indiscriminate appetites" (CC 78) that admits the 'cosmic struggle' to the hothouse. Similarly, in The Age of Innocence Julius Beaufort transgresses on establishment morality in his relationship with Fanny Ring. From the perspective of those he offends, his behavior does not require suppression as outlined by Huxley, only casual remonstrance. His actions are interpreted as an affront not to social integrity, but style, for "few things seemed to Newland Archer more awful than an offense against 'Taste,' that far-off divinity o f whom 'Form' was the mere visible representative and viceregent" ( A l 14). Divorced from real instinct by the very systems of signification used to control them, Archer and Selden taste the regret caused by taking 'Form' for reality. Each of these novels finds that biology and culture are not separate spheres, though such a claim would trouble Selden, Marvell , and Archer. Before these characters experience the passions that w i l l redefine them, they believe something like the following contemporary Ohler 44 description of an erroneous view of the relation between nature and culture: "[w]hereas animals are rigidly controlled by their biology, human behavior is determined by culture, an autonomous system of symbols and values" (Pinker qtd. in Dennett 490). The assault by the modern on the assumption held by these characters that nature and culture are separate results in their exposure to the fact that "[w]hereas animals are rigidly controlled by their biology, human behavior is largely determined by culture, a largely autonomous system of symbols and values, growing from a biological base, but growing indefinitely away from it" (Pinker qtd. in Dennett 491). Such growth, these novels maintain, requires vigilance, for nature is an ineradicable element of culture. In the form of desire, instinct enters the life of Selden, Marvell , and Archer, showing them that their symbols and rituals signify something utterly true about themselves—their status as biological entities called upon to forge out of primitive energies a coherent society. They cleave to existing 'symbols and values,' and possess the tools to refine the forms that shore up an existing order, even i f they are finally unable to. In French Ways and Their Meaning Wharton insists on this: "we should cultivate the sense of continuity, that 'sense of the past' which enriches the present and binds us up with the world's great stabilizing traditions of art and poetry and knowledge" (97). Ideas are destiny; they form the content of cultural heredity that in turn stabilizes the social medium of its transmission. When one considers Wharton's ability to assert in best-selling novels a biological interpretation of social evolution, her narratives seem directed at moving beyond existing realist practices in terms of method and content. Her attempts to exceed the tools of cultural analysis she inherits from realist and naturalist writers, moreover, have consequences for the understanding of the cultural politics of the novels I investigate, for these narratives demand Ohler 45 the dispersal of interpretive tendencies and prejudices (social Darwinism, existing definitions of primitivism, and of nature) that obfuscate the complexity of biology's interactions with society. Wharton remarked that "intellectual honesty, the courage to look at things as they are, is the first test of mental maturity" (FW 58). A s an instructor of'intellectual honesty' to a wide readership, she sets the plank of biology as she understood i t 2 4 into the platform of her fictional efforts to represent class conflict and the reproduction of political ideology in each new generation of Americans. Ohler 46 Chapter Two "blind inherited scruples": Lily Bart's evolutionary ethics I. "the requirements of the public" ( U C W 25) Edith Wharton responded positively to the '"The Origin of Species '[ . . . ] Huxley, Herbert Spencer, Romanes, Haeckel, Westermarck, and the various popular exponents of the great evolutionary movement" ( B G 94). But the generality with which Wharton speaks favorably of Spencer's work calls for a detailed account of The House of Mir th ' s negative portrayal of social Darwinism's belief in "an accord between moral fitness and the ability to survive" (Beer, Darwin's Plots 64). The novel's depiction of cultural practices that lead to the elimination of unfit individuals such as L i l y Bart critiques the position that natural selection and other laws theorized in The Origin of Species should apply within human society. Wharton frequently alludes to the writings of Darwin and T . H . Huxley in The House of Mir th , and exhibits her knowledge of contemporary books on evolution such as R . H . Lock ' s Heredity and Variation. 1 These works provide her with a framework within which to articulate what Hoeller describes as " L i l y ' s specialization, Rosedale's ' impossibility, ' Trenor's 'carnivorous' bestiality, and Gryce's boring mediocrity," which together comprise the novel's "boundaries of race, taste, and morality" (133). The text's commentary on what is wrong with the excesses permitted by such 'boundaries' proceeds through the presentation of L i l y ' s destruction by four elements: her socialization, or "training" ( H M 301), her vulnerability to being "ruthlessly sacrificed" ( H M 227) by Bertha Dorset, the complex influence of Lawrence Selden and his idealized "republic of the spirit" ( H M 68), and an instinctive sensibility that drives L i l y ' s non-adaptive choices, and resembles Selden's idealistic personal philosophy. Social Darwinism's interpretation of Ohler 47 the role of nature in culture is only one facet of the novel, which is also concerned with the effects of such an interpretation on individuals like L i l y Bart. Her socialization, and Selden's guiding influence, form part of an 'education' that suppresses finer "instinctive" ( H M 17) tendencies made "obscure" ( H M 105) to her by the available modalities for self-interpretation. I focus here on biological allegories in The House of Mir th that demonstrate how an interpretation of culture that maintains it should not grow away from its biological underpinnings complicates the maintenance of a sustainable framework for social equity. These allegories problematize Spencer's biological view of collective human relations and counter it by suggesting that biological determinism must be reckoned with in a way less damaging to the always instinctive, yet reasoning individual. Investigating this set of issues seems particularly relevant given the contradiction latent in describing Wharton as a writer who has much to say regarding social and biological determinism, and who also claimed to be a student of a Spencerian sociobiology intrinsically hostile to democratic principles. The arguments made here on this subject are thus indebted to a reviewer of two recent books on Wharton's fiction, who comments on how "[o]ne can hardly think of a body of literature more hostile to feminist premises than the social Darwinist sociology and anthropology that Wharton apparently learned so much from" (Nowlin 227). M y interpretation of what Wharton might have learned from social Darwinist sociology builds on this statement to find The House of Mir th fastening on to it as a correlative of those attitudes in elite American society she found most damaging. Although Wharton copied passages from Herbert Spencer's First Principles (1875) in her Daybook in the 1890's (Howard 145), by the time she came to compose The House o f Ohler 48 Mir th her enthusiasm for Spencer's work had evidently faltered. The shift in Wharton's fictional response to popular scientific works of the kind authored by Spencer, one that is visible in The House of Mirth, is illustrated in her short story "The Descent o f M a n " (1904), a work whose date aligns it with the novel. The story critiques the influence on serious intellectual pursuits of the market for popular books, depicting the perilous interaction with the world of bestsellers of an eminent biologist named Professor Linyard. "The Descent of M a n " is also an early depiction within Wharton's corpus of the audience for popular books, a subject that appears in The Custom of the Country's detailed representation of mass culture and its effect on its consumers. "The Descent of M a n " portrays a public accepting of a subspecies of science made digestible through a suspect synthesis of fact and faith, and a literary marketplace wary of works that offer unadorned truths about the biological origins of life. Such unsweetened facts have the potential to disturb, as Wharton put it, "a public long nurtured on ice-cream soda and marshmallows" ( U C W 153). Linyard is a rationalist who "felt within himself that assurance of ultimate justification which, to the man of science, makes a lifetime seem the mere comma between premise and deduction" ( D M 360). But he writes a book in which his commitment to the method of 'premise and deduction' seems to bend to a popular metaphysics. The sequence of events surrounding this apparent "change of front" ( D M 353) is the focus of the story. The Professor is alarmed at a popularization of science that obfuscates the difference between facts laboriously attained and the way such facts are interpreted by newspapers, magazines, and best-selling books that equate science with metaphysics. This theme appears again in Wharton's fiction as a tension between the methods of the amateur and the specialist Ohler 49 in The Age of Innocence, where the "dilettante" ( A l 4) anthropologist Newland Archer's perspective is implicitly critiqued by the more comprehensively objective narrative. This subject is investigated in chapter four. In the short story, Linyard notes that "[e]very one now read scientific books and expressed an opinion on them. The ladies and the clergy had taken them up first; now they had passed to the school-room and the kindergarten. Dai ly life was regulated on scientific principles; the daily papers had their 'Scientific Jottings'" ( D M 349). It is not, however, the diffusion of a scientific way of thinking Linyard objects to most strenuously: The very fact that scientific investigation still had, to some minds, a flavour of heterodoxy, gave it a perennial interest. The mob had broken down the walls of tradition to batten in the orchard o f forbidden knowledge. The inaccessible goddess whom the Professor had served in his youth now offered her charms in the market-place. A n d yet it was not the same goddess after al l , but a pseudo-science masquerading in the garb of the real divinity. ( D M 349-350) In discerning an alignment between the "marketplace" and "pseudo-science," the narrative attributes a misleading quality to representations of scientific fact sponsored by the former. The 'flavour of heterodoxy' possessed by 'scientific investigation' creates the prospect of strong sales for works that exploit this fact, but the focus imposed on scientific subject matter in being framed for popular consumption renders it unscientific. In its portrait of how the predilections of a spiritualized public that has seized on science affects what passes for fact, "The Descent of M a n " defines one objection Wharton has to popular interventions into the realm of the specialist. Yet she was herself one of those 'ladies' that read scientific books, though her reading was perhaps more rigorous than that of Ohler 50 the women disparaged by Linyard. "The Descent of M a n " thus invites one to ask whether the signs of Wharton's intense interest in science are those of a specialist's attempt to create a higher standard for mass culture products such as her own serialized novels, and to what extent she sought to counter the trend noted by the protagonist of her story. That these related questions raise issues pertinent to the novels I discuss is bolstered by Gaillard Lapsley 's 4 claim in an unfinished introduction to Wharton's critical writings that she "disliked & disbelieved in metaphysics" (qtd. in U C W 43). Wharton was placed in the position of reconciling her dislike of and disbelief in metaphysics with the tastes of her audience, whose belief in religion and simultaneous interest in science are carefully reproduced in "The Descent of Man . " Hence, one can also assign Linyard's lack of sympathy for 'pseudo-science' to his creator. In the story's negative depiction of the interpretation of science through the prism of faith, and the seductive compensations of a market unsympathetic to Linyard's wish to write a "real book" ( D M 362), "The Descent of M a n " foreshadows the challenges faced by Wharton in achieving commercial success on her terms. Foremost among these challenges was Wharton's wish to reach a wide audience with 'real books' that critically addressed popular 'pseudo-science' with a reductive biological materialism that rejected metaphysics, positively valued the pursuit of truth through science, and yet questioned a similar materialism manifest in Spencer's thought because of its elision of moral agency. 5 In "The Descent of Man , " Wharton was perhaps defining specific problems posed by non-professional science to a clear articulation of how nature and culture interact. Examples of the kind of thinking Linyard attacks in the story can be found in Spencer's work itself. In First Principles, the book from which Wharton copied passages in the 1890's, Spencer argues Ohler 51 that "a civil ized society is made unlike a barbarous one by the establishment of regulative classes" (317). Spencer's reasoning is of interest here for Wharton's exception in The House of Mir th to the methodology exhibited in the passage. To make the case that the establishment of classes wi l l result in 'a civi l ized society,' Spencer builds his argument by first describing how the mammalian embryo is reliant upon nutrition supplied by surrounding tissue. This is an illustration of the way "organisms are made dependent on one another" (315). Spencer's observation echoes Darwin's point that plants and animals "are bound together by a web o f complex relations" (Origin 124-125). A s I claimed in chapter one, The House of Mirth 's allegories, metaphors, and allusions indicate that Wharton drew on and transfigured Darwin's idea, defining through the absence o f interconnectedness the system of values regrettably lacking in Selden's set. In First Principles, the primitive dependency of organisms on one another is given a moral tone as the argument describes the operation of this axiom among more complex animals. This is evident in Spencer's statement that "creatures who hunt in packs, or that have sentinels, or that are governed by leaders, form bodies partially united by cooperation" (315). A s Spencer moves in his discussion from lower to higher organisms, his anthropomorphism surfaces in words such as 'governed' and 'co-operation,' which accents instinctive behavior with the vernacular of human politics, making his description of non-human, mammalian behavior inexact. Civi l ized society, in Spencer's account, is 'natural' to the extent that it reflects the mutual dependency found in nature outside of the human social sphere. But Spencer's conclusion that the appearance of'regulative classes' makes 'a civil ized society' unlike a 'barbarous one' is countered in The House of Mir th , where what defines and maintains classes is destructive to L i l y Bart. Ohler 52 Wharton's literary reiteration of an ecological model of class relations derived from Darwin reenacts Spencer's methodology of drawing parallels between natural and social processes, but does not draw the conclusion that progress toward 'regulative classes' might protect The House of Mirth 's protagonist. L i l y ' s trials depict a society that has not incorporated one of Darwin's key points: "Let it be borne in mind how infinitely complex and close-fitting are the mutual relations of all organic beings to each other and to their physical conditions of life" (Origin 130). Her depiction of the applicability of Darwin's comment about mutual relations bends biological theory to social commentary, dramatizing her critique in terms that would present a positive alternative to the dispersive effects on interdependence wrought by wealth without responsibility, and by an aristocratic denial of instinct. "The Descent of M a n " goes on to relate the genesis of the Professor's reply to the 'pseudo-science' that he finds so ubiquitous in American culture: This false goddess had her ritual and her literature. She had her sacred books, written by false priests and sold by millions to the faithful. [...] they filled him with mingled rage and hilarity. [...] the hilarity remained, and flowed into the form of his idea. A n d the idea [...] was simply that he should avenge his goddess by satirizing her false interpreters. ( D M 350) Linyard's new work wi l l be "a skit on the 'popular' scientific book; [...] it should be the trumpet-blast bringing down the walls of ignorance, or at least the little stone striking the giant between the eyes" ( D M 350). To realize this goal he takes the completed manuscript to Ned Harviss, an old friend who has become one of the nation's "purveyors of popular literature" ( D M 350). Further revealing the story's juxtaposition of profitable faith and less Ohler 53 remunerative fact, Harviss "looked as i f he had been fattened on popular fiction; and his fat was full of optimistic creases" ( D M 351). Wharton's production of popular novels that exploit the cultural capital created by science becomes interpretable as an act of social intervention when one recognizes how in "The Descent of M a n " she portrays the ability of the market to undermine the "the objective faculty" (WF 78) that is as important to the scientist as it is for the novelist. The tale retains the virtue of'objectivity' even though it is pitched to the same audience depicted as having made "The Vi ta l Thing" a blockbuster by containing the whole through satire. In considering The House of Mir th from this angle, though, one senses the need for an assessment of whether Wharton made compromises similar to those entered into by Professor Linyard, who believed that the "elect would understand; the crowd would not" ( D M 354). I argue that Wharton successfully negotiates, in The House of Mirth, this strait between the demands of the market and her belief that the serious novelist is an agent of cultural change.6 During the initial meeting between author and publisher, Harviss, not having read the manuscript, suggests that Linyard take it to an educational house, adding that "[y]ou're a little too scientific for us. We have a big sale for scientific breakfast foods, but not for the concentrated essences" ( D M 360). When he does read Linyard's book, its satire evades him. Harviss, instead, sees unlimited commercial potential in the work. In welcoming the Professor for their second meeting he thus exclaims, "I don't know when I've had a bigger sensation [...] you've brought it so exactly to the right shop" ( D M 352). Harviss takes the book to be Linyard's "apologia—your confession of faith, I should call it" ( D M 352). What makes the book a potential bestseller in Harviss' opinion is that it is "full o f hope and enthusiasm; it's written in the religious key" ( D M 354). This scene resonates with Wharton's Ohler 54 call in The House of Mirth, and the other novels I examine, for the modification of an American 'hope and enthusiasm' that, ironically, extirpates L i l y Bart, elevates the atavistic Undine Spragg in The Custom of the Country, and in The Age of Innocence expels El len Olenska and her belief in a mode of personal relations evasive of social control. Wharton's critique of the marketplace's fact-altering purveyance of a national ethos o f progressive improvement indebted to spiritual faith is thus an element of her fiction one can trace to the period immediately prior to the publication of The House of Mirth. When Linyard finally overcomes Harviss' belief that the book represents a "shifting" of "stand-point" ( D M 353) and reveals to the publisher "the very core of the joke" ( D M 353), Harviss reacts by saying "I don't pretend to be up in such recondite forms of humour" ( D M 353). Such satire, to a man who claims to "represent the Average Reader" ( D M 354), lies beyond the margin of intelligibility. A s Harviss's eye for opportunity adjusts its focus, he suggests that the author not "insist on an ironical interpretation" ( D M 354). The "book is susceptible of another" reading ( D M 354), something proven by Harviss's initial reaction. Claiming that the work "is just on the line of popular interest," he convinces Linyard that " i t ' l l sell like a popular novel i f you ' l l let me handle it in the right way" ( D M 354). The Professor agrees, and the book, now titled "The Vi ta l Thing," goes to market. Wharton perceived that the expansion of mass culture constituted a threat not only to the authority of literature, but also to the integrity of fiction's capacity to express the private voice. She retreats, via panoramic social chronicles, from "the nightmare weight o f the cinema close-up" ( B G 97) that makes a fetish of the individual at the expense of representing the social bond. Her comment on how a "universal facility of communication" ( U C W 154) erodes idiosyncrasies, and makes society as a fictional subject difficult to depict, also Ohler 55 suggests that in her writing the cultural work of literature and the reader's capacity to become critically aware of his or her world are connected. "[Ojnly when mediocrity has achieved universal diffusion" she writes "does it become completely unpaintable" ( U C W 154), and thus, one imagines, invisible to author and reader alike. Wharton's satire on works in which "ancient dogma and modern discovery were depicted in close embrace under the lime-lights of hazy transcendentalism" ( D M 350) depicts Linyard's own mock-metaphysics as being subverted by popular taste. Yet the story is noteworthy too for its foreordination of Wharton's narrative practice in her most commercially successful novel, for the tonal darkness of The House of Mir th obviates the connection in "The Vita l Thing" between bestseller status and the optimistic tone favored by the publisher of this tale within a tale. While "The Descent of M a n " and "The Vi ta l Thing" are both satirical, Wharton dissuades her reader from interpreting the former as a parable of a morally barren science in which "the recantation of an eminent biologist, whose leanings had hitherto been supposed to be toward a cold determinism" ( D M 355) marks a victory for irrational metaphysics. She blocks this reading by equating such faith with a consumerism that caters to a public ready to follow the reasoning of writers like Spencer. The House of Mir th reveals the author to be faced with a conundrum similar to Linyard's desire to take issue with the misrepresentation of how one arrives at facts when practicing science. There, Wharton depicts the social Darwinism that extinguishes the unfit L i l y Bart as one result of a popular misinterpretation of natural selection that has become a cultural tenet. To make her point, though, Wharton must negotiate with the market for her work represented by men like Harviss. To succeed, she redacts unsentimental biological interpretations of social relations that would otherwise be perceived to run against the grain Ohler 56 of popular scientism that seems similar to our contemporary New age movement, relying in the process on established modes of popular fiction to increase the palatability of her product. O f course, sales of "The Vital Thing" are strong. The book is compared by Harviss with the " 'How-To-Relax ' series, and they sell way up in the millions. [...] he drew the Professor a supplementary cheque" ( D M 358). Once a solitary walker in the pursuit o f truth, Linyard becomes a celebrity: Presently his head began to figure in the advertising pages of the magazines. Admiring readers learned the name of the breakfast-food in use at his table, of the ink with which 'The Vita l Thing' had been written. [...] These confidences endeared the Professor to millions of readers, and his head passed in due course from the magazine and the newspaper to the biscuit-tin and the chocolate-box. ( D M 360) Linyard eventually feels the pull o f his real work. The professor proposes a serious scientific book to Harviss, but the publisher refers to it as "a little harmless amusement. When you want more cash come back to us" ( D M 362). The story ends with the Professor's decision to put off for six months the scientific study he wants to write. Instead, he'll do another volume for Harviss, which wi l l be included in a boxed set with "The Vita l Thing" that " w i l l take tremendously in the holidays" ( D M 362). Although this rational man justifies the decision to himself when he muses, "I can do better work when I get my new instruments" ( D M 363), the reader is left with the sense that the Professor's scientific career is over. Echoing her protagonist, Wharton's letters show that she had rigorous standards regarding intellectual integrity, but she also believed that "[t]he greatest writers have made concessions (if unconsciously, yet inevitably) to the requirements of the public" ( U C W 25). Whether or not she made concessions that inadvertently rendered the sociobiological aspect Ohler 57 of her fictional social analysis illegible is a question that in being answered can illustrate the extent to which Wharton's desire to change her culture was overshadowed by the marketplace in which she labored. The "microscopist" ( D M 355) of "The Descent of M a n " understands his scientific pursuits to be a social act too. Linyard takes "a sociological view of his case, and modestly regarded himself as a brick in that foundation on which the state is supposed to rest" ( D M 348). Like the author, Linyard associates the pursuit of unalloyed fact with political praxis. In this way, the narrative grants the seriousness of its protagonist's dilemma, one that is also Wharton's, in being faced by a "gross crowd" ( D M 350) whose avid consumption of romanticized truths represents a turning away from an essential and continuing reinforcement of the state's foundation. Like Wharton, Linyard looks up from his loom to take the measure of his readers: "[f]rom this first inspection of the pattern so long wrought over from behind, it was natural to glance a little farther and seek its reflection in the public eye" ( D M 349). The difficulties in addressing the mass market for fiction Wharton perceived in this reflection called for a careful and programmatic use o f the scientific knowledge that would carry her social criticism to a reading public that took its fact with a strong dose of fancy. II. Doing the "natural thing" ( H M 15) Wharton was a serious reader of Darwin, 7 and she winnowed from his work a number of implications for social interaction of close-fitting interrelations amongst species. But The House of Mir th shows that a natural model of interrelatedness is comparable to a contractual view of relations in which human feeling is converted to a mode in which a pecuniary "mutual accommodation" ( H M 259) is the gold standard for conduct. Scratch the surface o f Ohler 58 the novel's presentation of L i l y acknowledging her debt to Gus Trenor and paying it, despite the fact that this act impoverishes her, and one finds in the misery that results a critique of the transactional requirement she fulfills. For the novel, nature's model is a starting point only. A strict adherence to a red-clawed mode of social relations w i l l not address the moral dilemmas the novel presents. Thus, L i l y ' s status as a biological entity (created by a social Darwinist viewpoint in the social environment the novel depicts), whose survival or extinction is 'natural,' is a problem faced by the narrative's hoped for vision of equitable social relations. But the narrative's biologizing metaphors and allusions also play to " M r . Herbert Spencer's philosophy," which Wharton refers to as "the popular superstition" ( U C W 73). A s she holds out to her audience a portrait o f L i l y in accord with popular sentiment regarding 'the survival of the fittest,' the author also describes the damage to individuals caused by such a view. Moreover, the biologizing of L i l y the text engages in, and describes as an activity of the milieu L i l y occupies, conforms to the views of those who might believe in 'the popular superstition' and demonstrates the abandonment of moral social relations by those who turn L i l y out of an artificial environment to succeed or fail. In ostensibly staying true to biological imperatives by turning her out, though, the dictates of manners limit L i l y ' s power of sexual selection, which is problematic to the maintenance of social control. L i l y , it seems, cannot fully be an 'organism'; social Darwinism's process of biologizing her selectively subjects to social control attributes that would disturb its own fictitious, politically invested sociobiology. Such claims can be tested by ascertaining whether L i l y behaves in ways that run counter to social self-interest only when doing so fulfills her biological w i l l . "Why could one never do a natural thing without having to screen it behind a structure of artifice" ( H M 15) Ohler 59 L i l y wonders as she lies unconvincingly to Rosedale about the reason for her visit to Selden's apartment. L i l y unthinkingly behaves in what the text renders as a natural way. Yet this behavior is not effectively modified by social considerations that are repressive when they are concerned with the fact that a woman must marry. L i l y resists the reformulation o f her habit of "measuring distances and drawing conclusions with all the accuracy needful o f [...] [her] welfare" ( H M 115) by the demands of her "training and experience" ( H M 16). The marriage market would break her desire to evolve, and confine L i l y ' s definition of her 'welfare' to the fulfillment of the expectation that she marry well . However, her urge to fulfill her nature is signified by the word "Beyond" on her signet ring, which implores her to do the 'natural thing ' 8 so deeply problematic in her social environment. The House of Mir th consistently depicts L i l y Bart as a biological entity compelled to move in a human social world where she was less to blame than she believed. Inherited tendencies had combined with early training to make her the highly specialized product she was: an organism as helpless out of its narrow range as the sea-anemone torn from the rock. She had been fashioned to adorn and delight; to what other end does nature round the rose-leaf and paint the hummingbird's breast? A n d was it her fault that the purely decorative mission is less easily and harmoniously fulfilled among social beings than in the world of nature? ( H M 301) The metaphor equates L i l y with the 'sea-anemone,' projecting a strongly reductive biological image. The Darwinian assertion that "[njatural selection did not demand that life continually progress, only that animals anchor themselves into niches" (Desmond 258-259) finds its analogue in the fact that L i l y is 'torn' from her 'narrow range' by "the cultural upheaval Ohler 60 marked by unprecedented technological, demographic, and political changes that were taking place between 1875 and 1920" (Nowlin 226). Her difficulties signify, in the novel's cultural politics, a failure of the organizing principles created by the 'social beings' amongst whom she lives. Wharton juxtaposes the battleground of New York society where an ethos based on competition holds sway, with the 'narrow range' in which L i l y might otherwise survive. N e w York, and the oceanic environment of L i l y ' s metaphorical equivalent, are thus similar. The phrase 'fashioned to adorn and delight' reflects an overlapping biological and social determinism in which her manufacture by 'social beings,' and biological processes, demonstrates the inseparability of nature and culture. Leisure-class social codes resist this implication, which is undermined by the novel's metaphorical blurring of the lexical distinctiveness of the definition of heredity in social and biological contexts. The House of Mir th seemed to the critic who reviewed it for Outlook on October 21, 1905 to have "escaped the danger of setting up moral sign-posts on the road, and has given her [Wharton's] novel a concentrated and tragic moral significance" (Reviews 111). Nevertheless, the author's system of evolutionary metaphor displaced into the terms of scientific discourse a moral critique of "fashionable New York" ( B G 207) intent on showing the damage to the social fabric wrought by a class possessed with great resources, but a failed sense of social responsibility. The fictional effects created by Wharton's clothing "[a] world in which such things could be" ( H M 27) in metaphors and language grounded in evolutionary thought did the cultural work of moral signposts without being overtly moralistic. The House of Mirth 's representation of the social determinism that guides L i l y Bart toward her fate is a central feature of a novel intent on showing how a "frivolous society" debases "people and ideas" ( B G 207). Hence, one must focus on the methods Wharton uses Ohler 61 to realize the artistic task of associating such debasement with the favorable valuation of ruthlessness in business and personal relations which flows from the capitalist ethos the novel details. Undergirding this ethos is a fixed idea about the primacy of nature over culture the narrative shows to be erroneous. The leisure-class view that nature and culture are separate spheres errs in its belief that the latter is unaffected by biology; conversely, the view of the socioeconomic elite that nature is a model for culture, or might just make culture in its image, regardless of ameliorative efforts to the contrary, is also depicted as misguided. The resulting representation of a rapidly stratifying N e w York altered by urbanization, industrialization, and unheard of concentrations of wealth thus satirizes a new materialism that diminishes socially useful, yet abstract, notions like equality. This was recognized by a contemporary reviewer who commented on how "[i]t seems to me that she creates a very high ideal by her masterly presentation of the absence of all ideals" (Reviews 119). The novel converts into literary capital a turn-of-the-century fascination with popular Darwinism by using evolutionary or biological metaphors. There are nearly thirty instances in The House of Mir th of the word 'instinct,' or a variant of it, for example. Over a dozen uses of'inheritance' or 'inherit' accrue, conflating class values, and capital—both of which are passed from one generation to the next—with biological heredity. This mixing of social and biological registers is at the heart of the novel, informing Wharton's method by facilitating her dissolution of a division between nature and culture. In The House of Mirth, this mixing of the social and the biological serves to allegorize random occurrences, connecting L i l y ' s card playing, her decision to drink the chloral, and her accidental meeting with Rosedale at the Benedick, with chance variations in nature. Chance thus becomes visible as a constituent of ordered upper class New York, despite the fact that leisure-class ideology Ohler 62 sees contingency as intolerable and controllable. Wharton uses evolutionary and biological language within a realistic presentation of social mores to carry forward her contestation of the way a 'frivolous society' turns Darwin's ideas to justifying injustice. The text's interpretation of the nature/culture continuum does not deny that competition, or natural selection, are factors in social evolution. The novel, though, is at odds with contemporary society's interpretation of connections between nature and culture. . Aspects of human instinct such as behaving in ways beneficial to the collective good are vital to the development of culture away from its biological foundation, while others, such as competition for resources, hinder the process. Finding consistency in the novel's presentation of what requires suppression, and what must be allowed to flourish, is a complex task. However, patterns emerge that suggest L i l y ' s instinctive power of sexual selection, which causes her rejection of socially acceptable suitors, is valued positively, rendering as misguided the suppression of sexuality and the encouragement of capitalist excesses in the culture at large. That L i l y views her world from a perspective anchored in nature is clear. She sees different character types as "species" ( H M 49); in a strong metaphorical invocation of natural selection, she admits to the belief that "a slowly accumulated past lives in the blood" ( H M 319) of her parents. The psychology of individuals, moreover, is made up of "inherited passions" ( H M 319) that firmly ties the behavior of social beings to biological heredity. In this way The House of Mir th represents a hybrid of social and biological evolution as a fact available for literary representation. The creation of a politically weighted alternative to the forces that destroy L i l y Bart is one result of Wharton's method. This alternative values L i l y ' s freedom to choose a partner, and her fate. Ohler 63 Organic metaphors describe L i l y ; it is not poverty from which the heroine turns "with the greatest shrinking" ( H M 318), but the sense that she is "mere spindrift o f the whirling surface of existence, without anything to which the poor little tentacles of self could cling before the awful flood submerged them" ( H M 319). Although it is the narrative's omniscient voice that most often describes L i l y in evolutionary terms, even Selden feels "how highly specialized she was" ( H M 5). The text also articulates how the evolutionary ethics possessed by L i l y lie at the base of her negation of the marriage market. This makes of her self-sabotage in the nuptial sweepstakes an assertive act that exhibits "a l l her inherited resistances, of taste, of training, of blind inherited scruple" (HM104). Her resistance, in this reading, is a manifestation of "the blind motions of her mating instinct" ( H M 319) that cause her rejection of Percy Gryce and others. The narrative relates that "[i]n judging Miss Bart, he [Lawrence Selden] had always made use of the 'argument from design'" ( H M 5). The argument from design saw in the complexity of nature proof of God's existence. 9 In Selden's application of this argument to L i l y , her complexity proves to him the omnipotence of the social conditioning to which she is subjected, which is all-powerful in his eyes. But as with the argument from design, which was used to refute natural selection, 1 0 but succumbed in time to the explanatory power of Darwin's theory, there is a better explanation for L i l y ' s behavior. Selden attributes to her 'training' L i l y ' s pursuit of what she has been conditioned to want, but when she responds to his vision of freedom "from money, from poverty, from ease and anxiety, from all the material accidents" ( H M 68), he does not recognize that this ideal is an accord with her instinctive, though as yet unfelt values. L i l y initially states that her idea of success is "to get as much as one can out of life" ( H M 68). Prompted by Selden, though, her instinct is Ohler 64 metaphorically converted to values that cause her to repay Gus Trenor, and to refuse to blackmail Bertha Dorset. These values are set against a debasing society that uses nature's code without considering its potential mitigation by reason. A t the head of this society are the leaders of finance and industry. Characters such as Gus Trenor and Simon Rosedale possess attitudes reminiscent of J.P. Morgan's statement: "I owe the public nothing" (qtd. in Morris 30). The text's association of an anti-Darwinian argument from design with Selden's perspective on L i l y reveals his willingness to apply faulty explanations for biological reality to social relations. His irresponsibly casual and consequential intermixing of biology and standards for social relations serves to damn the relativism of his class values, which loom starkly when L i l y loses her social standing because it is "convenient to be on good terms" with Bertha Dorset ( H M 226), who is jealous o f her husband's affection for L i l y . Wharton's reference to evolution in the context of human social relations results in a literary sociobiology 1 1 that complicates the idea that moral and material progress proceeds linearly. Another contemporary review of the novel recognized the author's refusal to sustain the progressive note of a forward-looking nation that equated evolution with advancement toward perfection, remarking that "Mrs . Wharton makes no concession to the optimistic mood which is supposed to dominate American readers" (Reviews 112). Writing without conceding to such optimism for an audience with an inexact understanding 1 2 o f key aspects of Darwin's ideas meant that Wharton had to confront and dispatch erroneous thinking on the subject. The House of Mirth thus explicitly shows the dilettantish Selden applying the argument from design, and repeatedly depicts his belief that nature only exists in culture as an imaginative construct, as when he notes that "the sylvan freedom in her [Lily 's] nature Ohler 65 [...] lent such a savour to her artificiality" ( H M 13). The novel portrays this misreading o f L i l y , and its dependence on Selden's belief that culture is a human invention insulated from nature, even as it formally exploits the familiar application of Darwin's work to society so it can offer an alternative to Selden's view. The effect of this, though it is perhaps too subtle to register on a reader laboring under misconceptions regarding Darwin's thought, is to demonstrate that the elite are out of touch with the social implications of evolution. Defining the role of Wharton's scientific interests in The House of Mir th enriches existing criticism of her narrative. Elizabeth Ammons argues that "[p]art of the point of The House of Mir th [. ..] is to dramatize how perfectly trained she [Lily] is for the important job society expects her to serve as some rich man's wife" (31). Ammons's discussion of the novel takes up "the predatory economics and sexual politics" (35) that she finds evident, for example, in the crucial episode between L i l y and Gus Trenor. While Ammons writes of L i l y ' s failed opportunities to marry that "she does not want to be owned by any man" (35), her feminist perspective is not concerned with the source of L i l y ' s refusals, seeing as self-evident L i l y ' s resistance to patriarchal institutions. Ammons thus interprets L i l y ' s actions as hesitance toward entering into relationships in which she is "powerless" (35). Although the narrative encourages this reading insofar as it portrays the negative effects of marriage on women, Wharton's framework of evolutionary metaphor also introduces factors such as sexual selection, and presents L i l y ' s refusals as the acts o f a woman whose "social habits are instinctive" ( H M 115). Hence Wharton portrays L i l y as a woman who does not consciously understand her most natural response to circumstances. She therefore lacks (though it is sometimes a matter of degree) the intentional aspect Ammons ascribes to her. 1 3 While opportunities to marry arise frequently—Percy Gryce, Ohler 66 Lawrence Selden, an Italian prince, George Dorset, and Simon Rosedale are potential partners—Lily, at crucial moments, acts in ways that preclude consecration of a match. The question of what causes L i l y to defeat her goal of marrying well is complicated by the narrative's ambiguity regarding L i l y ' s intentions (in doing so). Textual evidence suggests, however, that this ambiguity is a marker of L i l y ' s lack of intention, or at least that inarticulate instinct guides her refusals of inappropriate (from her perspective) pairings because of what Selden calls L i l y ' s "genius," which "lies in converting impulses into intentions" ( H M 67). A s L i l y "despises the things she's trying for" ( H M 180), it is clear that she possesses an innate moral sensibility the text aligns with her instinct, the latter of which would, unhindered, drive her to try for the man she desires, and not one whose only virtue is wealth. L i l y is instinctive too in that she does not consider her debt to Gus Trenor while she is in Europe, for example, because "[m]oral complications existed for her only in the environment that had produced them [...] but they lost their reality when they changed their background" ( H M 196). This lack of intentionality is present, too, in her obsession over the question of why her best efforts to secure a husband go awry. She asks herself whether it was "her own fault or that of destiny" ( H M 28), unable to discern that her actions are under the sway of a powerful instinct the narrative shows to be patterning her refusal to choose. Another recent critic of the novel has noted that The House of Mir th "presented a specimen case of evolutionary metaphors. [...] Rosedale is 'st i l l at a stage of his social ascent' (6). Percy Gryce [...] feels in L i l y ' s ministrations 'the confused titillation with which the lower organisms welcome the gratification of their needs' (21)" (Howard 144). While Howard states that these "allusions toy with the evolutionary concerns of the day" (144), her Ohler 67 insight leaves undeveloped the conceptual exchange inherent in social Darwinism which makes L i l y a "victim of avenging moral forces" ( U C W 269) that are atavistic, and thus suggestive of a 'moral ' code predicated on a natural elimination of the unfit. Clearly, then, the novel represents this version of morality as one unable to accommodate differences that can invigorate and renew it. Howard states that "[i]t is not fate, after al l , but a fastidious irresolution" (143) that causes L i l y ' s destruction, allowing the interpretation that L i l y ' s actions indicate her unwitting attempt to follow the dictates of sexual selection. Howard does not note Selden's perception that L i l y wears "an air of irresolution which might [...] be the mask of a very definite purpose" ( H M 3). Selden's attribution of intent to L i l y is correct, but he doesn't realize that she cannot see through her 'mask' either. L i l y understands, at least, that infamy w i l l result from her habit of wasting opportunities to marry well , even i f this habit asserts a provisional independence. She "knew that there is nothing society resents so much as having given its protection to those that have not known how to profit by it: it is for having betrayed its connivance that the social body punishes the offender who is found out" ( H M 104). Notwithstanding this, L i l y recalls a sensation experienced during a youthful romance that is something she feels again with Selden. It is a "sense of lightness, of emancipation [...] that glow of freedom" ( H M 65). For L i l y , 'irresolution' holds at length the hollow alternative of the socially sanctioned match in favor of an attraction that fulfills biological ' w i l l ' and is felt bodily. L i l y ' s instinct thus carries her toward the fulfillment of her biological w i l l , but also into conflict with leisure-class ideology intent upon suppressing instinct, and a system of thought held by the socioeconomic elite (particularly Rosedale) sympathetic to L i l y ' s natural impulses, yet intolerant of her habit of lowering her 'value' as social currency Ohler 68 The view that Wharton portrays a form of competition modeled on nature has found acceptance in recent criticism of The House o f Mirth. Claire Preston, for example, "considers Wharton's use of Darwinian metaphors of survival and adaptation [. . .]. L i l y ' s outcasting is, in a sense, impersonal, merely biologically necessary rather than governed by volition or intention; the tragic agent of The House of Mir th is thus less human than environmental" (xii i-xiv). Preston, though, is unclear here on the question of just who is using 'Darwinian metaphors' in the novel; one important question her analysis does not address is the potential for the biased use of such metaphors, which are a powerful tool for the elimination of the unfit and the ideological nonconformist, by the social collective Wharton depicts. In writing of Wharton's use of Darwinian metaphors, Preston collapses the author's depiction of the way evolutionary thought permeates elite New York, contributing to the view that L i l y ' s demise is 'environmental,' or 'natural,' and the omniscient narrative's perspective on the heroine's fate, which delineates L i l y ' s life as one of "wasted human possibilities" ( U C W 266). A hereditary gentry that might be a venerable caretaker of aesthetic and intellectual achievement becomes, in the view the novel critiques, a stratum that has allowed the contours of its social environment to resemble the natural world, where no moral center exists to offer an alternative to what befalls L i l y Bart. The tragic movement of the novel portrays a character victimized by the fact that her "specialized" ( H M 5) traits are ill-suited to the demands of a shifting environment ready to embrace Spencerian sociobiology. In such an understanding, moral volition of the kind L i l y , to her detriment, eventually practices is an ideal only, one she sees as such: "[w]hy do we call our generous ideas illusions, and our mean ones truths?" ( H M 70). Her avoidance of the "personal contamination" ( H M 104) she Ohler 69 feels in contemplating the fact that she can "overthrow with a touch the whole structure" ( H M 104) of Bertha Dorset's life displays non-adaptive, non-competitive behavior that is an insupportable ideal in her social context. This ideal, however, constitutes the marketable core of this novel of moral sentiment. L i l y ' s searching reaction to her downward social and economic status defines an equally unrealistic desire for interdependence between classes and individuals as her "vision of the solidarity of life" ( H M 319). This outlook is evident, too, in L i l y ' s "faculty o f adapting herself, for entering into other people's feelings, [which] i f it served her now and then in small contingencies, hampered her in the decisive moments of life" ( H M 53) such as those moments where she ought to follow through on opportunities to marry. This shape-shifting trait is not uncommon in her set, for even Selden has "tried to remain amphibious" ( H M 70); he wishes to retain an ability to function amongst the elite, while maintaining the ability to breathe " in another air" ( H M 70). Yet conventional definitions of womanhood, and Selden's pernicious aestheticism, overwrite L i l y ' s instincts, which have no standing in the realm of a leisure-class ordering of selfhood through language, ritual, and other symbolic modes such as visual art. The limits of L i l y ' s consciousness show one aspect of the often-overestimated influence of Henry James's writing on Wharton's formal practices. In The Writing of Fiction Wharton notes how "James sought the effect of verisimilitude by rigorously confining every detail o f his picture to the range, and also to the capacity, of the eye fixed on it" (WF 89-90). In her depiction of L i l y ' s imperfect understanding of how early conditioning betrays her better instincts, Wharton adheres to this axiom rigorously while omnisciently describing the factors that condition the range and capacity of L i l y ' s viewpoint. L i l y ' s inability to marry Ohler 70 Selden, or her other suitors, may be self-destructive. She's been warned that "the only thing that can save you from Bertha is to marry somebody else" ( H M 252), but her bristling refusals temporarily preserve her dissolving sphere of autonomy. Whether or not L i l y comprehends the friability of this autonomy is a question Wharton critics have addressed. Moddellmog argues that "[j]ust when we think we are getting to know 'the real L i l y Bart,' Wharton discards her authorial omniscience and withholds from us central elements of L i l y ' s consciousness. 'Intimacy' seems no more possible between L i l y and the reader than between L i l y and Selden" (338). Such a critique can be made of Wharton at those moments in the novel when L i l y seems inexplicably to act in a way that contradicts her goal of marrying well . However, Moddellmog's interpretation doesn't contend with the possibility that Wharton withholds nothing of L i l y ' s consciousness from the reader, and that her portrait finds warring influences of sexual selection and socialization nullifying the latent connection with Selden. Furthermore, the text 'withholds' intimacy between L i l y and the reader because L i l y is awash in the riptide of her 'early training,' even as she senses the weak countercurrent of her instincts in her physical reaction to Selden. The 'central elements of L i l y ' s consciousness' referred to by Moddellmog are in flux, and thus cannot be represented by her except as what Selden calls L i l y ' s "irresolution" ( H M 3). For example, while the reader can see no reason why L i l y shouldn't blackmail Bertha, it is an action the narrative indicates would deeply compromise the protagonist's better instincts, even as it would save her socially. L i l y wavers over whether to use the letters to benefit herself, but her knowledge of the consequences for Selden prevails, and a course of action unmediated by L i l y ' s training is prevented: Ohler 71 Bertha Dorset's letters were nothing to her—they might go where the current of chance carried them. But Selden was inextricably involved in their fate. M e n do not, at worst, suffer much from such exposure; [. . .] . Nevertheless, the fact that the correspondence had been allowed to fall into strange hands would convict Selden of negligence in a matter where the world holds it least pardonable. ( H M 105) A second reason for withholding the letters, one that resonates with the Darwinian metaphor of interdependence as social model, is that saving Selden is an expression of L i l y ' s love for him. Sti l l , L i l y ' s awareness of the interconnectedness of those from different classes is incomplete at this stage, for a few pages earlier she has swept by a char-woman on her aunt's stairs, thinking it "insufferable that Mrs. Peniston should have such creatures about the house" ( H M 99). Notable, too, is L i l y ' s sensitivity to the presence of 'chance' in the matter of the letters, a process she interrupts by taking action, and which is consonant with the mitigation of the harmful effects of natural selection her story symbolizes. Other novels express interdependence in organic terms as well . In The Fruit o f the Tree (1907), "human relations [are] [...] a tangled and deep-rooted growth, a dark forest through which the idealist cannot cut his straight path without hearing at each stroke the cry of the severed branch: 'why woundest thou we '" (FT 624). Similarly, L i l y Bart's non-adaptive interest in 'solidarity,' and the fact that she refuses her opportunity for redemption via Bertha Dorset's letters, recreates in the text a tension between competition and interdependence addressed in the following passage from The Origin of Species: The dependency of one organic being on another, as of a parasite on its prey, lies generally between beings remote in the scale of nature. This is often the case with those which may strictly be said to struggle with each other for existence [ . . .] . But Ohler 72 the struggle almost invariably wi l l be most severe between the individuals of the same species, for they frequent the same districts, require the same food, and are exposed to the same dangers. (Origin 126) Mrs. Haffen's offer to sell Bertha Dorset's letters to L i l y presents an exchange-based form of mutual dependence in which Selden's reputation has a cash value. Yet L i l y refuses what, in the light of Darwin's statement, would be the natural thing. Here, a working-class woman and L i l y , beings 'remote in the scale of nature' now transposed to a class system, would fulfill the principle of 'the dependency of one organic being on another.' Instead, L i l y opts to follow Selden's lead and not participate in the exchange. She occupies an environment hostile to her ameliorative impulse to redefine 'the struggle' detailed by Darwin. In this environment, doing the "natural thing" ( H M 15), whether enacting her power of sexual selection, or by competing directly with Bertha Dorset, w i l l in the former case upset the sublimation of sexual instinct to class affiliation, or in the latter, play into an ethos o f intense struggle L i l y ' s selectively, authorially politicized 'instincts' oppose. L i l y ' s initial outrage at Mrs. Haffen's offer is tempered when "an obscure impulse restrained her" ( H M 105). The 'obscure impulse' provoked by Haffen is an upwelling of L i l y ' s instinctive morality, which though innate, seems also a reversion to Selden's influence on her evaluation of potential courses of action: "[i]f L i l y weighed all these things it was unconsciously: she was aware only that Selden would wish the letters rescued, and that therefore she must obtain possession of them" ( H M 105). Selden's idealism governs L i l y . The most adaptive act, obtaining the letters for her own protection, is an alternative that i f it occurs to her, only occurs 'unconsciously.' Her desire to protect Selden, though, is one that betrays his influence. Ohler 73 Gaining possession of the letters gives her no real advantage, as it leads her to the brink of blackmailing Bertha Dorset, an act that would save her socially but compromise the sense of self established in freeing herself from "what had contented [her] before" ( H M 308). This freedom is of Selden's design and cannot sustain L i l y , but beyond the consequences for Selden "her mind did not travel" ( H M 105). Only later, as her fortune declines, w i l l L i l y understand that her own instinctive ethics, which are quite similar to Selden's, enables her to see into the lives of "young girls, like herself [...] leading [...] a life in which achievement seemed as squalid as failure—and the vision made her shudder sympathetically" ( H M 111-112). Sympathy, unfortunately, is incompatible with self-preservation in her environment. III. "What is your story L i l y ? " ( H M 226) Many years after writing The House of Mir th Wharton wrote that women seeking an education might "better stay at home and mind the baby" (qtd. in Benstock 387). Her portrait of the straitened options available to L i l y Bart, and the consequences descending on women such as Ellen Olenska who make untraditional choices, make the statement a warning, rather than an indication of authorial conservatism. The danger to those who do not take up the domestic role Wharton refers to is apparent in The House of Mirth. When Selden alludes to the effects of determinism on Gerty Farish, whom he believes to be "so evidently the victim of the civilization which had produced her, that the links of her bracelet seemed like manacles chaining her to her fate" ( H M 7), the narrative directs attention to Selden's narrow view of the choices available to women. He does not admit that L i l y might find a niche for herself by emulating Gerty, whose lack of husband has consigned her to the margin. This would be a less compromising path for L i l y , whose impecuniousness subjects her to "the Ohler 74 shock of the insult" of Bertha Dorset's public humiliation when L i l y must absorb the fact that she '" is not going back to the yacht'" ( H M 218) and has no place to stay. While the links of Gerty Farish's bracelet are of the same manufacture as L i l y ' s , around L i l y ' s wrist rests a "sapphire bracelet" which causes Selden to appreciate "the irony of suggesting to her such a life as his cousin Gertrude Farish" ( H M 7). Selden's aesthetic appreciation of L i l y hinders his realistic assessment of her material circumstances, and shapes the guidance that flows from that impression. To him, L i l y ' s attempts to avoid self-compromise are "like a cry for rescue" ( H M 158) that elicits from Selden only chivalric fantasy in which he imagines himself aiding L i l y as she "clings to him with dragging arms as he beats back to land with his burden" ( H M 154). That L i l y takes Selden's opinion to heart is explicit in her statement that his idealized view of her "kept me from really becoming what many people have thought me" ( H M 307). Nevertheless, she demonstrates her awareness that her manacles are of iron, not gemstone, when she asserts, in reference to the period in which she initially met Selden, that "[e]ven then her feet had been set in the path she was now following" ( H M 304), as her circumstances worsen. Alongside Selden's misinterpretation o f L i l y is her own confusion about what Gerty has achieved. L i l y ' s barb that Gerty has "no maid, and such queer things to eat" ( H M 7) doesn't acknowledge the degree of autonomy Gerty maintains. L i l y ' s disdain is clear, for Gerty's "was a hateful fate. [...] but how to escape from it?" ( H M 25). Yet in a moment of insight L i l y acknowledges that "she is free and I am not" ( H M 7). The novel makes clear that the extent to which Gerty is free is dependent on her knowledge that "[rjeason, judgment, renunciation, all the sane daylight forces, were beaten back in the sharp struggle for self-preservation" ( H M 162-163). Gerty has an acute sense of her limitations, and fashions her Ohler 75 life according to her awareness of the social restrictions placed on her. Having found a niche she enjoys "the privileges of a flat;" but L i l y remarks that it is "a horrid little place" ( H M 7). Try as she might, L i l y can only ask "what else is there" ( H M 9) except marriage, even though the compromise alternative presented by Gerty is in plain view. Not until the end of the novel when she admires the choices made by Nettie Struther does L i l y see a positive aspect to a life in which she might not capitalize on her own status as a "marriageable g i r l " ( H M 7). Despite the conflicting demands of personal integrity and economic salvation through marriage, L i l y avoids falling into what is defined within the context of the novel's figurative system as real barbarism: behavior that violates a fictionalized version of Darwin's remark about "how infinitely complex and close fitting are the natural relations of all organic beings to each other and to their physical conditions o f life" (Origin 130). L i l y refuses marriage offers despite the fact that acceptance would transform her from the figuratively trapped insect she is into the member of society her training urges her to become. But she acts, unawares, in ways that run counter to her best interests as a social being. This renders L i l y opaque to others: "[a]ll I can say is, L i l y , that I can't make you out!" ( H M 75) utters an exasperated Mrs . Trenor after L i l y has spoiled her opportunity to marry Percy Gryce. Mrs . Trenor is bewildered because L i l y wants to do the "natural thing" ( H M 15) and choose a partner on the basis of sexual attraction, and sympathies of mind and intellect, independent o f the manner in which desire is guided by ideologies of class. When Selden asks L i l y "[ijsn't marriage your vocation?" ( H M 3), he defines the goal of her social training. His question defines a prevalent attitude that L i l y must negotiate with. Wharton articulates this attitude in writing that "[m]arriage, union with a man, completes and Ohler 76 transforms a woman's character, her point of view, her sense of the relative importance of things. [...] A girl is only a sketch; a married woman is the finished picture. A n d it is only the married woman who counts as a social factor" (FW 114). That one must be cautious in imputing social conservatism to Wharton on the basis o f such comments is clear from her fiction, where women who do not marry are sympathetically portrayed as socially hobbled. Such statements are better interpreted as describing a reality the author seeks to alter. This proposition is bolstered by the fact that while L i l y is unwilling to marry the 'right' man, who in each scenario is seen to be a poor match, her unwillingness guarantees that she w i l l not be a 'social factor.' From the perspective of the social environment Wharton describes, L i l y is 'only a sketch,' which makes it more necessary than the protagonist knows for her to attend to the 'sharp struggle for self-preservation' that occupies Gerty. A critical view o f The House o f Mir th as an example of a naturalist mode that portrays an unanswerable social determinism has been qualified by the contention that L i l y is a seeking and self-affirming character.1 4 However, the presentation of Gerty's way o f evading those aspects of the social environment that oppress L i l y describes a path not taken by the heroine. Early in the novel, L i l y defines success as getting "as much out o f life" as she can ( H M 68), but her statement is ambiguous, referring perhaps to material, not spiritual satisfaction. L i l y won't consider Gerty's sacrifices and compromises, even though they grant Gerty provisional freedom. Instead, the protagonist's negation of the social determinism depicted in the novel, primarily the idea that "a girl must [marry], a man may i f he chooses" ( H M 12), takes the form of a series of acts which modify, even subvert, her stated definition o f success. L i l y might make a self-affirming choice in refusing to marry an "ass" like Percy Gryce ( H M 83), though in wondering "why she had failed" ( H M 28) she doesn't perceive Ohler 77 what motivates her actions. What she seeks is driven by mute impulse. While Gerty is maddened because "[t]he provoking part was that L i l y knew" ( H M 16) how to play the social game to her advantage, L i l y recognizes what is expected of her, but perceives with less clarity the instinctive avoidance of the inappropriate mate that is the source of her baulking. Gerty poses an important question after Bertha Dorset's public sacrifice o f L i l y that illustrates the parameters of L i l y ' s understanding of her behavior and why it is at odds with L i l y ' s social context. Gerty asks, "[wlhat is your story L i ly? I don't believe anyone knows it yet [...] I don't want a version prepared in advance—but I want you to tell me what happened from the beginning" ( H M 226). L i l y is not sure how to answer: " M y story?—I don't believe I know it m y s e l f ( H M 226). L i l y continues, remarking that "the beginning was in my cradle, I suppose, in the way I was brought up, and the things I was taught to care for. [...] I ' l l say it was in my blood" ( H M 226). What she has been taught to care for and what she has inherited culturally and biologically run together in L i l y ' s mind. In contrast to Selden, she makes little distinction between the two sources of influence. What is in her blood attempts unsuccessfully to express itself within an environment made up of "a hundred shades of aspect and manner" ( H M 234) that encode the biological w i l l that L i l y displays in refusing to marry. A contemporary review of The House of Mir th praises Wharton for her ability to register "to the last degree of delicacy the jumble of crudity and overcivilization which she finds in N e w York life of to-day. She describes coolly and patiently [...] the interminable race after pleasure which that fierce little world [...] engages i n " (Reviews 117). This remark emphasizes the wide-angle perspective of a novel that is also acutely focused on a single consciousness. L i l y ' s response to the pressures of the marriage market confirms a Ohler 78 conflict between an innate sensibility distinguished by her contradictory, though natural, avoidance o f 'the things she's trying for,' and the deforming emphasis on "the use she made of it [her beauty]" ( H M 49) in marrying wealth. When she states, "I am horribly poor—and very expensive. I must have a great deal of money" ( H M 10), her self-conscious analysis of her situation demonstrates an understanding only o f public expectations. The text signals how the 'obscure' initiative of primal, truer impulses is blunted by this expectation, with the result that L i l y suffers in a hermetic social world that gives her only "the doomed sense of the castaway who has signaled in vain to fleeing sails" ( H M 229). The narrative's connection of this personal suffering to a 'race after pleasure' emphasizes the causal sequence of 'overcivilization, ' and its invalidation o f L i l y ' s socially redemptive impulse to simultaneously limit competition, and choose her sexual partner. L i l y ' s experience with Gus Trenor shows how her inaccurate surmises reflect negatively on the 'fierce little world' she lives in, rather than on her own "instinctive feeling" ( H M 17). Trenor offers to invest money in the stock market for L i l y and she comes to believe, as he reports that her investment is performing well , that the "first thousand dollar cheque" ( H M 85) represents a return on her investment. In truth, Trenor gives L i l y his own money, expecting sex in exchange. Through the interaction of these characters, Wharton examines multiple interpretations of the word obligation, which is understood by L i l y early in the novel, before her consciousness-raising dialogues with Selden, only in the sense of a debt that can be settled and erased. Later, after becoming fully conscious o f Trenor's ruse, and examining the situation from a fresh perspective, she feels that "it was not the sort of obligation one could remain under" ( H M 292). Ohler 79 This reaction bears the mark of Selden's idealism (and possibly his jealousy), and its influence on L i l y . His vision of "a country one has to find the way to one's s e l f ( H M 68) ironically directs L i l y to act in ways that ruin her. L i l y ' s training obscures her discernment of a path to Selden's country, despite the fact that he sways her toward belief in his ' republ ic ' Before she becomes enmeshed in his ideals she admits to the fact that "a girl who has no one to think for her is obliged to think for herself ( H M 67), but even this provisional independence is compromised by the effects o f her 'fierce little world, ' particularly in the ways it has shaped her interpretive powers. Thus, when she tells Selden that she would "never have found my way there i f you hadn't told me" ( H M 68), one senses that her training functions to subdue her impulse to find a niche outside of marriage. L i l y feels that she "had never been able to understand the laws of the universe" ( H M 27). Neither does she perceive explanations regarding concrete aspects of her world with great clarity, finding descriptions of Wa l l Street machinations to be "slurred" ( H M 85), and her own impulses to be "obscure" ( H M 105). Her assumption that she contends with the real 'laws o f the universe' is erroneous. Rather, she is subject to interpretations of these laws that originate with Selden, Trenor, Rosedale, and others. L i l y ' s sense of obligation to Trenor is a result of her training, her innate Darwinian ethics, and the influence of Selden's idealism. Her decision to pay the debt is spurred by a snub from Judy Trenor and Carry Fisher. L i l y assumes that her maltreatment by these women comes from the fact that Mrs . Trenor knows of the protagonist's indebtedness to her husband. Although discharging the debt w i l l leave her with "nothing left to live on but her own small income [...] this consideration gave way to the imperative claim of her wounded pride" ( H M Ohler 80 229). L i l y ' s reaction reveals that maintaining her standing is supremely important; in this instance, training guides her. Her repayment of the debt cannot be motivated exclusively by a wish to follow her training, though. L i l y receives the money to make good on the obligation only after she has been "cut" ( H M 225) by her former friends, and therefore won't benefit from being perceived to conform socially. Repaying the money to Trenor is unnecessary from this vantage, for "what debt did she owe to a social order that had condemned and banished her without trial?" ( H M 300). That L i l y ultimately pays Gus Trenor shows again that the social environment, not L i l y , is faulty, even though her ways are obsolete, and so faulty in that sense. The text does also make a predominant ethos o f hypocrisy clear by showing that had L i l y inherited Grace Stepney's legacy, cordial relations might have resulted: "[t]hey were afraid to snub me while they thought I was going to get the money" ( H M 225). Later in the narrative, Selden tells L i l y that "[t]he difference is in yourself—it w i l l always be there" ( H M 307). This serves to reinforce my argument that the freedom of the individual to maintain a 'republic of the spirit' ( H M 68) parallels L i l y ' s instinctive sensibility in moral and sexual matters, which she gradually becomes aware of through her dialogues with Selden. A s L i l y acknowledges this heretofore unperceived aspect of herself, Selden describes her as a "dark angel of defiance" ( H M 225) possessed of a "habit of resolutely facing the facts" which "did not allow her to put any false gloss on the situation" ( H M 227) of her social rejection. Clearly, Selden's mediating aesthetic, which filters his understanding o f L i l y , does not consider the actual conditions of her life. This is evident when he defines his 'republic of the spirit' as "[fjreedom [...] from money, from poverty, from ease and anxiety, from all the material accidents" ( H M 68) without acknowledging how inapplicable to L i l y it is, for she Ohler 81 can't marry him. Selden's attempt to live by this ideal has a powerful effect on L i l y . She consistently envisions herself through frameworks for self-understanding established by other people, and her physical environment, as when "the day seemed the accomplice of her mood" ( H M 58). She is particularly responsive to Selden's vision; her sympathetic reaction points to the preexistence of similar tendencies in L i l y . For example, she reacts to Selden's statement of principle for his 'republic' by leaning "forward with a responsive flash. 'I know [...] that's just what I've been feeling today'" ( H M 68). When she admits to Selden that his love gave her "the help of your belief in me" ( H M 308), such a belief can only be reckoned as destructive to Selden's protege. His shaping influence on L i l y stands forth as the product o f class values that compel a viewpoint that w i l l destroy the woman he loves i f she attempts to adopt it, making him "as much as L i l y a victim of his environment" ( H M 152). Huxley wrote o f how "only in the garden o f an ordered polity can the finest fruits humanity is capable of bearing be produced. [Yet] [...] the garden was apt to turn into a hothouse" ("Evolution and Ethics" 313). Selden, like his counterparts in the other novels under investigation here, illustrates this possibility by misunderstanding the consequences of his effect on L i l y . A transformation occurs in which L i l y ' s normative attitudes shift, and come to resemble Selden's impractically idealistic viewpoint. Early in the novel L i l y behaves in socially acceptable ways that also display, from the narrator's perspective, an inadequate sense of social responsibility. L i l y ' s three-hundred-dollar donation to Gerty Farish's charitable enterprise saves the life of Nettie Struther, who subsequently bears the child dreamt of as L i l y succumbs to the chloral. The donation returns to L i l y in the form of a comforting hallucination of solidarity, but it is a transitory firing of neurons in L i l y ' s dying Ohler 82 brain. Discovering that she is connected to a common web of humanity is a realization laced with irony, for she has already ingested the chloral and wi l l be indisposed to act on the insight given form in her dream. This unsentimental termination of the possibility of L i l y ' s enacting her instinctive ethics stands for arrested progress in the society at large. On donating to Gerty's charity, however, the still unreformed L i l y receives the kind of compensation endorsed by a society that is charitable only when there is personal benefit. But even as L i l y gains a self-serving satisfaction from her generosity, another feeling accompanies this that marks her nascent awareness of a self beyond that modeled by her training: The other-regarding sentiments had not been cultivated in L i l y [...] but today her quick dramatizing fancy seized on the contrast between her own situation and that represented by some of Gerty's 'cases.' [...] by some obscure process of logic, she felt her momentary burst o f generosity had justified all previous extravagances [...] L i l y parted from her with a sense of self-esteem which she naturally mistook for the fruits o f altruism. ( H M 111-112) This 'process of logic' is not available to L i l y ' s examination because it is instinctive. The conventional compensation for altruism is the "mood of self-approval" that gives one "a sympathetic eye for others" ( H M 111). But L i l y 'mistook' ' a sense of self esteem' as those 'fruits' o f an act that fulfills a deeper law of affinity and interconnectedness amongst species parsed in the text as classes. B y noting the contrast between herself and the recipients of Gerty's charity, L i l y betrays her perception of a need for charity because o f the operation of her 'fancy,' or representation of instinct to which she has no conscious access. L i l y understands that "money stands for all kinds of things—its purchasing quality isn't limited to Ohler 83 diamonds and motor cars" ( H M 70), sensing a basis for social relations beyond the economic quid pro quo. Gerty Farish's way of generating a viable niche emerges as a positive counter-example to L i l y ' s experience with values that have a pecuniary basis. Gerty's seeking of funds from the well-to-do for her charitable work acknowledges, within Wharton's Darwinian framework, how "the dependency o f one organic being on another [...] lies generally between beings remote in the scale of nature" (Origin 126). Moreover, Gerty is marginal, undervalued, and reviled by L i l y ; for all her useful work she is cast off by the 'c iv i l ized ' denizens of New York. Gerty's evasion of marriage illustrates that L i l y is not so trapped in "the great gilt cage" ( H M 54) as she thinks. However, L i l y ' s perception is, for a time, as absolute as the manacles that bind Gerty to her fate. L i l y ' s belief that her only option is marriage is cast in the same foundry of her early training that leads her to believe that Selden's preservation o f "a certain social detachment, a happy air o f viewing the show objectively" ( H M 54) marks him as free. In truth, Selden's 'objectivity' bars the kind of emotional contact L i l y seeks from him. The depth of her belief that she must make the family fortune "back with her face" ( H M 28) compels her pursuit of a life unlike Gerty's. Selden shapes L i l y ' s perceptions by refusing to see her in other than aesthetic terms (Wolff xxiv). L i l y overcomes this assumption that she is a delicate flower carefully fashioned to attract the right man by rejecting the solipsism at the core of his 'republic of the spirit.' This becomes clear after Nettie Struther rescues the ailing L i l y from Bryant Park. L i l y ' s recognition and valuation of interconnectedness suggests that Selden's individualistic 'republic,' i f embraced universally, would result in the political disengagement and lack of social praxis displayed by him when he distantly observes with "aesthetic amusement" and Ohler 84 "admiring spectatorship" ( H M 68) those he disparages. A s a result of her interaction with Nettie, L i l y transcends the limitations of objectivity personified by Selden to embrace engagement as a foundational principle for social conduct that resists a biologized view o f the social collective. Ironically, she learns this from a woman she once thought "destined to be swept prematurely into that social refuse-heap of which L i l y had so lately expressed her dread" ( H M 3 1 3 ) . Warming herself in Nettie's tiny apartment, L i l y holds the daughter of her hostess. The infant penetrates L i l y ' s consciousness "with a strange sense of weakness, as though the child entered her and became a part of herself ( H M 316). The child would not have existed without L i l y ' s donation to Gerty's charity. Soon after, L i l y becomes aware that an obligation involves an interest in others: "the little episode had done her good. It was the first time she had ever come across the results of her spasmodic benevolence, and the surprised sense of human fellowship took the mortal chil l from her heart" ( H M 316). This contrasts with the narrative's earlier description of how a sense of social responsibility is occluded by L i l y ' s inability to see beyond her immediate desires after she receives a check from Trenor: "[f]he fact that the money freed her temporarily from all minor obligations obscured her sense of the greater one it represented" ( H M 111). L i l y acknowledges the interdependence o f individuals and classes in her dealings with Nettie, and exemplifies through the evolution of her character the principle of change, and how closely the text aligns her with natural processes the novel's leisure-class characters believe to be controllable. L i l y ' s interactions with Trenor show money as an unexamined medium o f interpersonal exchange. But the seemingly impersonal, cash-based obligation incurred by L i l y , in contrast to her encounter with Nettie, depicts the corruption of any meaningful sense Ohler 85 of responsibility for the welfare of others among Trenor's class by being directed toward sexual exploitation. Wharton's omniscience is subtle in this respect, for the reader glimpses L i l y ' s sexual naivete through the lens of the heroine's innocent perception: Trenor and Miss Bart prolonged their drive t i l l long after sunset; and before it was over he had tried, with some show of success, to prove to her that, i f she would only trust him, he could make a handsome sum of money for her without endangering the small amount she possessed. She was too genuinely ignorant o f the manipulations of the stock-market to understand his technical explanations, or even perhaps to perceive that certain points in them were slurred; the haziness enveloping the transaction served as a veil for her embarrassment, and through the general blur her hopes dilated like lamps in a fog. She understood only that her modest investments were to be mysteriously multiplied without risk to herself. ( H M 85) A s the setting sun casts the scene into darkness that symbolizes L i l y ' s confusion over the implicit connection made between sex and cash, Trenor's instrumental attitude toward money forecloses on non-monetary interdependence. Once L i l y is "excluded from those sacred precincts" of the socially acceptable ( H M 280), she discovers that "there is very little real difference in being inside or out" of "what . we call society" ( H M 280-281). This is so, she learns, because both positions require different though equally unacceptable compromises. Access to the resources of'those sacred precincts' comes at the expense of being regarded as pure ornamentation. Outside the margin, however, the acquisition of material comfort requires either indebtedness to Trenor, marriage to an unsuitable man, or the kind of compromise chosen by Gerty Farish. L i l y feels compelled to repay the debt to Trenor, who expects that he and L i l y w i l l "go off somewhere Ohler 86 on a little lark together" ( H M 117). But even the act o f salvaging her reputation and sense o f self worth is problem-fraught, for in repaying the debt L i l y participates in a contractual system o f interpersonal relations. In a moral climate inhospitable to L i l y ' s sensibility Wharton's metaphorical substitution of ethics for the non-adaptive physical traits of a species predicts L i l y ' s biological death, and sketches the demise of an ethos that would have supported her as a work of art. L i l y ' s "abstract notions of honour that might be called the conventionalities of the moral life" ( H M 300) therefore stand in contrast to the treatment to which Trenor subjects her, and seem to be passing from view. L i l y ' s repressed better judgment, rendered repeatedly as 'instinctive,' is in this way associated with a past wherein the "rapacity" ( H M 229) now exhibited by members of the new socioeconomic elite might be controlled. L i l y ' s adherence to these notions is, therefore, less an assertion of w i l l against a patriarchal system than a demonstration that her honour is not relative, but is indicative of a textually idealized cultural negotiation with biology. The omniscient tracing of the heroine's inability to consciously understand herself in terms other than those suggested by her "training and habit of mind" ( H M 278) opens onto representations of L i l y gaining a better vantage for self knowledge. 1 5 Her negation of the requirement to marry is animated by an instinctive reluctance to move outside her "narrow range" ( H M 301). L i l y ' s awakening to Selden's vision confounds her, eliciting tortuous syntax that is a sign o f cognitive disarray."[i]t was not that—I was not ungrateful [...]. But the power o f expression failed her suddenly" ( H M 306). Silence is the sign o f inarticulate instinct as L i l y senses the consonance between her nature and Selden's mediated ideal o f the free individual. Although Gerty Farish recognizes that " L i l y might be incapable o f marrying Ohler 87 for money" ( H M 162), suggesting the presence in L i l y o f motive urges unconditioned by social requirements, the narrative continually reiterates its vision o f L i l y as an organism, or "a water plant in the flux o f the tides" ( H M 53). Determined in numerous ways then, L i l y is carried by the current o f convention toward marriage, drawn back by Selden's vision o f personal freedom, and finally pulled under when her true impulses compel a non-adaptive attempt at autonomy that leads to death. IV. "[T]he essential baseness o f [...] freedom from risk" ( H M 260) The different types o f gambling that appear in The House o f Mir th function metaphorically to represent the element o f contingency at play in the novel's social environment. When L i l y takes her place at the bridge table at Bellomont, and enters the marriage market, she feels she has no choice but to play both games. She suffers her losses at cards as "the taxes she had to pay [...] for the dresses and trinkets which occasionally replenished her insufficient wardrobe" ( H M 26). In her interactions with Selden, coincidence is another form o f chance that complicates her plan to marry. When Rosedale spots L i l y leaving Selden's apartment, she is disturbed that she must "pay so dearly for the least escape from routine" ( H M 15) that results from having "yielded to a passing impulse in going to Lawrence Selden's rooms" ( H M 15). Juxtaposing 'impulse' and chance with the predictable routines engendered by "social discipline" ( H M 16), the narrative makes the paradoxical relation between these elements a thematic focus. Chance passes through the ideological barriers erected by a liberal democracy that has sidelined the possibility that positive social change is caused by anything other than the work o f industrious men. One example o f this leisure-class ideal is offered by the stock market, Ohler 88 which is a crucible of competition, and the primary example of the embrace of chance by the socioeconomic elite which succeeds or fails by it. The novel depicts, moreover, how the unpredictability o f the stock market is concealed by leisure-class assertions regarding the causes of economic success. These signal the presence of an ideology of progress that attributes the growth of wealth to the activities of "many estimable citizens trained to all the advantages of self-government" ( H M 120). The text contains and counters, through negative examples, the stories Selden's social environment tells itself. Rosedale, for example, suggests to L i l y that he w i l l marry her i f she blackmails her way back into social favor. He sees the potential transaction as "a transfer of property or a revision of boundary lines" ( H M 259) and this approach holds some appeal initially: " L i l y ' s tired mind was fascinated by this escape from fluctuating ethical estimates into a region of concrete weights and measures" ( H M 259). The means L i l y might use to rehabilitate herself can be interpreted, she discovers in this encounter, in a light different than that cast by Selden's ideals. Coming to her senses, however, she sees "that the essential baseness of the act lay in its freedom from risk" ( H M 260); chance is natural, while the contract proposed by Rosedale is artificial, and unnatural. Rosedale believes that "it's because the letters are to him" ( H M 260) that L i l y declines his offer, not understanding that her instinct is to value a lack o f 'concrete weights and measures' more attuned to continually variegating nature. The politics o f the narrative are borne out by her reaction to Rosedale, which binds right moral action to a refusal to interpret such matters in a relativistic way, and embraces 'risk' and novelty as tending to produce new combinations of genetic and cultural matter. Ohler 89 Wharton's metaphoric doubling of chance and social renewal critiques the leisure-class belief that it has segregated itself from contingency. Mrs. Peniston, the Dorsets, and others, possess a sense that extinction and change don't exist in their world. These characters "belonged to the class of old New Yorkers who have always lived well , dressed expensively and done little else" ( H M 37). Such are the "inherited obligations" ( H M 37) of a class unready to place themselves within the dominion of the laws of inheritance as defined by Darwin. Rosedale is different. A s a Jew on the cusp of respectability, though still at the margin, he knows social evolution is a dynamic process. From the perspective of the leisure class, Rosedale is the last person who should ever reach the position he does, having "been served up and rejected at the social board a dozen times within [...] memory" ( H M 16). Yet the narrative portrays his rise in terms that show the error o f the novel's social arbiters, who believe they are immune to the whims o f "the terrible god of chance" ( H M 26). Ironically, even this deification of chance denies its unthinking essence in the Darwinian scheme, casting fate in terms of a higher intelligence. While "[i]t had been a bad autumn in Wal l Street" ( H M 120) Rosedale senses that the new economy wi l l give him the opportunity to be less guarded, to reveal more of himself in a society whose prejudices force his close adherence to convention, for " M r . Rosedale wanted, in the long run, a more individual environment" ( H M 121). The depiction of his achievement of social acceptance draws on the evolutionary notion that a shifting environment can result in the success of any species. In subjugating L i l y , Selden's circle asserts control over contingency. In her 1905 review of Howard Sturgis's Belchamber, Wharton encapsulated a perspective evident in The House of Mir th 's portrait o f how leisure-class values assault L i l y ' s power of "measuring Ohler 90 distances and drawing conclusions with all the accuracy needful of [her] [...] welfare" ( H M 115). The author wrote how "[a] handful of vulgar people, bent only on spending and enjoying, may seem a negligible factor in the social development of the race; but they become an engine of destruction through the illusions they k i l l and the generous ardors they turn to despair" ( U C W 110). This statement hints that Wharton's class politics play a role in her juxtaposition of L i l y ' s natural tendencies with the way the codes of Selden's class impose "the standards by which she was fated to be measured! Does one go to Caliban for a judgment on Miranda?" ( H M 135). The literary allusion is Selden's, and demonstrates that his view of L i l y is conditioned by his aestheticism. His comparison of N e w York ' s elite to Caliban suggests that moral progress toward a world that might accommodate L i l y w i l l not occur, for in Shakespeare's play Caliban is a savage who learns nothing, despite Prospero's efforts to educate him (Stephen Orgel 23). The reference to Caliban also recalls the violence this character is capable o f visiting on Miranda, and posits L i l y as a potential victim of sexual and psychological violation. Selden attempts to educate L i l y , and in this respect one can view this bookish character as a Prospero possessed of a magical idealism that leads L i l y to her fate. However, from his perspective, L i l y is "a captured dryad subdued to the conventions of the drawing room" ( H M 13). A s a forest spirit she is unconventional, natural, and only partially 'subdued.' A s a result, Selden can't take "a sentimental view of her case" ( H M 12) because L i l y seems to be not entirely helpless. She is an "artist and I [Selden] happen to be a bit o f colour you are using today. It's a part of your cleverness to be able to produce premeditated effects extemporaneously" ( H M 66). To Selden, L i l y ' s "wild-wood grace" lends "a savour to her artificiality" ( H M 13); his understanding of nature, it seems, is defined by imaginative renderings of the wi ld . While Selden sees L i l y as Ohler 91 one whose illusions might be 'k i l led ' by the 'vulgar people' of his class, he is wary of her too. Although he criticizes society for not possessing fine enough sensibilities with which to judge L i l y , his allusive perspective rewrites her in artistic terms that obscure any realistic vision o f her circumstances, and reveals the limits of his ability to engage with a living example of his republic of the spirit. Selden sees intent in L i l y ' s attempts to advance within the framework o f marriage, but he doesn't consider the deterministic force of the institution. He tries to show L i l y the thinness of what she desires—to "get her foot across the threshold" of the rich—telling her that he cannot "guarantee your enjoying the things you are trying to get" ( H M 71). When L i l y , tearful, realizes that "the best you can say for me is, after trying to get them I probably shan't like them? [...] What a terrible future you foresee for me" ( H M 71), Selden imagines that "even her weeping was an art" ( H M 72). He attributes intention to L i l y ' s behavior while she feels swept along by forces outside her control; L i l y ' s "discretions interested him almost as much as her imprudences: he was so sure that both were part of the same carefully-elaborated plan" ( H M 5). His attribution o f grasping materialism is correct, but only to the extent that it anticipates behavior the social stratum to which he belongs expects from a marriageable woman. Selden's lack of engagement with the material circumstances of L i l y ' s plight is caused by his inability to evaluate her situation outside of the ideological framework Wharton attributes to his class. Were he to perceive the relationship between L i l y and the mediating power of her training he might note how he too is caught in its stamping-machine duplication of social beings. This might give him the knowledge to actually save their love "whole out of the ruin of their lives" ( H M 329). The novel portrays his limitation as arising directly from an Ohler 92 epistemological perspective conditioned by an aesthetic native to the novel's leisure class. 1 6 This is depicted most forcefully in the Brys ' tableaux. In this scene one of the paintings represented by the women on stage is by Watteau, an artist who idealized "the [theme] o f courtship" (Hard 842), not his contemporary Chardin, who depicted the lives of the French lower middle class. Goya and Titian too, the former an artist "we can hardly call anything but Romantic" (Hard 880), and the latter, known for his mythological paintings, are authorial choices that reinforce the preference of the leisure class for representations of their values that materialize an association of beauty and symbolic control over sex and violence. One sees desire for such control in the way Selden wants to take L i l y "beyond the ugliness, the pettiness, the attrition and corrosion of the soul" ( H M 154) caused by the expectations forced upon a marriageable woman; his desire to do so is shaped by a belief that "Perseus's task is not done when he has loosed Andromeda's chains, for her limbs are numb with bondage, and she cannot rise and walk, but clings to him with dragging arms as he beats back to land with his burden" ( H M 159). Selden's mythologizing o f L i l y sharpens Wharton's portrait o f the rift between L i l y ' s sociobiological status as a dead-end variation unequipped for the environment she inhabits, and Selden's aesthetic, one in which a representation of L i l y drawn from visual art and myth blooms in the hothouse of his imagination. 1 7 The narrative generates antipathy toward Selden's skewed perspective, showing that his Claude-glass 1 8 view of L i l y is an example of "Art subduing Nature to its own purposes" (Grove Dictionary 387), destructive because it distorts the basic facts of her existence. Selden perceives L i l y as his aesthetic would have him do, countering the accidental and random aspect of existence experienced by L i l y with the forceful ordering o f the world offered by art. His approach to L i l y ' s beauty is shown by Wharton to point up aesthetic Ohler 93 valuations that reflect wider cultural values present in the popularity of tableaux vivants. These performances play out a "master plot" that tells "the story o f a woman metaphorically killed by the process of being made into an allegorical figure, an object o f art, or her husband's property" (Chapman 31). The ideology of Selden and his caste possesses "a force of negation which eliminated everything beyond their own range of perception" ( H M 48). He therefore denies that L i l y is subject to those economic and political forces his 'republic o f the spirit' seeks to forestall, even though he acknowledges her subjection to the norm o f "the conventional rich marriage which she had been taught to consider the sole end of existence" ( H M 155-156). His perspective on L i l y is disconnected from the material reality o f her life. He views L i l y through a "responsive fancy" that inhabited "the boundary world between fact and imagination" ( H M 133). Further evidence that Selden's 'fancy' focuses his view of L i l y exists in the penultimate paragraph of the novel. Here, one encounters Selden's view that the love he and L i l y shared has "been saved whole out o f the ruin of their lives. It was this moment o f love, this fleeting victory over themselves, which had kept them from atrophy and extinction" ( H M 329). Selden's romantic elevation of love at the moment he is faced with the stark reality of L i l y ' s corpse is telling proof of his inability to see beyond the borders o f his individualistic liberal aesthetic. In contrast to the natural, i f self-destructive behavior of the protagonist, the Brys display their wealth, and allegiance to an aesthetic ethos Selden upholds, in expensive tableaux vivants that reproduce "a series of pictures" ( H M 135) already alluded to. L i l y ' s inherited resistances ' o f taste, of training' manifest themselves when L i l y unselfconsciously signals the. males gathered at the Brys of her availability by using her "dramatic instinct" ( H M 131) to stand out among the other women. The reproduction of pictorial fictions in the tableaux vivants Ohler 94 expresses the mediated, non-instinctive concept of beauty native to Selden's species; this is a spell L i l y ' s appearance breaks. Possessed herself with "an imagination which only visual impressions could reach" ( H M 131), L i l y presents an image that deflects a reading of her appearance that fits into categories which would pattern her sexuality. That L i l y has "selected a type so like her own that she could embody the person represented without ceasing to be hersel f ( H M 134) alerts the reader to the extent L i l y is unselfconscious about exercising her sexual attraction, for L i l y has "yielded to the truer instinct of trusting to her unassisted beauty" ( H M 134). Wharton's reiteration of 'instinct' differentiates L i l y from the other women whose true selves, unlike L i l y ' s , do not escape from behind the portraits of "Titian's Daughter [...] the frailer Dutch type [...] a Veronese supper [...] and a Watteau group" ( H M 134). However, when Selden sees L i l y attired as Reynolds' Mrs .L loyd he is moved, but characteristically interprets L i l y from an aesthetic perspective, "catching for a moment a note of that eternal harmony of which her beauty was a part" ( H M 135). A t the moment Selden feels closest to L i l y the difference between his aestheticism and her instinctive nature is clear. Moreover, the fact that the Brys have chosen the exhibition of "fashionable women" ( H M 131) who disguise their sexual display behind reproductions of artistic creations as their means to socially "advance into a strange country" ( H M 130) accents the difference between L i l y ' s unnerving display of sexuality as a path to social betterment and the Brys ' highly-coded entertainment as a way to accomplish the same thing. L i l y desires Selden despite the fact that she feels she cannot afford to wed him. She can only imagine a "state of existence in which, all else being superadded, intercourse with Selden might be the last touch of luxury" ( H M 88). They imagine the distance between them Ohler 95 in the unavoidable lexicon of money, wherein L i l y is "very expensive" and Selden has "no money to spend" ( H M 10). A second hindrance to their love is Selden's inability to perceive L i l y outside the framework for evaluating a woman's social suitability. He wonders how he could "lift L i l y to a freer vision of life, i f his own view of her was to be colored by any mind in which he saw her reflected" ( H M 159). Ironically, then, his desire to lift her clear of the terms of her existence reenacts the suppression of her w i l l to move "Beyond!" ( H M 154) her state. This is so because Selden's coercive aestheticism scuttles L i l y ' s chances of finding an independent existence by assisting in the emergence of her true, but unviable self. L i l y ' s self-abnegating scrupulousness in moral matters becomes a way to assert her agency even as it forecloses a certain kind of future. For example, her sense that "the reward" to be realized from marrying Gryce "seemed unpalatable" ( H M 28) reads as a response to Selden's influence. The effect of his personal philosophy is clear enough when L i l y remarks that "I have never forgotten the things you said to me at Bellomont, and that sometimes [...] they have helped me and kept me from mistakes; kept me from really becoming what many people have thought me" ( H M 307). However, L i l y ' s turning away from the life she has been trained for marks a refusal of convention that exceeds what one can credit Selden with eliciting. L i l y ' s behavior resembles that of another female persona who desires to avoid surrender under terms not of her choosing depicted in the final stanza of Wharton's 1909 poem "Non Dolet!." Here, a figurative suicide bestows a sense of ironic control over difficult circumstances. The similarity of the poem's main theme to L i l y Bart's response to her situation is striking: '"It hurts not!' dying cried the Roman wife;/ A n d one by one/ The leaders in the strife/ Fal l on the blade o f failure and exclaim:/ 'The day is won! ' " (Artemis to Acteon 83-84) . 1 9 Ohler 96 Claire Preston suggests that i f L i l y ' s death is a suicide it "is her single gesture of self-determination" (72). One problem with this interpretation is that i f her suicide is intentional it is an act for which the formative influence on L i l y of her training must also share responsibility, for "[l]ost causes had a romantic charm" for L i l y ( H M 35). A s such, the act realizes preconceptions surrounding the fate o f lost women. Her death may be an act of self-determination, but as such it determines her as a woman under the influence of a presiding model of what should happen to a woman unable to attain the object of her love. If intentional, L i l y ' s death fulfills an imagined allegiance to an idealized social order present in her fantasy that she might be in a position as the wife o f an "Italian prince to sacrifice her pleasure to the claims of an immemorial tradition" ( H M 35). This facet of her persona abets her destruction. She sacrifices herself to 'tradition' by not defending herself in the Dorset affair, and by not assuaging the suspicion that she is trying to help Mrs . Hatch marry Freddy Van Osburgh. L i l y is sacrificed, too, "to Bertha Dorset's determination to win back her husband" ( H M 227), yet L i l y won't make her side of the story known out o f a sense o f 'some obscure disdain and reluctance.' The protagonist's 'reluctance,' suggests the fineness with which one must make a distinction between L i l y ' s instinctive ethics, which compels her 'disdain,' and a training that compels her idealistic self-sacrifice and motivates her idealization of 'lost causes.' It is important, however, not to insist on discovering whether L i l y does, or does not commit suicide, but to recognize that her ingestion o f the chloral represents her conversion to the point of view that chance, or contingency, is an elemental aspect of the enduring, real natural world in which she lives, one unreconstructed by the social Darwinism of the elite. It is the moment when L i l y ' s true self emerges completely into her hostile environment, one in Ohler 97 which she abandons her adherence to the social order as she "remembered the chemist's warning. If sleep comes at all , it might be a sleep without waking. But after all that was but one chance in a hundred: the action of the drug was incalculable" ( H M 322). N o w openly embracing natural laws that the narrative has figuratively maintained as subtext, L i l y is killed. Her death, whether from accident or suicide, demonstrates that chance penetrates the social order, and wi l l not leave her out of its workings, even though a society that believes that its rituals distance contingency does just that. V . "that tuning-fork o f the novelist's art" (WF 120) The House of Mirth is a reaction to the view that human agency is an illusion in a Darwinian world. Wharton's fictional response follows the contours of Wi l l i am James's rejection of Spencer's interpretation of evolutionary theory: James "could accept apes for ancestors, but he could not abide dogmatic extensions of Darwinism which denied free w i l l , the efficacy of consciousness, or the value o f the individual" (Meyers qtd. in Howard 145). Feminist critical views on The House of Mir th that see the novel as a clinical account of a social environment in which the exercise of free w i l l is deeply problematic for women thus direct one to see the difficulties presented by a pervasive interpretation o f nature unsympathetic to the exercise of sexual selection. Wharton's articulation of L i l y ' s dilemma asserts that mechanisms for self-preservation, and propagation, can be traced by attending to an unreasoning, guiding instinct. But interference with these mechanisms by manners and their constraints, she shows, impairs an individual's viability: "[b]ecause a blue-bottle bangs irrationally against a window-pane, the drawing room naturalist may forget that under less artificial conditions it is capable of Ohler 98 measuring distances and drawing conclusions with all the accuracy needful of its welfare" ( H M 115). Illustrating this, L i l y moves in an 'artificial ' environment in which her inability to compromise herself morally is an unsustainable variation. Given the opportunity to marry George Dorset, L i l y recognizes, as I've shown, that "revenge [against Bertha Dorset] and rehabilitation might be hers at a stroke" ( H M 245). A t this moment, however, "fear possessed her—fear of herself, and of the terrible force of temptation" ( H M 245). The House of Mirth allegorically depicts L i l y Bart as a species whose instinctive but alienated intelligence is a handicap in a social environment that equates the ability to thrive economically with unethical action. The negative implications for a society that does not limit the potential of natural selection to be an agent of social evolution are evident in the way L i l y becomes a victim of material accumulation divested of social responsibility. This illustrates Wharton's view of "the moral sensibility, [as] that tuning-fork o f the novelist's art" (WF 120). The House of Mir th thus fulfilled Wharton's wish to write "the type of fiction wherein the adventure grows [...] out of the development of character and the conflict of moral forces" ( U C W 75). A s L i l y becomes a moral agent as a result of being shaped by Selden's views, which help her to discover her own sensibilities, she repays her debt to Gus Trenor. In the last chapters of the novel she discovers the value o f interdependence in Nettie Struther's kitchen when the latter remarks how "it's so lovely having you here, and letting you see just how you've helped me" ( H M 315). Wharton contests Selden and Rosedale's respective values by countering them with L i l y ' s code, which she expresses through biological allegory. The formal means she uses to accomplish this shows the brutality of rules governing the social Ohler 99 hierarchy of elite New York, rhetorically positioning this system far from the organic figurative language employed to attribute instinct to L i l y . In doing so, Wharton depicts L i l y ' s social world as unnatural, even inorganic. In one instance the author uses a mechanical metaphor to contrast L i l y with her environment: "I can hardly be said to have an independent existence. I was just a screw or a cog in the great machine I called life" ( H M 308). But while this statement would indicate that the novel depicts social determinism which denies L i l y her agency, her attempts to transcend a fate that would provide "a future of servitude to the whims of others, never the possibility of asserting her own eager individuality" ( H M 101) stands as a valuation of the impulse to assert a self which holds the promise of social renewal. Such a possibility, though, is sacrificed by the lockstep 'race after pleasure' depicted in the novel. Ohler 100 Chapter Three A "society [...] most instinctive": Tradition and Contingency in The Custom of the Country I. "[T]he new spirit o f limitless concession" (CC 269) In 1935 Edith Wharton expressed her high opinion of The Custom of the Country (1913) in a letter to H.S. Milford at the Oxford University Press. Mil ford hoped to publish an edition o f The House of Mirth, but the author suggested otherwise. Wharton replied through her secretary, who wrote that "Mrs . Wharton is disappointed that you should have fixed on The House of Mirth. She thinks The Custom of the Country a much better book" ( U C W 269-270). This is a curious comment i f the appraisals o f Wharton's critics are to be used as a guide, for their consensus has been that The House of Mir th is the more unified novel. 1 This difference between critical consensus and the author's own estimate o f her fiction is addressed in this chapter by arguing that The Custom of the Country expands the range o f subject matter amenable to representation through Wharton's sociobiological frame of reference. In The Custom of the Country, N e w York is a "new environment" ( C C 27) in a biological sense. Unlike The House of Mir th , though, the later novel represents explicitly interpretations regarding the relation of nature to culture held by different classes. While The House of Mir th relates how L i l y Bart's expression of an instinctive ethics modeling an idealized moral code would benefit a country dealing with the disruptive 'technological, demographic, and political changes' already alluded to, The Custom of the Country represents competing classes more comprehensively than the earlier novel by fictionally analyzing their respective ideologies. These ideologies are associated with the varying and Ohler 101 competing interpretations of the nature/culture question I've outlined. In important ways, however, The Custom of the Country carries forward the project of The House of Mir th by depicting the sympathy enjoyed by social Darwinism in a culture increasingly enthralled by individualist business titans represented by Elmer Moffatt. Foremost among these similarities is the novel's linkage of the protagonist Undine Spragg's negation of the tradition of equality and natural rights 2 with her achievement of material success viewed as a sign of social progress by the socioeconomic elite. Where Undine instinctively understands that the 'survival of the fittest' is a call for the devastation of any obstacle she perceives, the narrative asks the reader to recognize an ecological Darwinian interdependence of species in the social realm that recalls one o f the major themes of The House of Mirth. In this thematic scheme, action directed at the presence of natural processes within society can maintain provisional equilibrium and compensate for a "primitive impulse to hurt and destroy" (CC 470) personified by Undine. Another similarity between the two novels exists in the way Undine's negation of the aforementioned traditions reflects her lack o f awareness of a social and historical context that would otherwise preserve and transmit "that impalpable dust of ideas which is the real culture" ( U C W 156) also valued by The House of Mirth. Where L i l y Bart's death illustrates the effects of the dispersion of a 'real culture' premised on equality that might sustain her difference, however, Undine Spragg is an instrument of social evolution that atomizes a traditional leisure-class way of life that has been "the product o f continuity and choice" ( C C 243). When the narrative relates that "allusions to pictures and books escaped her [Undine]" (CC 46) while she listens to a dinner party conversation, she is distinguished as a character unable to contribute to the collective project of maintaining a social context whose values are Ohler 102 concentrated in its artistic products. This motif reappears some pages later when Undine, having been to an art gallery where she sights "Peter Van Degen, the son of the great banker, Thurber V a n Degen" (CC 58), finds that "she could not remember anything about the pictures she had seen" (CC 59). The narrative gives form to competing ideologies of the gentry and the socioeconomic elite by portraying the "system o f ideas," to use Raymond Wil l iams ' phrase (157), that governs each class. Establishment characters in The Custom of the Country, such as Ralph Marvel l , the Dagonets, Charles Bowen, and the Fairfords, are the bearers of a tradition that is the transmission medium of culture. Wharton makes this clear by inflecting leisure-class tradition with biological meaning through the use of Darwinian language and metaphors seen also in The House of Mirth. In The Custom of the Country, social relations are biologized as "inherited intimacy (Undine had noticed that they were all more or less cousins)" ( C C 48). Moreover, the literary compression of social change and processes such as natural selection familiar from the earlier novel is present too in The Custom o f the Country. The eroding upper-crust system of maintaining order contrasts with certain pernicious habits of the socioeconomic elite—divorce, aggression, and financial speculation—that compete with and modify old forms of social governance. Yet one must be cautious about calling the ideology of the socioeconomic elite in this novel a 'system.' Their ideas reflect instead a thematically significant "incoherence" ( C C 243) of recombined signs of leisure-class tradition. The narrative views the adoption by the new elite of cultural forms such as dress, language, and architecture as a form o f ideological expansionism that resonates with the biological metaphors of a novel that charts the movement into an unexploited leisure-class environment of a new species. Thus, Undine Ohler 103 views the opportunities for exploitation of her new milieu as opening "ampler vistas" that afford her an avenue of expression for the fact that "her pioneer blood would not let her rest" (CC 64). Members of the gentry rely on tradition to prevent uncultured individuals like Undine from entering their class enclave. She is "primitive" (CC 470) and emblematic of a contingent natural world that spurs leisure-class regulative practices. She is the opposite of her second husband, Ralph Marvell , and an agent of the demise of his class in the historical sequence the novel chronicles. This process begins when she aligns herself with an economically elite social stratum distinguished by an absence of tradition, wherein families are not settled, but live transiently in places like the loudly decorated "Hotel Stentorian" ( C C 21) in one of its Versailles-like "Looey suites" (CC 21). Such appropriation o f cultural forms defines Undine's type. In depicting her transformation from prairie girl to paragon of cafe society, the novel aligns her with Elmer Moffatt, the uncouth predator (from the gentry's viewpoint) who by novel's end becomes a "billionaire Railroad K i n g " (CC 502). Marvel l and Moffatt epitomize old and new money attitudes respectively. Wharton also introduces the ancient cultural practices of the French aristocracy in her characterization of Undine Spragg's third husband, Raymond de Chelles. These characters represent the novel's spectrum of class-based attitudes toward tradition. In the novel's programmatic bolstering of its cultural politics through scientific metaphor, the individualism of the new rich is a surging tide of chaotic nature. Undine embodies this elemental force: "she felt a violent longing to brush away the cobwebs and assert herself as the dominant figure of the scene" (CC 48). Moreover, her "strange sense o f lucid resistance" (CC 127) to Peter Van Degen suggests the operation of sexual selection. Ohler 104 Wharton juxtaposes the natural aspects of Undine's character with the latent capacity of Ralph Marvell 's class to address the tension between social chaos and the pursuit of continuity, the former of which historically has been controlled by coercively confronting "the new spirit o f limitless concession" (CC 269) with rites whose past authority is represented in The Age of Innocence (set in the 1870's). New cultural forms, particularly the products of mass culture, undermine the stewardship role of Marvell 's class. Wharton describes an American, market-driven form of highly visible cultural activity that revalues the example of leisure class probity, gentility, and artistic achievement: "[t]he whole world has become a vast escalator, and Ford Motors and Gillette razors have bound together the uttermost parts of the earth. The universal infiltration of our American plumbing, dentistry, and vocabulary has reduced the globe to a playing field for our people" ( U C W 156). For Ralph Marvell , a new mass culture exposes the "hidden hereditary failing" (CC 378) of the inflexible "conventions of his class" ( C C 378), which cannot compete against the full color advertisement, nor the barrage o f messages made possible by mechanical reproduction. The novel connects class ideology and the law of natural selection by charting how unviable the former is in the social environment engendered by mass culture. The narrative links Undine's shallowness with a mass culture of disposability and novelty, while asserting a commitment to fictional social analysis as one way to examine and reply to the 'spirit o f limitless concession' that defines the age. In Charles Bowen one finds this impulse exemplified. He comments on "human nature's passion for the factitious, its incorrigible habit of imitating the imitation" (CC 243) as he observes how the new rich Ohler 105 model themselves on socialites who resemble the real-life Astors. These characters borrow the signs of the leisure class, and thus resemble the new money Vanderbilts. Bowen also embodies an analytical perspective that views objectively the cultural context it critiques. A s in The House of Mirth, this trait defines the biases and assumptions of characters that possess it; Bowen's blind spot is his passive intellectual acuity, which though one aspect o f a tradition dependent on knowledge, generates no social action. This is most evident when, sitting in the restaurant of the fashionable Nouveau Luxe Hotel in Paris, Bowen makes the following observation on what unbounded material power had devised for the delusion of its leisure: a phantom 'society' with all the rules, smirks, gestures of its model, but evoked out of promiscuity and incoherence while the other had been the product of continuity and choice. [...] and their prompt and reverent faith in the reality of the sham they had created, seemed to Bowen the most satisfying proof of human permanence. ( C C 243) This 'reverent faith in the reality' o f ' a sham' describes a socioeconomic elite whose forms owe much to the 'promiscuity and incoherence' of a mass culture that does little to contribute to the 'continuity' Bowen deems valuable. His account of the new rich resonates with Wharton's comment that "[s]ocial conditions as they are just now in our new world, where the sudden possession of money has come without inherited obligations, or any traditional sense o f solidarity between classes, is a vast and absorbing field for the novelist" (Letters 99). The ostensible neutrality of Bowen's depiction of this subject, which in Bowen's case is made possible by the "perpetual exercise of his perception" (243), demonstrates the novel's focus on the forms by which the socioeconomic elite defines itself, but also shows that Bowen's leisure class viewpoint is unprepared to deflect the new forces overtaking his world. Ohler 106 Bowen's tendency to look on matters "impartially from the heights of pure speculation" (CC 187) is founded on the cultural capital of a leisure class that Wharton also draws on. But his highly discerning viewpoint is limited by the inability o f observation to compel positive social change. Bowen's perspective contrasts with the lack of correspondence between social forms and traditional continuity he associates with a 'phantom' society. Although the new rich ape the forms of the leisure class, the narrative informs one that the crowd Bowen watches does not share the ideals that underlie leisure class forms. Thus, the novel's method is more than only generally sociological, for it persuades one of the acuity of its method by objectifying its impartiality in Bowen's measured insights, and exceeding them by depicting the flaws of his perspective. Fictional methodology becomes a subject for authorial self-reflexivity as the limits of Bowen's viewpoint are defined. The dependency of Wharton's method on a scientific frame with its own shortcomings is clear at that moment when Bowen "felt the pang of the sociologist over the individual havoc wrought by every social adjustment" (CC 249). Rational analysis alone cannot generate social action, but the novel, at least, can foster awareness o f how vital it is to address the 'havoc' wrought by social evolution. 'Social adjustment' in The Custom of the Country often proceeds by the mechanism of natural selection wherein the 'macro-social' is depicted as a selection environment, as Preston argues in regard to The House of Mirth. This primary biological allegory threads its way through the texts examined in this study. Wharton strengthened The House of Mir th 's contention that culture grows out of nature, and hence is not a separate, human-made system, by depicting how individual traits viable in the N e w York social environment nevertheless require control. In the novel one finds modern pressures exerted on Selden's idealistic Ohler 107 individualism—social norms that prohibit L i l y ' s preparation for any vocation other than being a "marriageable g i r l " ( H M 7), and the dehumanization caused by a social Darwinist interpretation of human relations—to reconstitute the old social environment. The qualities of this environment are favorable to some individuals, and not to others. Undine, an "intruder" ( C C 69) upon this social environment, is powerfully Lamarckian in her capacity to "adjust herself ( C C 67); she creates a continuum between the text's representation of social and biological change. In The Custom of the Country the portrayal of natural selection as an agent of social change exceeds the achievement of The House of Mir th by incorporating an examination of ideology's role in social inheritance. Bauer observes that "Wharton critics have typically divorced her work from larger ideological issues implicit in the act of writing fiction and have denied her politics, in part because her views are often conflicting and in part because her works have not been read in light of the relevant intellectual debates of her day" (qtd. in Wegener 138n). B y refining her method o f presenting political content through biological allegories and metaphors, her handling of ideology in an evolutionary context foregrounds the subject of change. This brings the novel into contact with John Dewey's view in "The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy" (1910), where he writes that the great evolutionist's influence "resides in his having conquered the phenomena of life for the principle o f transition" (qtd. in Dorothy Ross 316). That Wharton's biological metaphors connect with her depiction of the evolution of ideology reflects to a degree her participation in, and the influence of, the "transfer of interest from the permanent to the changing" (Dewey qtd. in Ross 316). Ohler 108 A s in The House of Mirth, one central question to be asked o f The Custom o f the Country is whether the presence of scientific contexts in the novel is a narrative conceit intended to endow Wharton's literary social analysis with authority in the minds o f the reading public, or whether there is an attempt really to demonstrate that principles o f evolution have analogues in the historical dialectic that gives rise to ideological systems, and sees them falter. In The Custom of the Country the latter is the case, for Undine Spragg and Elmer Moffatt are agents of what was described in the previous chapter as an ideology in which material gain is equated with progress, and indeed theirs is "a costly expression of a social ideal" (CC 243). Undine's "instinct of adapting herself to whatever company she was in, of copying 'the others' in speech and gesture as closely as she reflected them in dress" ( C C 150), though, shows that those who equate change and progress premise their actions on a "confusion of ideals" (CC 34) that corrodes the system it copies. Undine emulates leisure-class rites and forms that facilitate a "gestureless mute telegraphy" ( C C 79). This symbolic communication is an attribute of a leisure-class social context in which Mrs . Fairford is figured by the text to be "harmonizing and linking together what [...] [her guests] said" (CC 46), making a social occasion one for reaffirming the efficacy of the language that binds this class. Undine's attempt to copy these forms results in her feeling "mistrust" (CC 46) toward her hosts, suggesting that her 'confusion o f ideals' alienates her from the vital connection between social forms and the complex ameliorative process a tradition based on choice represents. In using these forms at the same time she is divorcing Marvel l or abandoning her son, however, Undine distorts their meaning and contributes to the breakdown of the values these forms refer to. Ohler 109 Elmer Moffatt is similar to the Lamarckian protagonist in that "something in his look seemed to promise the capacity to develop into any character he might care to assume" (CC 107). Both Moffatt and Undine can be likened to embryonic stem cells harvested from the historical protoplasm that would produce an ambitious and destructive American character. One finds Moffatt "sharpening his weapons of aggression" (CC 180), while Undine's "inherited prejudices" (CC 279) compel her to ignore "the strength of [...] social considerations" (CC 375). Like Undine too, Moffatt is a new species exploiting an ecosystem possessed of no natural defenses with which to combat him, for "no one seemed to know from whence he came" (CC 195). Deals hammered out by this cutthroat primitive don't mix with the deference to the past involved in preserving outmoded traditions, no matter the cohesiveness fostered by doing so. When Moffatt says o f de Chelles, "[h]is ancestors are his business, Wal l Street's mine" (492), the text assigns separate ideologies to the classes represented by each character. Moffatt's "epic effrontery" ( C C 227) derogates a Fifth Avenue philosophical premise that one can moderate contingency; still, his attitude is valid because it acknowledges flux and chance as governing principles which leisure-class social constructs fumble with symbolically through tradition and its rituals. Ralph Marvell 's clan believes in what Moffatt disdains, for juxtaposed with the gilt surfaces associated with the new elite are the worn, lived-in spaces occupied by the leisure class. These spaces represent the constructed unity of a society that attempts to minimize the effects of natural selection and its agents. This effort requires knowledge and, indeed, the Fairford's house contains "rows of books from floor to ceiling" (CC 44). Relying on the books at the foundation of its own fictional analysis, the narrative views organic and social evolution through a lens that focuses both simultaneously. This is an important characteristic Ohler 110 of Wharton's method that illuminates her novel's resistance to a point o f view in which "God would not create the living world by random variation and the survival of the fittest [...] Even to think of the human condition in such a manner [...] is intolerable" (qtd. in Wilson 37). Wharton's reductionism sees the human condition in just this 'intolerable' way, a trait of her novel signified in one early instance by the description o f Undine as a "tremulous organism drifting helplessly" (CC 64). Yet, the author's reductionism makes the biological basis of culture unavoidable, and so serves a politics that seeks a mitigation of chance, not a return to ossified leisure-class forms quickly dissolving in the age o f mass culture. Four sections follow this overview of how The Custom of the Country continues the program o f cultural work begun in The House o f Mirth, and what new directions the novel investigated here takes in developing Wharton's sociobiological viewpoint. In section two I examine the role of mass culture in Undine Spragg's socialization and the way this training affects her response to tradition. In doing so I explore the narrative's representation of mass culture as a new medium of cultural inheritance that competes with, and displaces leisure-class ideology. In section three I continue to investigate the question o f cultural heredity as it is posed in the novel in order to argue that one significant accomplishment of The Custom of the Country is its implicit theory of the extent to which class-based traditions are subject to natural law. I argue that in making this representation the narrative reveals its own critique of leisure-class custodians of tradition by depicting their sense of invulnerability to an erosive process of social selection their class cannot elude. Here, too, I address The Custom of the Country's nuanced criticism of the socioeconomic elite's assumptions regarding social Darwinism. In section four my discussion positions different class-based assumptions regarding the tension between nature and culture alongside evolutionary works whose ideas Ohler 111 provided a fertile metaphorical ground for Wharton's novel. This aspect of the chapter continues the juxtaposition of T . H . Huxley's essay "Evolution and Ethics" with Wharton's fictional analysis of what aspects of nature can or should be modified by culture. Section five considers Ralph Marvel l ' s encounter with mass culture and the market as a confrontation with contingency that a leisure-class ideal cannot survive, and contrasts his experience of being " in all the papers" (CC 97) with Undine's. The concluding section addresses the novel's method, and resolves how its claim to authoritativeness in the area of social criticism relies on an intermixing of biology and fictional analysis that cannot conceal within its objective register its interest in controlling the mutability of the social world it portrays. II. "al l the hints in the Sunday papers" (CC 44) Undine Spragg has provoked critical reactions in the past few years that are in agreement about her superficiality. Mary Papke comments on Undine's "voracious materialism and [...] her limited consciousness" (142), while Candace Waid discusses the protagonist's "absence of interiority" (132). Claire Preston offers the following interpretation: "there are only two or three elements in her success (principally her beauty, her naivete, and her blankness, her readiness to accept the imprint of projected idealising by deceived men)" (110). Although Undine is a young woman of "lovely lines" ( C C 22), her v iv id beauty, which "defied the searching decomposing radiance" (CC 36) of the brightest light, parallels the eye-catching designs of the tabloids she reads. Like the popular papers, she is all surface. She can reformulate her persona to appeal to those who would consume her. She learns to do so in a cultural climate fascinated with the simple snapshot of life and the speed with which it is produced by the press. Darwin wrote that "[w]e see beautiful Ohler 112 adaptations everywhere" (Origin 87), and it is this that Wharton observes in a social environment as she chronicles her heroine's mimicking of traditions. Part o f Undine's significance then is to be found in her adaptability. Her changeling nature is attributable in part to the mass culture products the depthless Undine consumes. Gossip sheets and dime novels present a new medium of acculturation in The Custom of the Country, and in this respect they can be said in part to define what is new about the material environment the novel depicts. Habermas states that the public sphere "was supposed to link politics and morality in a specific sense: it was the place where an intelligible unity of the empirical ends of everybody was to be brought about, where legality was to issue from morality" (115). Applied to the novel, this statement outlines an ideal that is not realized in the environment Wharton portrays. Habermas articulates a fictional subject matter that fulfills Wharton's wish to portray situations " in which some phase of our common plight stands forth dramatically and typically" (WF 29). In her introduction to a 1936 edition of The House of Mirth Wharton writes that "when there is anything whatever below the surface in the novelist's art, that something can be only the social foundation on which his fable is built" ( U C W 265). 4 This thought is played out in The Custom o f the Country's confrontation of an ideology fostered by mass culture that exists 'below the surface of her art.' The association of mass culture with the new rich, and tradition with an older leisure class, places the forms that hold each system of ideas at the center of the narrative's field of vision. A s I have claimed, Undine's attitude toward the seemingly impenetrable "damask," "gilt," and "onyx" (CC 21-22) world she intrudes upon is a product of mass culture. This influence creates in her consciousness "the key of the world she read about in the Sunday Ohler 113 papers" (CC 37). She is a character given to saying "I want the best" (CC 38) who discovers standards of social prestige, fashion, and language in the pages of the newspapers, magazines, and the sentimental novels she reads. In aligning Undine with such printed matter, the narrative associates a mass culture that feeds on what is new with the "instinctive" (CC 355) protagonist, thereby valuing negatively much popular writing. But it is the absence of an effort to foster an 'intelligible unity [...] o f ends' in a public sphere popular writing helps to define that the text derides most strongly. Noting Undine's lack of connection to those around her reinforces this view, for she "had remained insensible to the touch o f the heart" ( C C 210). That which Undine reads must be saleable. Such writing responds to public taste, but also helps to create it. What it also creates is Undine's representative and amoral plasticity, which the text devalues. Where her "novel-reading had filled her mind [...] with pathetic allusions to women's frailty" (CC 327), such a sentiment is used by Undine to justify feeling wronged when her father orders her to return the valuable pearls Peter V a n Degen has given her. The protagonist, o f course, is hardly frail. Rather, she is possessed of a "youthful flexibility" ( C C 25) that gives the appearance of strength to her "incessant movements" ( C C 36). Undine resolves, against her nature, "to trust less to her impulses" ( C C 39) in order to fit in with her new surroundings. Her resolution, however, shows her embrace o f a system influenced by mass culture that has no concern with what is true of her, or the pre-existing culture she lives within. Learned from the fashionably shifting values represented in the papers, Undine's relativism becomes deeply engrained. Her relativism is like the scientifically bankrupt Lamarckian theory her adaptability echoes, the former of which is Ohler 114 insufficient to the task of addressing the problems of the social environment. The significance of her use o f a sentimental sensibility encountered in her 'novel reading' is its demonstration that she can adapt any stance within her view; 5 the mutability of values evident in a press-defined public sphere is fostered by the logic of a market-driven mass culture that fosters Undine's transient personae. Min ing the tabloids for information, Undine initially takes their representations as truthful. Marvell , on the other hand, "reads the fiction number of a magazine" ( C C 113). He has no need of the facts she seeks because he lives in a world of ideas that propagates fictions in order to maintain the status quo. Undine runs into such a fiction when she realizes that her attribution of factualness to the tabloids is mistaken. She finds this "confusing and exasperating. Apex ideals had been based on the myth of 'o ld families' ruling N e w York from a throne of Revolutionary tradition, with the new millionaires paying them feudal allegiance. But experience had long since proved the delusiveness of the simile" ( C C 177). Undine is disoriented by her discovery, but her ability to find a vantage where a better understanding would be possible is complicated by other forms of storytelling. Novels such as "When The Kissing Had to Stop" and melodramas called "Oolaloo" and "The Soda-Water Fountain" (CC 48) show 'subjective' or more market-oriented writers 6 issuing narratives that compete in the public sphere and crowd out socially useful tales that create common ground for individual citizens, and which might educate Undine. Juxtaposed with these shallow stories are the tastes o f Undine's leisure-class interlocutors at the Fairford dinner. They attend classical dramas that she hears as '"Leg-long [...] Fade'" (CC 48-49). Upon leaving the dinner Undine, realizing she is out of her depth, "faltered out stupidly from the depths of her disillusionment: 'Oh—good-bye'" (CC 50). Her disturbing discovery is a Ohler 115 moment when, for the consumer of the tale, "the contradictions inherent in bourgeois society surface, seem to break through the reified patina of the objectified world, revealing the incoherence o f the rational systems by which [history] has been obscured, as well as the historically mediated nature of 'objectivity '" (Porter qtd. in Anesko 84). The system o f ideas held by the leisure class falls into plain view, along with the fact that mass culture does not present an accurate portrait of its subject. It is, o f course, the narrative that frames this, reading tradition, and literature, as a much-needed guide, and goad, to cultural continuity. After realizing that the representation of the elite she has assembled from the press is not true, Undine decides to "watch and listen without letting herself go" ( C C 46). The strategy of not 'letting herself go' comes easily to one who possesses nothing interpretable save her ability to adapt and mimic the characteristics of others, as when "her attention was drawn to a lady in black who was examining the pictures through a tortoise-shell eye-glass. [...] It seemed suddenly plebian and promiscuous to look at the world with a naked eye" (CC 57). Undine becomes a corollary of the papers. She is attractive, but not cultured, and anticipates the needs of her readers by adjusting the editorial content of her persona. In seeking for the 'originals' of those images to which she relates so intensely, "unsuspected social gradations were thus revealed to the attentive Undine" (CC 41). A s a result, she discovers that her initial perceptions about the 'golden aristocracy' are gross simplifications and eventually becomes able "to make distinctions unknown to her girlish categories" ( C C 176). This is a crucial moment in the novel, for as Undine discovers that representation and truth don't correspond in the press, so she understands that her beauty, her advertisement as it were, doesn't have to deliver the submissiveness exchanged for the "money, clothes, cars, the Ohler 116 big bribe she's paid for keeping out of the man's way" (CC 189). 9 In other words, mass culture shows Undine, and the reader, the artificiality of cultural norms. Wharton apparently took issue with what she saw as an American fetish for the new that blunted perception of the crucial distinctions handed down by tradition. She attributes this insensitivity to "[a] long course of cinema obviousness and of tabloid culture [that] has rendered the majority of readers insensible to allusiveness and irony" ( U C W 179). Yet Undine Spragg's "ear was too well attuned to the national note of irony" ( C C 47) not to notice that her leisure-class companions at the Fairford dinner are "making sport" ( C C 47) of the society painter Claude Popple whom she has glimpsed in the press. Undine's perceptiveness w i l l eventually except her from the run of 'readers' that take 'tabloid culture' at face value. She comes to learn that the perceived correspondence between actual people and their lives rendered by journalistic narrative or photograph is not to be trusted. For a time, though, Undine mistakes the hackneyed plot and the time-worn stereotype she discovers in the papers for valid portraits of the New York scene. She is thus shocked when she discovers, on coming into contact with actual members of the leisure class, that the papers present a simplified portrait o f the social network. Wharton's presentation o f the press in general, especially in its effect on Undine, echoes Mott 's observation about newspaper editorials of the period. He characterizes these pieces as "not long and never hard to read. Short words, sentences, paragraphs were the rule. Complex subjects reduced by symbol to the lowest common denominator" (581). Social progress is Undine's career, and she prepares by studying the "social potentates whose least doings Mrs. Spragg and Undine had followed from afar in the Apex papers" (CC 27). The complexity of upper-class social practices must, though, remain undetectable in the accounts Undine reads. Other forms of popular culture Ohler 117 mislead her for a time as well . A s I have mentioned, sentimental novels supply a misleading notion regarding gentry values: "[h]er novel-reading had filled her mind with the vocabulary of outraged virtue" (CC 327). But such unsubtle modes of expression are useless in a leisure-class environment where "all Undine's perceptions bristle" (CC 47) to ascertain the socially acceptable locution. What Wharton called 'tabloid culture,' Undine discovers, diminishes her perceptive powers. Reversals and revelations are central aspects of Undine's experience. The limits of her mediated vision become ever clearer to her when the "camera obscura o f N e w York society" (CC 94) turns her expectations upside down. When she discovers that Marvel l ' s family w i l l be involved in the couple's wedding plans she understands that in comparison to practices in her hometown of Apex, "New York reversed this rule" (CC91). In Paris she senses "[o]nce more that all the accepted values [of New York] were reversed" ( C C 254). After she terminates her marriage to Marvell her "New York friends were at no pains to conceal from her the fact that in their opinion her divorce had been a blunder. Their logic was that of Apex reversed" (CC 307). Even a princess does not conform to pattern. Undine expects a royal representative of the imperious Faubourg to be finely attired. Instead, Princess Estradina is "small, slight and brown" and is "dressed with a disregard o f the fashion" ( C C 333). This "overthrew all Undine's hierarchies" (CC 334). Some element of the society she moves in is clearly beyond the scope of the newspaper's portrait, and hence her own understanding. A s for revelations, I have already shown that all Undine "sought for was improvement: she honestly wanted the best" (CC 60), but she learns about what is 'best' by her continual pursuit of "something beyond" (CC 62), mirage-like and continually receding. Ohler 118 A t every new level of the fashionable Undine finds another stratum above her. She first wants to "get away from Apex" (CC 60). Later she meets girls "whose parents took them to the Great Lakes for August" (CC 61) and instantly wants to do the same. Her parents are "impelled" by Undine to a "Virginia 'resort'" and in another reference to the coloring o f realities by mass-culture representations, "its atmosphere of Christmas-chromo sentimentality" (CC 62). However, as soon as Undine hears from a Miss Wincher that the resort is a "hole" and that the Wincher family is "going to Europe for the Autumn" ( C C 63), the protagonist "loathed all the people about her" (CC 63). A violent disappointment sweeps over her on these occasions when "everything was spoiled by a peep through another door" (CC 62). Finally believing she has discovered the environment within which to achieve social and material progress, "Undine vowed to herself with set lips ' I ' l l never try anything again until I try N e w Y o r k ' " ( C C 64). "Undine's first steps in social enlightenment" (CC 39), once she arrives in N e w York, find her seeking " in vain for the originals" ( C C 41) she has encountered in the papers. She discovers that the leisure class mirage that shimmers in the pages of the tabloids does not represent the subtler aspects of the elite. When Undine asks Mrs. Heeny about the social status of the Fairfords and another guest, Ralph Marvel l , Undine is delighted to hear her reply: " i f they ain't swell enough for you, Undine Spragg, you'd better go right over to the court of England" (CC 38), for that is one trunk (another being Holland) from which the family tree of the American gentry has grown. She believes that Marvel l and his class are the 'originals' upon which are based the narratives in the "Boudoir Chat" column in the Sunday papers, which report on what "the smartest women" are doing (CC 33). Finally, given the opportunity to realize her goal of moving into a better circle where she might find "the best" Ohler 119 (CC 38), she attends the dinner in a house that "was small and rather shabby. There was no gilding, no lavish diffusion of light [...] The dinner too was disappointing. [...] Wi th all the hints in the Sunday papers, she thought it dull o f Mrs . Fairford not to have picked up something newer" (CC 44). Such 'hints' form Undine's definition of social and material sophistication, but the variance she notes between portrait and reality indicates to her, and the reader, a competition between varied representations of reality. The narrative begins to draw the arc of Undine's changing perception of mass culture by recounting how, even before her family's move from Apex to N e w York, she takes representations of the elite found in the newspaper at face value: "She knew all o f New York ' s golden aristocracy by name, and the lineaments of its most distinguished scions had been made familiar by passionate poring over the daily press" (CC 41). She learns about "the smartest dinners in town" from the manicurist and hairdresser Mrs . Heeny's "newspaper cuttings" (CC 25). Undine garners what she believes is knowledge about the leisure class from poring over "the Society Column" ( C C 45). The young woman structures her mornings "after the manner described in the article ' O n a Society Woman's D a y ' " (CC 52). Undine truly possesses "the instinct of adapting herself to whatever company she was in, of copying 'the others'" (CC 150). Her identity, like the stories she reads in the tabloids, becomes a manufactured good that needs advertising. To this end she acquires a "press-agent" (CC 181) and becomes "a product, generic and commercial, a roaming brand-name" (Preston 93). Undine interprets depictions of normative leisure-class behavior to constitute a standard that ought to be as easily realized as the act of buying the papers in which the Marvells and Dagonets figure so prominently. She sees no connection between the signs of class she notes, and the traditions that underlie them. Ohler 120 Sounding like an anthropologist of fictional methodology, Wharton writes that "[fjhe subjective writer lacks the power o f getting far enough away from his story to view it as a whole and relate it to its setting" (WF 78). In the context of Undine's first meeting with real members o f the leisure class, the narrative asserts something like Wharton's statement by warning that mass culture alienates its consumers from the essential, democracy-serving business to be conducted in the press. Moreover, a "universal facility o f communication" ( U C W 154) that is a characteristic of Wharton's contemporary America displaces traditional narratives of leisure-class continuity such as Raymond de Chelles' tale of his family's hereditary association with royalty, and Marvell 's wish to merge "the personal with the general life" through "the releasing powers o f language" (CC 134). For Marvel l , this would fulfill an aesthetic that seeks to present the fragmentary world in an artistically unified way. In its market-oriented ability to communicate quickly with the greatest number of people, the press drowns out narratives that reiterate valued qualities of the social 'setting' which can distance culturally disruptive elements. The novel presents the oppositional quality of artistic and mass culture narratives in the uses Marvel l and Undine make of them. The fact that Wharton's novel was serialized in Scribner 's magazine complicates The Custom o f the Country's extended critique of mass culture, which, ironically, applies to the medium of the novel's initial publication. The Custom of the Country parries mass culture's thrust at authoritative literary representations of the consequences of eroded, ameliorative, leisure-class traditions. Yet it did so initially in the pages of a literary magazine, even as it detailed the consequences for Undine of gaining her understanding of the public sphere from the popular press. But The Custom of the Country's portrait of how mass culture thrives on a feedback loop that Ohler 121 conditions the self-perception of its consumers, and then validates the personae it has helped to mold, takes its object lesson to Scribner's, where readers like Marvel l , who reads 'the fiction number' o f magazines, wi l l find it. One imagines that Undine does not read Scribner's, for Mrs . Heeny responds to her pronouncement regarding her fear that Marvel l ' s father w i l l not approve of her by asking, " '[d]id you read the description o f yourself in the Radiator this morning? I wish't I had time to cut it out. I guess I ' l l have to start a separate bag for your clippings soon" (CC 89). With her likeness in circulation, Undine becomes a 'product,' to use Preston's term, who internalizes her own press. In the process, Undine ensures that a useful, though waning tradition, that is "blurred and puzzling," and where even "graduations o f tone were confusing" ( C C 48), w i l l remain beyond her perception. Undine's 'fate' is in this respect a cautionary tale issued to the consumers of Wharton's serialized novel who, more like Marvell than the protagonist, can glimpse how ineffective are its cultural institutions in inculcating the values Undine so clearly lacks. Seemingly objective comparisons between Marvel l ' s affiliation with leisure-class traditions, and links between mass culture and Undine's psychology, can seem like the work of a social microscopist intent on dividing and analyzing. Yet Wharton's insights are those of an author who links her observations to a wider tradition of investigation whose key process is, as Gi l l ian Beer argues in discussing George Eliot, 'imagination.' Beer writes o f Eliot, whose influence on Wharton has been well documented, 1 0 that she emphasises the congruity between all the various processes of the imagination: the novelist's and the scientist's enterprise is fired by the same prescience, the same willingness to explore the significance even of that which can be registered neither by instruments nor by the unaided senses. (Darwin's Plots 141) Ohler 122 Considered in light of this statement, Wharton's view that biological and social evolution are related bridges the "too deep an abyss o f difference" (CC 337) separating the natural contingency represented by Undine, and the project of maintaining an 'intelligible, ' goal-directed public sphere that ought to be maintained by the narrative's leisure class. While with other characters one could object to the suggestion that image and psychology can be viewed as identical, the text demonstrates that the surmise is appropriate in Undine's case, for she has a "delicious sense of being ' i n all the papers'" ( C C 97) that satisfies her completely. This satisfaction does nothing to harness her 'primitive' destructiveness because she finds no moral guidance in her reading. The narrative juxtaposes the fact that Undine's "mind was as destitute of beauty and mystery as the prairie schoolhouse where she had been educated" (CC 139-140) with Marvell and de Chelle's conviction that the 'beauty and mystery' possessed by tradition is the source of social continuity. Her 'education' by 'the papers' is ultimately destructive to those values held by the two men, for she is both a subject, and agent, of mass culture. The historian Jackson-Lears writes that "[w]hen antimodernists preserved higher loyalties outside the self they sustained a role of protest against a complacent faith in progress and a narrow positivist conception of reality" (xvi). It is in this sense that The Custom of the Country is anti-modern, for the narrative's depiction of Undine's notion of progress as social advancement shows her willingness to use individuals instrumentally. From the position of the narrative's allegiances, human interrelatedness needs acknowledgement, not exploitation. Aside from a desire to consume, and to rise within the social hierarchy, there is little to Undine. But this is an effect of Wharton's representation, and not an aesthetic failure. Undine's narrow view of reality makes her irrelevant to the Ohler 123 project of questioning faith in progress contained in the novel; Marvell "soon saw that she regarded intimacy as a pretext for escaping [...] into a total absence o f expression" ( C C 143). The narrative's antimodernist orientation, to use Lears's terminology, shows the difficulty in forging mutually beneficial social bonds out of the material of Undine's calculating individualism. A further example of the narrative's perspective on a 'faith in progress' predicated on material gain exists in the fact that for Undine only the contractual is a suitable basis for hazarding one's assistance to another. This becomes apparent when she pleads with Moffatt, "Oh, Elmer, i f you ever liked me, help me now, and I ' l l help you i f I get the chance" (CC 112). Even intimacy is a pretext for making smart arrangements, but this is unsurprising given the economic underpinning of the marital state Wharton details. Undine is strongly drawn to Moffatt. Her initial engagement to him in Apex, and their subsequent marriage, presents no advantage socially in the view of Marvell and his caste: "Undine felt that in the Marvel l set Elmer Moffatt would be stamped 'not a gentleman'" (CC 112). Their attraction to each other does represent the operation of Undine's capacity for sexual selection, however. Physically, Moffatt is a powerful, "stoutish figure [...] thick yet compact" who had "a look of jovial cunning" and a "brisk swaggering step" (CC 106-107). Moffatt and Undine personify the desire for material gain, which the text links to an amoral contractual basis of interpersonal relations. That Moffatt cuts the figure of an animal, and that Undine's capacity for sexual selection singles him out, demonstrates that they are less governed by a leisure-class moderation of sexuality that makes Clare van Degen, who is in love with her cousin Marvel l , "light and frivolous, without strength of w i l l " (CC 195). However, the fact that Undine's exercising of her sexual selection seems to predict a problematic social and genetic Ohler 124 'renewal' through a union with Moffatt is inconsistent with the positive valuation of sexual selection present in The House of Mir th and The Age of Innocence. Undine's marriage to Marvell is a good one for her socially, but she comes to understand that because of his relative lack o f wealth, "money was what chiefly stood between them" (CC 204). Her insightfulness can be traced to the fact that she is "animated by her father's business instinct" (CC 212). Furthermore, Undine is put forward in society on the premise of a calculation that highlights how she differs from Marvell , and how the difference indicates class priorities: the Spraggs "had lived in New York for two years without any social benefit to their daughter; and it was of course for that purpose they had come" (CC 28). Undine grows impatient for the accrual of this 'benefit.' When she finally marries Marvel l she forms a union with one whose idea o f marriage bears little resemblance to her own. He had "preserved, through all his minor adventures, his faith in the great adventure to come" and possessed "the imaginative man's indestructible dream of a rounded passion" (CC 85). His imagination, affiliated with tradition and its pale of cultural stability, hinges not on the contract, but on the human interaction the contract both formalizes and distances. A s a representative of an intrusive species, Undine imports her defining moral blankness into the ranks of the elite. This complicates the perception of Wharton as an anti-modern social critic who wishes to preserve 'higher loyalties outside the self,' for Marvel l does not recognize Undine as a regression who also represents the future o f the country, and the demise of his class ideology. There is little authorial nostalgia for a past whose values cannot cope with the present. For her part, Undine adheres to no internalized code save one that makes the evidence of her atavism invisible to others: "[h]er quickness in noting external differences had already taught her to modulate and lower her voice, and to replace 'The /-Ohler 125 dea!' and 'I wouldn't wonder' by more polished locutions" (CC 92). Like the papers she reads, her attractive form conceals an adaptive self-presentation addressed to the desires of her consumers. This key trait depends on an expertise at mimicry that makes it "instinctive with her to become, for the moment, the person her interlocutors expected her to be" ( C C 355). In this, she pointedly lacks any sign of being the product of social continuity. The instinct that governs Undine is instantiated by mass culture forms that project, in their status as throwaway objects, a world ephemeral and disposable, along with their message that change is progress whether it takes the form of new fashion or new identity. The Custom of the Country lays blame for Undine's harmful notions o f progress on printed ephemera that propagate her tendency to emulate what she finds " in the glowing pages of fiction" (CC 68). She is a chameleon product of a world her aristocratic French husband decries when he remarks of Americans: " Y o u come from hotels as big as towns, and from towns as flimsy as paper, where the streets haven't had time to be named and the buildings are demolished before they're dry" (CC 468). In directing such blasts at America, Wharton would differentiate herself from a realist forerunner she greatly admired: For [...] W . D . Howells, literature ought to reflect and play a major role in encouraging the social and political progress that had received its fullest expression in the American effort to unite scientific inquiry and political democracy into a means for a better life for all men. [...] Howells [...] thus accepted wholeheartedly the central evolutionary premise of much nineteenth century thought that loosely joined social, material, and intellectual life into a triumphant forward march. (Pizer, "Naturalism [...] o f The House of Mi r th" 66) Ohler 126 Wharton recalls in her memoir how "Howells was the first to feel the tragic potentialities of life in the drab American small town; but the incurable moral timidity which again and again checked him on the verge of a masterpiece drew him back" ( B G 147-148). The journalist Bartley Hubbard's interview of Silas Lapham shows that as early as the mid 1880s Howells addressed the role of the press in equating success within the American capitalist system with a social Darwinist interpretation of evolution. Lapham, like Undine, is ignorant of a radical implication of Darwin's theory. He doesn't see that "evolution is not a process that was designed to produce us" (Dennett 56), but he is a figure to whose social-Darwinist logic Howells does not give free play. Wharton, on the other hand, traces out the consequences of the fact that Undine believes that social evolution is a process designed to produce her. The protagonist is "the perfect result of the system, the completest proof of its triumph" (CC 190) in the words of the sociologically insightful Charles Bowen. It is a system, though, that does not reflect the intricate interplay of nature and culture that cautious leisure-class traditions monitor, and in the past have policed. In Howells ' novel the journalist tells Lapham that he is "just one mil l ion times more interesting to the public than i f you hadn't a dollar" (3). Here, Howells ' realist narrative demonstrates that the papers' popular record of the noteworthy is responsive to the high value attached to material accumulation. It is a definition of progress Howells presents neutrally. Wharton's text rejects this association, and vitiates this version of progress for its potential to commodity human relationships. A n example o f this occurs when Undine contrives for Marvell to pay her one hundred thousand dollars so that he might gain custody of their son. When Undine spots the boy, named Paul, on the railway platform, having forced Ohler 127 Marvell to send him to her, she thinks "what an acquisition he would be" ( C C 414). With this statement Undine illustrates how her outlook on 'progress' as accumulation objectifies the child, and presents Undine as unfeminine in her lack of maternal responsiveness. Apposed to her view of Paul as an 'acquisition' is the outlook of the aristocratic de Chelles, who in accepting Paul into his household asserts that progress is linked to acculturation by stating that "he won't be a savage long with me" (CC 414). Undine's intelligence is wasted by an ethos that can't turn her abilities away from 'larger opportunities' and toward the collective project of controlled social renewal. Her inability to engage in social practices that inhibit cultural fragmentation is a function of her training by mass culture, which can't educate her fully. "Fiction has been enlarged by making the background a part of the action" ( U C W 18), Wharton writes. Undine correlates with mass culture's effects in narrowing the perspective of the American citizen. Her story articulates the interaction of the mass culture 'background' and her advancement, which reads as logical in her avaricious world. But while the printed matter Undine reads cannot render subtle distinctions of class and status (recall her mistake in taking members of the newly-moneyed class for the gentry), this is the very thing the novel does w e l l . " The Custom o f the Country in this way asserts the ability of fiction to portray aspects of culture not visible from the perspectives offered by the forms of communication associated with Undine. The narrative's excavation of the social environment or 'background' reveals that Undine's mediated idea of an undifferentiated elite persuades her, initially, to seek affiliation with a group that does not believe in linking material and social progress. She turns away, however, from the provisional efforts of the leisure class to subdue the unpredictable results of immoderate individualism, realizing that she "had given herself to the exclusive and the Ohler 128 dowdy when the future belonged to the showy and the promiscuous" ( C C 176-177). While waning social status is held by one subset of the elite represented in the papers she reads, waxing prestige and power belong to members of another group, such as "the wife o f a Steel Magnet" (CC 41), and to Peter Van Degen, who is "the hero of 'Sunday Supplements' [...] the supreme exponent, in short, o f those crowning arts that made all life seem stale and unprofitable outside the magic ring of the Society Column" (CC 58). Although it is true that Van Degen belongs to one of the first families of old New York, the narrative depicts him as leading the way toward the adoption of an outlook practiced by the nouveau riches. His "odd physiognomy" (CC 58) reminds one that unsuppressed sexuality is a central concern of leisure class tradition, for as Van Degen faces Undine, "his batrachian sallowness unpleasantly flushed," the text describes him as "primitive man looking out o f the eyes from which a frock-coated gentleman usually pined at her" (CC 207). It is in their shared primitiveness, veneered with tradition in Van Degen's case, and gilded in Undine's, that Wharton finds a growing resemblance between 'the exclusive and the dowdy' and 'the showy and the promiscuous' that results from social evolution. Undine learns from the angle of vision offered by mass culture forms, though this learning limits her perception. She might see that the papers don't tell the whole truth, as I have demonstrated, but she remains ignorant o f their deterministic effect on her interaction with the broader aims of the social collective. She thus has "no clear perception of the forces that did not directly affect her" (CC 97). A s a representative of her type the protagonist is, like other Americans, "told every morning, by wireless and book jacket, by news item and picture-paper, who is in the day's spotlight, and must be admired (and i f possible read) before the illumination shifts" ( U C W 178). Ohler 129 The novel contains and represents Undine's attributes, particularly the fact that she is "passionately imitative" (CC 34). It therefore advertises its avoidance of the fallacy that adaptability, as exemplified by mass culture, can propel social evolution in a direction in keeping with the principles of equality and natural rights. Undine concludes, in what becomes "one of the guiding principles of her career," that"//'s better to watch than to ask questions" (CC 71). The italics are Wharton's, and the emphasis placed on this statement alerts the reader to the harmful consequences for all Americans of Undine's method—one learned from the 'objectivity' of tabloids and how-to guides that she consumes—of a watchful, predatory stance toward the ramifications of new cultural forms. Mass culture's influence on contemporary society in the narrative is analogous to the environmental influences on innumerable generations of individual species familiar to the Darwinist. A s Undine finds fictions presented as facts in the newspapers, the novel presents these 'facts' as creating new conditions in the 'macro-social environment.' A comparison with the long gestation of Marvell 's class values is often implicit in the text's depiction of contemporary values uninfluenced by leisure-class mores. For example, a " W a l l Street code" which creates "a world committed to swift adjustments" (CC 233) shapes Undine's need for the immediate acquisition of "something still better beyond" (CC 62). Marvel l , on the other hand, reflects on an acting lesson he recalls observing as a young man, remembering the way a classic role was "dissolved into its component elements and built up again with a minuteness of elucidation and a range of references that made him feel as though he had been let into the secret of some age-long natural process" (CC 233). The formation of one's persona has a history in Marvell 's interpretation of the scene. The process is both 'natural' and intellectual in its reliance on 'minuteness of elucidation' and 'range of references.' But Ohler 130 he also understands this artifice to be a function of an 'age-long [...] process' resulting from historical continuity, and choice. The narrative's recording of Marvel l ' s personal history, and a deeper social history he imagines shapes the self, contrasts with the immediacy o f communication and the inconsequentiality of content that defines mass culture, Undine, and Wharton's contemporary society. III. "the student of inheritance might have wondered" (CC 116) In "The Great American Nove l " (1927) Wharton comments on a failing of the criticism of fiction that echoes The Custom of the Country's interest in popular culture's inability to value a refined tradition: The idea that genuineness is to be found only in the rudimentary, and that whatever is complex is inauthentic, is a favorite axiom of the modern American critic. To students of natural history such a theory is somewhat disconcerting. The tendency of all growth, animal, human, social, is towards an ever-increasing complexity. [...] Traditional society, with its old-established distinctions of class, its pass-words, exclusions, delicate shades of language and behavior, is one of man's oldest works of art, the least conscious and the most instinctive; yet the modern American novelist is told that the social and educated being is an unreality unworthy of his attention. ( U C W 155) This passage finds the perspective of a 'student of natural history' to be a useful corrective to that of the 'American c r i t i c ' Its implied critical stance suggests the novelist's politics can be directed by science. The critic might apply science to social analysis because the reality of Ohler 131 'traditional society' is a phenomenon 'least conscious and the most instinctive,' and therefore a fitting candidate for rigorous examination. But what are the signs such a scientific fictional poetic can examine? Fusing particular architectural forms like the hothouse to individual class strata in The House of Mir th externalizes how a tradition that is 'least conscious and the most instinctive' in Selden's leisured cohort might moderate the 'tendency of all growth [...] towards an ever-increasing complexity.' The mistake made by Selden and his type, though, is their idea that the social stasis represented by the hothouse is natural. What Wharton suggests is that though strictly false when considered biologically, their idea is the result of 'continuity and choice,' and is for this reason rational. When Selden and L i l y converse in the Brys ' conservatory the setting emblematizes a distancing of the natural by the novel's gentry, which is reflected in the fact that the two cannot become romantically involved. The state of relations between them is fictionally visible as one sign of an ethos of control over nature. Like Marvell in The Custom of the Country, who is preoccupied with "states of feeling" (CC 194), Selden is an "orchid basking in its artificially created atmosphere" ( H M 150). Selden exemplifies "that little illuminated circle in which life reached its finest efflorescence, as the mud and sleet of a winter night enclose a hot-house filled with tropical flowers. A l l this was in the natural order o f things" ( H M 150). But Selden's 'order' is not 'natural' at al l . The 'little illuminated circle' is a product of nature, of course, to the extent that culture arises from a biological base, but the 'circle ' is alienated from natural processes by reason and tradition, which together attempt to forestall variation and class hybridization in the social realm by objecting to the union of Marvel l and Undine in The Custom of the Country. Ohler 132 Wharton shows that the 'social foundation' projects more than a single social 'fable' or ideology. This is apparent in conflicting interpretations of social evolution present in reactive leisure class attitudes toward unregulated change, and the socioeconomic elite's regressive ignorance of the hazard posed by chance to the underlying democracy that supports their business activities. The narrative's portrait o f Undine's inhumanity in pursuing her goals of wealth and power, and her harmful effect on Marvell and de Chelles, illustrates this. Relaxing standards that formerly connected wealth and social responsibility create her as "a creature of skin deep reactions, a mote in the beam of pleasure" (CC 202). A n older standard is measured out for the reader in Marvell 's condescending estimation of Undine, which signifies his class fable: "He was not blind to her crudity and her limitations, but they were a part of her grace and her persuasion. [. ..] her obvious lack of any sense of relative values, would make her an easy prey to the powers of fol ly" (CC 85-86). Here, the text juxtaposes Undine's singular instinctive values against Marvel l ' s recognition that 'relative values' exist, and compete with each other. The 'skin deep reactions' exhibited by Undine mark her as dangerously unaware of this fact, while Marvel l ' s attraction to 'her grace and her persuasion' is his Achil les ' heel; he underestimates the vulnerability of 'old-established distinctions of class.' In The Custom of the Country Undine's aggressive exploitation of what Bowen calls "the whole problem of American marriages" (CC 187)—consensual divorce, the expectation of female passivity, and "[t]he fact that the average American looks down on his wife" (CC 187)—goes unchecked even inside Marvell 's class-bound enclave. Inside the class barrier, the breakdown o f an idealistic distancing o f the uncivilized first seen in The House o f Mir th facilitates Undine's ability to act as she does. The later narrative presents a hothouse Ohler 133 damaged to such an extent that a native species epitomized by Undine and Elmer Moffatt overgrows the orchids of the gentry within it. Undine misidentifies the moderating purpose of culture advocated by the narrative, seeing instead such a practice as the source of a life ever "more luxurious, more exciting, more worthy of her" (CC 62). The text confronts the effects of her erroneous distinction on an organic social entity the protagonist sees as a mechanism that can satisfy "her usual business-like intentness on gaining her end" ( C C 454) without demanding a substantive contribution to it. Wharton read in Vernon Kellogg's Darwinism Today (1907) that "Variation [...] occurs according to the laws of chance" (32). She extends Kellogg's claim to her fictional social analysis by showing that the 'best' in elite culture hold their position through a coincidence o f chance variation and receptive environment. Undine's ability to realize her intent, in other words, is the result of prevalent social conditions that favor her superficiality. Her variation, as I have suggested, is also a regression. The text critiques her need to fulfill desires compelled by a shallow society, seeing them as an asocial and centripetal historical development. The particular meaning of the words 'complexity' and 'progress' in the Darwinian context complicates the task of interpreting the author's portrait o f their class-centered definitions. Fortunately, E .O. Wilson makes a distinction about these words that is useful in deciphering the text's recombination of social evolution and natural selection: If we mean by progress the advance toward a preset goal, such as that composed by intention in the human mind, then evolution by natural selection, which has no preset goals, is not progress. But i f we mean the production through time of increasingly Ohler 134 complex controlling organisms and societies, in at least some lines o f descent, with regression always a possibility, then evolutionary progress is an obvious reality. (98) Accordingly, social evolution and regression are matters of increasing or decreasing complexity alone. 'Progress' consists only in increased complexity, whether the organism is biological or social. Applied to The Custom of the Country. Undine's pursuit of 'improvement' (CC 60) or 'progress' through the realization of her materialistic intentions is therefore a goal predicated on faulty assumptions regarding the applicability of evolution by natural selection to social change. Here, the novel intervenes to illustrate what popular culture ignores, displaying its dedication to affecting what lies within its field o f vision. In so doing the narrative foregrounds the untapped capacity of a leisure class perspective that looks down, as has been shown, "impartially from the heights of pure speculation" ( C C 187), but cannot beat back the forces of chance with its rationalism. A n example of the threat presented by uncontrolled natural competition that also . exemplifies Wharton's compression of natural and social phenomena exists in the movement eastward of the Spragg family and Undine's subsequent triumphs. Contained within this plot sequence is a Darwinian truism connected by the narrative to the growing mobility of Americans in the nineteenth century. Yet the Spraggs are unaware of their conformity to anything but their own desire to see Undine advance, demonstrating again the novel's association of sudden material increase with a primitive attitude toward the social collective's purpose. Geographical and class mobility are obvious characteristics of this new world. A passage from The Origin of Species serves well to describe the family's journey from the ironically named Apex City to the exploitable landscape of New York, and what happens to Ohler 135 those Undine mingles with upon her arrival: " I f the country were open on its borders, new forms would certainly immigrate, and this would seriously disturb the relations of some of the former inhabitants" (Origin 102). N e w York is opening up, something shown by the success of Elmer Moffatt, and in The House of Mir th . Simon Rosedale. A s i f to prove the applicability of Darwin's statement in the social context, Undine's arrival in New York upsets the prevailing social equilibrium. Undine hears, for instance, "that Mrs. Marvel l had other views for her son [than to marry Undine]" ( C C 92), but "there had been no reprisals [...] That was not her ideal of warfare" (CC 92). N o thought of fighting off the "intruder" (CC 69) enters Mrs . Marvel l ' s mind. On the contrary, true to her vestigial ideals, Marvel l ' s mother "seemed anxious to dispel any doubts of her good faith" (CC 92) once his decision to marry Undine has been made. The narrative's portrait o f class relations in the social environment of N e w York demonstrates how both the leisure class and the socioeconomic elite see a connection between nature and culture. Compare, for example, Undine's enactment of social life as a battle of the 'fittest' in which "she was going to get what she wanted" ( C C 42) via "her blind desire to wound and destroy" (CC 454) with Marvell 's comment regarding the displacement of those who succumb to the invaders: Ralph sometimes called his mother and grandfather the Aborigines, and likened them to those vanishing denizens of the American continent doomed to rapid extinction with the advance of the invading race. He was fond of describing Washington Square as the "Reservation" and prophesying that before long its inhabitants would be exhibited at ethnological shows, pathetically engaged in the exercise of their primitive industries. (CC 77-78) Ohler 136 Marvell 's eyes are open to the displacement of his class, but his response denotes passivity. His comparison of his class to the American aborigine made extinct by the same 'blind desire' exhibited by Undine lacks insight into the actual extinction of individuals and entire cultures. While fluent in abstractions, Marvel l is unable to conceive o f the ramifications o f the avidity summed up in Undine and her colonial, and biological, antecedents. Similarly, in The Rise of Silas Lapham Bromfield Corey compares the Lapham family to the Sioux: "clever but uncivilized" he says (96). Corey and Marvel l share key traits. Both are leisure-class aesthetes. Corey, a painter, believes that civilization starts with literature, while Marvell is an aspiring author. But they are relics. Marvel l , a 'vanishing denizen' himself, acknowledges the fact of invasion allegorically (he calls his family 'the Aborigines') and thus distances its reality. Corey, commenting on a member of the new socioeconomic elite in referring to Lapham, disparages the class that w i l l displace his own by brandishing a now irrelevant ideal civilization whose authority is crumbling before the new capitalism. For both characters, the connection between nature and culture is obscured by a fixation on the reflection of culture in art, as when Marvell goes to "the length of quoting poetry" ( C C 175) to a woman deaf to its tradition and to its representation of a culture built up slowly through time. For Undine Spragg, nature and culture, instinct and its enactment, are of a piece. Shades of difference emerge in the text between individuals who are not members of the leisure class, while members of the gentry possess a homogeneous character. The Custom of the Country portrays New York ' s socioeconomic elite as conforming to Darwin's observations of "thousands of gradations and variations between organisms" (Dennett 35). Charles Bowen observes "a seemingly endless perspective of plumed and jeweled heads, of Ohler 137 shoulders bare or black-coated" (CC 242) that catalogues display by the new rich in a way that recalls Darwin's descriptions of variations within a species: "No one supposes that all the individuals of the same species are cast in the very same mould. These individual differences are highly important to us, as they offer materials for natural selection to accumulate" (Origin 102). In such transpositions of evolutionary writing into a fictional frame, class and species become coequal. Because of this, variation from the social mean can be presented as natural, while conformity to it can be seen as a sign of insupportable artifice. The rigidity of tradition's suppression of variation in the leisure class is its downfall. Material culture provides class-centered views on social evolution. For instance, the women of the socioeconomic elite take to heart the principle that fashion evolves. Undine's "unworn" dresses "looked old-fashioned already" (CC 35). What is 'best' and 'new' are synonymous to Undine. She is thrilled when de Chelles gives her "glimpses of another, still more brilliant existence, that life of the inaccessible 'Faubourg'" (CC 253). Meanwhile, the old money lives in unchanging fustiness where esteemed women wear "dowdy black and antiquated ornaments" (CC 45). What marks one as fashionable in the socioeconomic elite is the ability to express wealth as "incoherence" (CC 243) unrestricted by tradition. The practices that identify membership in the leisure class, though, straitjacket individuals who believe that progress and change are not equivalent. A s I have shown elsewhere, before Undine discovers that she has allied herself with "the exclusive and the dowdy" (CC 176-177) she believes in an undifferentiated elite distinguished by their display of wealth. Wandering through the rooms o f an art gallery she senses that "the ladies and gentlemen wedged before the pictures had the ' look ' which signified social consecration" (CC 57). In conforming to this ' look, ' members of the Ohler 138 socioeconomic elite symbolize visibility and mutability as properties of their class. Undine's "sparkling eyes" (CC 392), her "high fluting tone" (CC 95), and the fact that a "blotched looking glass [...] could not disfigure her" (CC 219) bestow upon her beauty a primal quality that in contrast to the "plain" women ( C C 45) of the gentry distinguishes her as a biological archetype. In Darwiniana (1897), a work that Preston suggests Wharton read, 1 2 Huxley writes that Atavism ["[rjesemblance to [...] remote ancestors rather than to parents; tendency to reproduce the ancestral type in animals or plants. [.. .]Recurrence of the disease or constitutional symptoms of an ancestor after the intermission of one or more generations" (OED)] [...] is, as I said before, one of the most marked and striking tendencies of organic beings; but side by side with this hereditary tendency there is an equally distinct and remarkable tendency to variation. The tendency to reproduce the original stock has, as it were, its limits, and side by side with it there is a tendency to vary in certain directions, as i f there were two opposing powers working upon the organic being, one tending to take it in a straight line, and the other tending to make it diverge from that straight line, first to one side and then to the other. (398) Atavism is one of Undine's defining traits: " M r . A n d Mrs . Spragg were both given to such long periods of ruminating apathy that the student of inheritance might have wondered whence Undine derived her overflowing activity" (CC 116). Marvell wonders "from what source Undine's voracious ambitions had been drawn" (CC 279). She is the chance regression who causes others to question the source of her "inherited prejudices" (CC 282). Among these prejudices is her attitude that social progress is intertwined with material Ohler 139 accumulation and destructiveness. Undine is in this way linked to social Darwinism, and is cast as a historically primitive type that has returned to define the future of American society. Undine's regressive aspect is one that repels what would acculturate her into the ideals of the leisure class she twice marries into. Her previously documented habit of seeking improvement is one that relies on exploitation, making of progress an end with no ethical restriction on the means used to achieve it. Huxley accepted an interpretation of Darwinism that acknowledged the struggle for existence and the elimination of the unfit. However, the following passage from "Evolution and Ethics" (quoted in part in chapter one) articulates Huxley's qualification of this point, which centers on the notion that humans, as reasoning beings, can take moral action in the face of the struggle for existence. It is a qualification the novel reiterates frequently: There is another fallacy which appears to me to pervade the so-called 'ethics of evolution.' It is the notion that because, on the whole, animals and plants have advanced in perfection of organization by means of the struggle for existence and the consequent 'survival of the fittest'; therefore men in society, men as ethical beings, must look to the same process to help them towards perfection. I suspect that this fallacy has arisen out of the unfortunate ambiguity of the phrase 'survival of the fittest.' 'Fittest' has a connotation of 'best ' ; and about 'best' there hangs a moral flavour. In cosmic nature, however, what is 'fittest' depends upon the conditions. [.. .] i f our hemisphere were to cool again, the survival of the fittest might bring about, in the vegetable kingdom, a population of more and more stunted and humbler and humbler organisms, until the 'fittest' that survived might be nothing but lichens [...] Ohler 140 They, as the fittest, the best adapted to the changed conditions, would survive. ("Evolution and Ethics" 327) In Huxley's view, 'conditions' are the key factor successful adaptation must answer to within cosmic nature. His criticism is reserved for interpretations of social evolution that deny human control over social conditions. Refuting the 'survival of the fittest' in the terms one finds in Wharton's narrative, he provides a position from which to view Undine as a character who is a 'stunted [...] lichen' well adapted to the changed conditions of a modern world that favor such a creature. Because Marvell 's class has not arrested the decay of 'conditions' symbolized by Undine's thriving, the gentry falls within the scope of Wharton's critique. Undine's calculating enactment of the idea that '[fjittest has a connotation of best' damages the people and traditions she comes into contact with, contributing to the erosion of the social order whose material privileges she enjoys. But Wharton's harshness toward the socioeconomic elite is balanced by her criticism of an aristocracy inattentive to 'the changed conditions' Undine capitalizes on. What is extinguished by the forces Undine represents—namely the cultural practices of Ralph Marvell and Raymond de Chelles—has no special claim to endure save for the care with which it was created. The inability of tradition to intervene in its diminution by mass culture and the market has made the leading class vulnerable to the dynamics of a cultural form of natural selection they had thought suppressed. With the old system no longer viable, contingency makes the same short work of leisure-class cultural practices that try to moderate contingency as the dialectic of science makes of "Mrs . Marvell 's classification of the world [...] absolute as medieval cosmogony" ( C C 177). Ohler 141 Ancient, complex, and outdated, Mrs. Marvel l ' s outlook is as vulnerable as the complex of traditions and rites riven by the lichen-like Undine. In a passage that echoes The Custom of the Country's reasoning about the purpose of tradition, and Undine's ignorance of the protections offered by it, Huxley writes: Laws and moral precepts are directed to the end of curbing the cosmic process and reminding the individual of his duty to the community, to the protection and influence of which he [or she] owes, i f not existence itself, at least the life of something better than a brutal savage. It is from neglect of these plain considerations that the fanatical individualism of our time attempts to apply the analogy of cosmic nature to our society. ("Evolution and Ethics" 328) Undine's application of 'the analogy of cosmic nature' displays her own role (Moffatt's is similar) in natural selection within the confines of old New York. Marvel l recognizes this, in the context of a disagreement with Undine over the company she keeps. He perceives her refusal o f his commands as "the perfect functioning of her instinct of self-preservation" (CC 152). Furthermore, her connection to 'cosmic nature,' like Moffatt's, resists linguistic codification, reinforcing the regressive aspect of both characters: "here was someone who spoke her language," she notes of Moffatt, someone "who knew her meanings, who understood instinctively all the deep-seated wants for which her acquired vocabulary had no terms" ( C C 460). She sees society as a part of the natural world, not a mitigation of it. In this view her relation to a moderating tradition is occluded by the violence o f enacted desire present in "the sinister change" that "came over her when her w i l l was crossed" (CC154). Marvel l rebukes her by saying: " Y o u know nothing of this society you're in; of its antecedents, its rules, its conventions" (CC 151). Yet Undine's is not a wil lful disparagement Ohler 142 of the old rules, but an expression of instinct. She is more like Peter Van Degen, who instead of thoughtfully discharging his responsibility as a social leader is presented as a sexually aggressive amphibian with a "Batrachian countenance" (CC 151). The latter is an allusion to his sexual attraction to Undine comprehensible to one with a thoroughgoing knowledge of Darwin's The Descent of Man, for in that work one finds that in nature "the male seems much more eager than the female; and so it is with [...] Batrachians" (200). Van Degen's drives, like Undine's, distinguish him from Marvell , who seems particularly bloodless when Popple "leaned over to give Marvell 's hand the ironic grasp of celibacy" ( C C 99). Marvel l might refer to 'antecedents' and 'rules,' but he does nothing to perpetuate them when he brings Undine into the walled garden of the elite. For her part, Undine works from instinct that transmits no memory of the 'conventions' championed by Marvell . Other scientific works contributed to Wharton's fictional analysis of nature and culture in The Custom of the Country. Her corrective to individualistic enactments of false but influential interpretations of natural selection was founded on sources that shed new light on heredity in nature. Familiarity with R . H . Lock ' s Variation, Heredity and Evolution (1906) gave her insights into a contemporary interpretation of Darwin's work on natural selection and variation that, along with Kellogg's Darwinism Today, presented current thinking on the then inadequately understood medium of heredity. In The Age of Innocence, as I show in the next chapter, rituals of the elite 'tribe' are one medium by which regulative cultural practices are perpetuated. In the novel under consideration here, though, the roles played by factors outside the control o f the leisure class jam their mechanisms of cultural inheritance. Lock ' s work is rich with passages Wharton may have found useful for examining this subject: Ohler 143 the features of every part [of an organism] are aimed at some useful purpose; or i f they are not, then they have been useful in former times and under different circumstances, and are now undergoing a process of gradual removal, because the individuals in which the useless structure is least developed wi l l have the best chance of surviving. (Lock 51) In the sociobiological framework of the novel, Marvel l and his kind are undergoing 'gradual removal,' as I have shown. A s Marvell appreciates the old world as the foundry o f his traditions, so Undine thinks of the European towns she visits with him as "places [that] seem as i f they were dead. It's like some awful cemetery" (CC 144). His 'removal' by suicide is one whose agency lies with the workings of the market, which dissolves his capital when he risks it to regain his son. Wharton's knowledge of Lock ' s work, then, like her knowledge of Huxley's , can be seen as underscoring how the process of natural selection that causes 'the process of gradual removal' in nature also persists in human society. The presence of such processes mandates others created by the aristocratic collective to arrest the unjust removal of individuals like L i l y Bart and Marvel l , who might be seen from one angle as 'useless,' to use Lock ' s term. In contrast to the notion of individual rights suggested by this position, Undine's assumption regarding her success recalls the reasoning of the nineteenth-century sociologist Wi l l i am Graham Sumner, who in the following passage views natural selection as having escaped the effects of social modification: The millionaires are a product of natural selection, acting on the whole body of men to pick out those who can meet the requirements of certain work to be done. [...] They may fairly be regarded as the naturally selected agents of society for certain Ohler 144 work. They get high wages and live in luxury, but the bargain is a good one for society, (qtd. in Hofstadter 58) Undine's actions are predicated on the assumption to be observed in Sumner's statement that natural selection acts freely on 'the whole body of men.' Her self-exemption from social regulation is founded on the belief that adhering to tradition would subject her to a spurious dilution of her w i l l . The novel suggests that the period it chronicles witnesses the fruition of Sumner's statement. It is the effect of Undine's actions on others that is thus given significance: "[i]n all her struggles for authority her sense of the rightfulness of her cause had been measured by her power of making people do as she pleased" (CC 454). Moreover, i f Undine is a 'naturally selected agent' deserving o f the material gains she accumulates as she passes from marriage to marriage, 1 3 the fact remains that what 'the whole body of men' receives in Undine and Sumner's 'bargain' is nought. Wharton's depiction of the effects of ascribing a cultural role to natural selection in the way seen in the passage from Sumner poses the question of how social Darwinism affects the continuity of tradition, social stewardship, and artistic achievement Marvel l ' s class would carry on. A s was the case with Huxley's writing, Wharton's familiarity with Ernst Haeckel's work supplied her with a biological theory suggestive of forms with which to depict the regressive aspect of Undine's combative 'ideology' of natural selection. Hackel 's theories supply a frame that isolates for examination the novel's portrait o f the reappearance in culture of primitive attitudes. The question of whether Wharton was familiar with Haeckel's influential theory of recapitulation is resolved by turning to Kellogg's Darwinism Today. Wharton wrote that she was "deep in Kel logg 's" book in a letter to Sara Norton dated May 29, 1908 (Letters 146). Ohler 145 This occurred during one of the periods in which Wharton wrote The Custom o f the Country (Lewis 228). Kel logg summarizes Haeckel's theory 1 4 as follows: "The species recapitulates in the ontogeny (development) of each of its individuals the course or history o f its phylogeny (descent or evolution). Hence the child corresponds in different periods of its development to the phyletic stages in the descent of man" (Kellogg 21). Paralleling this description, Undine is frozen in her childlike state. She is impulsive, "remote and Ar ie l l ike" (CC 143), and she "wanted [...] amusement [...] despite her surface-sophistication her notion of amusement was hardly less innocent than when she had hung on the plumber's fence" (CC 308). The presentation of her innocence in the text finds her impervious simplicity of purpose and arrested social development to be related; from Marvell 's perspective "she was completely unconscious of states of feeling on which so much of his inner life depended" (CC 194). Represented as being 'unconscious,' Undine has no 'inner life' except for those moments of insight into what must be emulated in order to gain an advantage. In this she represents an American character unsuited by its atavistic appetites to refashioning the incoherence of its history into a social ideal able to contain these energies. To illustrate this, the narrative describes Undine as having come from "a ragged outskirt" ( C C 36) o f a western town. Marvel l wonders of the Spraggs "how long would their virgin innocence last" (CC 84), not realizing that what he interprets as innocence is a regressive primitivism destabilizing of the Byzantine construction of "old-established distinctions of class, its pass-words, exclusions, delicate shades of language and behavior" ( U C W 155). In the garden of New York ' s elite, Undine represents the ethical blankness of the new world asserting itself over old world standards. Her lack of a moral center leaves only instinct. Thus, Undine's wariness of Van Degen is presented as an ability to "go on Ohler 146 eluding and doubling, watching him as he watched her" (CC 201). This resonates with her perception in him of "a hint of the masterful way that had once subdued her in Elmer Moffatt" (CC 258). Undine's attraction, in Moffatt's case, is an attraction to force unmediated by the cultural forms represented by Marvell . A s I have shown elsewhere, Wharton's memoirs relate her excitement at reading Haeckel's work ( B G 94). Turning to the original passage in Haeckel that Kel logg discusses, one finds the former's account to be equally suggestive for Wharton's biologically informed fictional interpretation of social history: the series of forms through which the individual organism passes during its development from the ovum to the complete bodily structure is a brief, condensed repetition of the long series of forms which the animal ancestors of the said organism, or the ancestral forms of the species, have passed through from the earliest period of organic life down to the present day. (255) Wharton knew of Mendelism (Letters 146, 151) and evidently understood its premise that "discrete bodies (now called genes) control the inheritance of any particular character and that these are inherited in accordance with certain simple laws" (O.E.D. 662). Allusions to heredity that recall Haeckel's and Mendel 's work surface in the narrative's account of how markers of class are passed on from one generation to the next. In The Custom of the Country, Bowen admires De Chelles as "a charming specimen of the Frenchman of his class" (CC 245); Marvell thinks Moffatt a "good specimen of the one of the few picturesque types we've got" (CC 195). The traits that define these 'specimens' arise from a typically Whartonian mix of biological and social origins. Being a specimen of a particular class means conforming, as I have shown, to a particular class Ohler 147 ideology. Yet the fact that the text frames individuals as specimens invokes biological allegory as a potential factor in such descriptions. In bringing together ideology and biology to describe class species between which there is an "abyss of difference" ( C C 337) too deep for reconciliation, 1 5 the text suggests two ways in which the individual is defined by his or her environment. However, as is the case elsewhere in the novel, these registers o f influence run together in the name of the novel's broader aim of showing that nature and culture should not be thought of by the leisure class as separate phenomena. 1 6 Wharton's portrait of Undine's regressive nature capitalizes on the theory o f recapitulation to represent in her progress the historical development o f a country. Recapitulation, outlined in the quotation from Haeckel, deals with the relation between ontogeny, which is the science of the development of the individual human organism, and phylogeny. Phylogeny is "the science of the evolution of the various animal forms from which the human organism has developed" (Haeckel 255). In drawing Undine thus, the author fuses to the evolution of the society that has spawned Undine the protagonist's individual development. Gi l l ian Beer demonstrates the interest in ontogeny and phylogeny during the nineteenth century in a way that has facilitated this study's detection of links between Haeckel's theories and The Custom of the Country: The new question formulated [...] by the contemplation of transformation and metamorphosis was this: can transformations within the individual life cycle (ontogeny) act as a valid model for species mutation (phylogeny)? A n d as a subsidiary question, do we see the phases of evolutionary process recapitulated in the individual organism. [...] The embryo was held to recapitulate (or condense) the Ohler 148 development of the species to which it belonged. It seemingly offered, therefore, visual and experimental evidence for earlier phases of evolutionary development. (Darwin's Plots 9$) The narrative reframes these questions in the context of social evolution distinguished by ideological shifts. Wharton's chronicling of Undine's career, particularly the character's transformation from eager ingenue to savvy aggressor, thus charts America's progress toward empire by articulating how Undine's primitive energies drive the particular brand of 'progress' valued by her. The novel illustrates, too, that 'the phases of evolutionary process recapitulated in the individual organism,' as Undine undergoes her formative experiences, 'condense the development' of the species Bowen calls "homo-sapiens Americanus" ( C C 188) and in this way visibly stage American social transformation. M u c h textual evidence supports this hypothesis. Undine begins the novel as a young woman convinced that the socioeconomic elite is corrupt: "[a]s her imagination developed the details of the Van Degen dining room it became clear to her that fashionable society was horribly immoral" (CC 69). While she rebukes 'fashionable society' for a time, she soon becomes its exemplar, and finds herself competing with, and ultimately weakening, Marvel l ' s "inherited notion of 'straightness'" (CC 273). In the text's depiction of this transition, Undine illustrates a dialectical process of social evolution. This suggests to the reader that Undine's optimistic definition of progress is not the linear fulfillment of attaining "the best" (CC 60), nor the promise of something "still better beyond" ( C C 62) she believes it to be. Undine's stunted social self is a manifestation of an earlier state of the 'evolutionary process' experienced by American culture. It is a regression that is predicted for the whole Ohler 149 species by Undine's success, one that exhibits again the narrative's skepticism toward the kind of progress its protagonist embraces. Her immaturity is a trait prominent in the narrative's representation of her arrested evolutionary state. She is bewildered by the "eliminations and abbreviations" (CC 48) of leisure-class discourse. But despite this, Undine's striving, emulative tendency, evident in the fact that "a l l she sought for was improvement" (CC 60), indicates her own sense that "ampler vistas" (CC 64) await her. In sensing a wider horizon that w i l l mean 'improvement' for her, Undine echoes an optimistic turn-of-the-century American attitude to the frontier. But rather than push westward with migration and expanding civilization, she moves east against the grain of Manifest Destiny. In doing so, Undine embodies an authorial refutation of a narrow and optimistic progressivism apparent in Wharton's comment that "the conditions of modern life in America, so far from being productive of great arguments, seem almost purposely contrived to eliminate them" ( U C W 153). The push westward strains the capacity of an already diminished leisure-class cultural heritage to impart itself to the distant Undine in Apex City. Mass culture, however, and its ability to shrink distance through modern methods of distribution, grabs the opportunity. This new form of acculturation contributes to Undine's replacement of Marvel l as 'Homo Sapiens Americanus' by making her its agent. She is a reiteration of a past phase in the social evolution of her country characterized by rapacious expansionism. "[T]he pioneer blood in Undine would not let her rest" (CC 64), and her pioneering spirit lays waste to the social ground she settles. One element of the value system held by Marvel l and de Chelles pressured by the regressive Undine is the conceit of cultural continuity. While tradition is passed down Ohler 150 through the generations of Dagonets, Rays and Fairfords, and de Chelles, its mutability is downplayed. Marvell 's denial of the triumph of money over taste exemplifies this; he wants to save Undine from "Van Degen and Van Degenism" (CC 85) without realizing that she is its prime exponent. He also hopes to "implant in Paul [his son] some of the reserves and discriminations which divided that tradition from the new spirit o f limitless concession" (CC 269) despite the fact that the new spirit has already dissipated the traditional symbol of continuity, the family, by allowing divorce. 'Chelles ' uses arguments "drawn from accumulations of hereditary experience" (CC 428) in his attempt to counter Undine's wish that they live a more regal life. His "plea," however, is "unintelligible to her" ( C C 428). A model for living that defers to the goals of community rather than the individual is to Undine unintelligible. Wharton's locking together of the cultural and the natural is the cornerstone o f her attempt to create an unassailable foundation for her valuation of a social ideal of interdependence neither class fulfills in The Custom of the Country, for neither group considers the connectedness of these two phenomena. This approach predicts the premise of "gene-culture coevolution" (Wilson 136) that would suggest the existence of a "basic unit of culture—now called meme" (Wilson 136) related in its function in the social collective to the role of the gene in biology. One question this raises, however, is whether in being set against social evolution by the leisure class this traditional ideological 'unit' is overmatched by contingency. Tradition has mystic beginnings to Marvell and de Chelles. Undine notes it too, finding it to be concentrated in the "spell" that "seemed to emanate from the old house which had so long been the custodian of an unbroken tradition" (CC 445). But leisure-class Ohler 151 characters find that tradition, irrevocably altered by Undine, manifests the same randomness it is set against. Despite its seeming immutability, that unnamable 'spell ' is an ideological conceit that conceals and is placed in opposition to natural law's bedrock algorithms, or 1 7 physical properties. Indeed, social evolution is the process that brought provisional order to the leisure class initially, but this is a fact that has not been thoroughly appreciated by either Marvell or Charles Bowen. Undine successfully dissipates the 'spell ' o f the gentry's interpretation of tradition that imagines it as an unchanging and stabilizing force. Moreover, in so doing she illustrates that the main characteristic of social evolution is flux. Ideology is friable, as the custodians are beginning to comprehend when they sight "the social disintegration expressed by widely-different architectural physiognomies at the other end of Fifth Avenue" (CC 77) where the new money lives. The self-involvement of both the leisure class and the socioeconomic elite projects no authoritative sphere of cultural protection against chance; mitigation of nature is despoiled by variability and regression. Cultural movement toward a complexity that seems like progress is countered by the unforeseeable result in The Custom of the Country: Marvel l ' s intoxication with Undine results in his suicide; her own distaste for the socioeconomic elite is reversed and she arrives at the pinnacle of new money 'culture' through her remarriage to Moffatt. In a novel that the author considered a "chronicle" ( B G 182), and a "magnum opus" (Letters 240), the effect on Marvell of this reversal to accepted thinking documents the erosion by a competing ideology of continuity rooted in architecture, refined self-consciousness, and a separation of public and private selves dashed by the "divorce-suit" that is "a vulgar and unnecessary way of taking the public into one's confidence" ( C C 282). Ohler 152 IV. "[S]wept from the zenith like a pinch of dust" (CC 294) In The Decoration of Houses (1897) Wharton observes how "[f]he survival of obsolete customs which makes the study o f sociology so interesting, has its parallel in the history of architecture" (5). In comparing European and American society, Ralph Marvel l engages in social commentary using architectural terms that contrast the single-minded pursuit of financial gain he finds in New York with a code of conduct that "the very lines of the furniture in the old Dagonet house expressed" (CC 77). Marvell goes on to define the 'society' fostered by the attitude of the new tycoons in terms of the palaces in which they live: what Popple called society was really just like the houses it lived in: a muddle of misapplied ornament over a thin steel shell o f utility. The steel shell was built up in Wal l Street, the social trimmings were hastily added in Fifth Avenue; and the union between them was as monstrous and factitious, as unlike the gradual homogenous growth which flowers into what other countries know as society, as that between the Blois gargoyles on Peter Van Degen's [New York] roof and the skeleton walls supporting them. (CC 77) The appropriation of leisure-class forms by the new rich results in an incoherent assemblage of symbols gathered from other classes and countries. In being 'monstrous,' V a n Degen's 'misapplied ornament' recalls the random combination of traits familiar from Darwin's comment on the presence of variation within species. But the narrative values negatively the forms Van Degen creates. Described from Marvel l ' s perspective, the union between Wal l Street and Fifth Avenue displayed in the new architecture objectifies the colonization o f leisure-class forms by the unpredictable dynamics of nature. Ohler 153 Historically shortsighted in its ignorance of the value of continuity, the socioeconomic elite sunders the "intrinsic lightness" (CC 77) of leisure-class architecture through the creation of new combinations of its parts. Marvell sees "his mother and M r . Urban Dagonet [...] so closely identified with the old house in Washington Square that they might have passed for its inner consciousness as it might have stood for their outward form" ( C C 77). N o distance exists between the ideas intrinsic to 'the gradual homogenous growth' of their society and the forms that express them in Marvell 's mind. A new money attitude toward tradition is manifest, too, in borrowings of "locution" (CC 92) or "vocabulary" (CC 46) from the leisure class, which Undine has yet to master when she plainly exclaims "I don't care i f I do" and "I wouldn't wonder" (CC 46) at a dinner part held by the refined Mrs . Fairford. But Marvell , who might be more guarded in his attraction to a woman with such obvious "inherited prejudices" recalls ruefully that he "had thought Undine's speech fresh and natural" (CC 282). N e w projections of class status compete with Marvell 's standards by hybridizing leisure-class symbols. Undine's set constructs its own 'outward form' by reordering the symbolic system of establishment New York. Appropriating signifiers such as the 'B lo i s gargoyles' and the 'o ld lines' of the Dagonet furniture, this forced change o f context is acquisitive and competitive. A new force on the social Serengeti intersects with Marvel l ' s life when he becomes extricated in mass culture and the market. These are the very forces that model the bricolage of recombined forms for those, like Van Degen, resigning their hereditary membership in an old elite and eschewing 'obsolete customs.' 1 8 Marvel l ' s experiences with these elements of a new America are far different than Undine's. Ohler 154 "Inheriting an old social order," Wharton writes, "which provided for nicely shaded degrees of culture and conduct, modern America has simplified and Taylorized it out o f existence" ( U C W 154). Mass culture and industry have regularized a life of efficiencies, according to this view. This violates an old ideal of interdependent classes undone by the industrialist's dehumanizing emphasis on productivity, and the newspaper's selective, profit driven pastiche of the significant. 1 9 Despite the nostalgia that tinges Wharton's statement about 'shaded degrees of culture and conduct,' The Custom of the Country judges harshly the contemporary exemplars of the 'o ld social order' because Ralph Marvell 's class has lost its ability to lead in a haze of leisure disconnected from the task of mitigating the changes that ' V a n Degenism' brings. Wharton wrote that leisure, "itself the creation of wealth, is incessantly engaged in transmuting wealth into beauty by secreting the surplus energy which flowers in great architecture, great painting, and great literature" ( U C W 156). But Marvel l is a failure as an artist, despite his leisure. He is an aesthete who mistakes the predatory Undine for a maiden. Although she exploits him, he "seemed to see her like a lovely rock-bound Andromeda" (CC 86). He is artistically impotent, finding a question about his writing "distasteful to h im" ( C C 283), and is irrelevant as a social actor in the new order. He can ponder "the thought o f his projected book" (CC 146), but can't overcome his creative inertia, thus symbolizing a leisure class that has lost sight of a responsibility to convert 'surplus' wealth into socially beneficial art capable of accommodating cultural complexity and change. To understand the effects on Marvell o f the appropriation of cultural forms it is necessary to define the romantic system of ideas that guide him. Marvel l is named after the metaphysical poet, and his perspective on Undine is controlled by a system of ideas that Ohler 155 resembles certain aspects of Wordsworth's initial Preface to "Lyr ica l Ballads." This system of ideas focuses Marvell 's attention on his feelings, causes him to look for artistic inspiration outside his environment, and facilitates an impressionistic viewpoint that makes little distinction between the reality of what he observes, and how his imagination transforms reality. Class ideology has become a class poetic in his mind. The artistic result of leisure, one that can bind the collective together, is now the end purpose of those like Marvel l forgetful of the responsibility attached to privilege. Marvel l , exhibiting his place in society by engaging in 'work' that fulfills only a class-defined role that demands idleness, looks for mundane subject matter to elevate poetically. He sees himself as an artist—"I'll write, I ' l l write" (CC 142), but for him, artists don't weave experience into cash. His unfinished critical and literary efforts—'"The Rhythmical Structures o f Walt 9 1 Whitman' [...] 'The Banished G o d ' " (CC 81) possess titles contrived with avoidance o f the marketplace in mind, and signify in the former case his interest in form, and not those underlying truths which manners, and Whitman's poetry—in the way poetic line can reflect the human breath—might represent. Wharton's preparatory comments for her own study of Whitman suggest what Marvell might have learned from the poet: "his characterization of natural objects is extraordinarily suggestive; he sees through the layers o f the conventional point of view and of the conventional adjective straight to the thing itself, and not only to the thing itself, but to the endless thread connecting it to the universe" (qtd.' in Janet Beer, Edith Wharton 82-83). On his honeymoon with Undine in Italy, though, Marvel l can only look at Undine's hands and think that he "had never felt more convinced of his power to write a poem" (CC 135). Although alert to such situations in which a "spontaneous overflow of Ohler 156 powerful feelings" (Wordsworth 163-164) might occur, he remains powerless to articulate them in a public way. In commenting on the line "She neither hears nor sees" in Wordworth's " L u c y " poem " A Slumber D i d M y Spirit Seal," Wharton wrote that it is "the result of a great deal of writing, of a long & expert process of elimination, selection, concentration of idea and expression" (Letters 106). Marvell does not possess such a focused critical faculty, and his aesthetic, though it may be Wordsworthian, blurs his artistic subjects, rather than focuses them. Whereas he is "not blind to her [Undine's] crudity and limitations" he views these attributes as "part of her grace and her persuasion" (CC 85), demonstrating that his powers of 'elimination, selection, concentration of idea' are insufficient to discern and represent Undine's defining traits. His concentration on her 'grace' is evidence of his wish to "throw over [Undine] [...] a certain coloring o f imagination" (Wordsworth 162) that in the hands o f a Wordsworth might present a unified portrait o f the "nereid-like" (CC 137) 2 3 protagonist. The aridity of the life bestowed upon him by his class, a life in which he is expected to "go to Columbia or Harvard, read law, and then lapse into more or less cultivated inaction" (CC 79), forces him to seek, under cover of literary interests, the " low and rustic" in which the "essential passions of [his] heart [...] are under less restraint" (Wordsworth 162-63). A n d while Undine is ' low and rustic' in the sense of her class and geographical origins, the 'coloring of imagination' required to perceive her as Marvell does reinterprets Undine's hard clarity, which is hyper-real in its defiance of impressionism: "she paused before the blotched looking-glass [...]. Even that defective surface could not disfigure her" ( C C 219). Marvel l ' s romantic ideas guide his perception of Undine, but unconstrained forces in the guise o f Wal l Street's unpredictable cycles of boom and bust soon singe his ties to the books that mediate Ohler 157 his vision of the protagonist. A s a result "the whole archaic structure of his rites and sanctions tumbled down about h im" (CC 405). Marvel l ' s feelings toward Undine are guided by an aestheticism characterized by a broken connection between art and the wider social causes that, according to the text, it should serve. His concern is with the immediate impression that fulfills his valuation of surface beauty divorced from the political role of art that might promote a 'structure of rites and sanctions.' This outlook prompts him to see in Undine's physicality "mystic depths whence his passion sprang, [where] earthly dimensions were ignored and the curve o f beauty was boundless enough to hold whatever the imagination could pour into it" ( C C 135). To reinforce the need for an informed artistic consciousness able to connect aesthetics and ideology, the narrative depicts Undine's reaction to one of Marvel l ' s frequent comparisons between her and an unnamed mythological beauty. During this sequence, she lets one of his obscure remarks "drop into the store o f unexplained references which had once stimulated her curiosity but now merely gave her leisure to think of other things" (CC 137), demonstrating that his "allusions to pictures and books" ( C C 46) do not carry forward the 'old social order.' The cost of Marvell 's failure is, as a member of his vanishing breed puts it, that Undine is "marrying into our aristocracy" ( C C 86). Her subsequent penetration of the leisure-class cultural genome finds her "astray in a new labyrinth of social distinction" (CC 94) that she wi l l wreck rather than attempt to refine. O f course, Marvell 's remoteness from the political task of ameliorating social change has a personal cost as well . After Undine leaves Marvell to pursue Peter V a n Degen, Marvel l travels alone to the Adirondacks for a vacation. Leisure may be his, but he has a dawning sense that his structured existence is but a meadow of order in a forest of chaos: Ohler 158 "[n]ow and then he got into the canoe and paddled himself through a winding chain of ponds [...] and watched the great clouds form and dissolve themselves above his head" ( C C 294). The random permutations o f the clouds mark an end to his unconsciousness o f nature's contingent state in a moment when "[a]ll his past seemed to be symbolized by the building up and breaking down of those fluctuating shapes, which incalculable wind-currents perpetually shifted and remodeled or swept from the zenith like a pinch of dust" ( C C 294). Marvel l ' s pastoral meditation foreshadows his encounter with mass culture and the market, which teaches him of social evolution. Mass culture intersects with Marvell 's settled opinions when the tabloids take an interest in his divorce. For a man whose romantic idealism has previously caused him to take pleasure in elevating the ' low, ' "nothing that had gone before seemed as humiliating as this [the newspaper's] trivial comment on his tragedy"(CC 300). He finds being read by mass culture distressing. Ironically, what the imagination of the press does with Marvel l ' s divorce approximates Marvel l ' s own impressionistic rendering o f Undine. His elevation of her through marriage, and an education in the ways of his class, had been acts indicative of his attitude toward tradition as something that can be benignly spread, for the "task of opening new windows in her mind was inspiring enough to give him infinite patience" ( C C 139-140). Similarly, Newland Archer in The Age of Innocence feels, when contemplating M a y Welland, that it "would presently be his task to take the bandage from this young woman's eyes" ( A l 81). It is the blindness of both characters to what has defined them that is at issue in their respective narratives, however. Marvel l imagines that "the devouring monster Society careering up to make a mouthful of her" warrants his intervention; to this end he pictures "himself wheeling down Ohler 159 on his winged horse [...] to cut her bonds, snatch her up, and whirl her back into the blue" (CC 86). But it is he who wi l l be devoured. Elevating her, whether by raising her into the sky in his daydream, idealizing her in poetry, or by lifting her up to his class, are actions that address a sense of class responsibility rendered irrelevant by her modernity and its association with the press and the market. Rather than being a potential victim of society, Undine approaches differences between herself and members of the leisure class in the spirit of competition. She knows that "[t]heir ideas are all different from ours" ( C C 215). When Marvell becomes the subject of mass culture's imagination it is as i f Undine's aggressiveness is externalized in its forms. Marvel l ' s tradition competes with the economically unpredictable, market-driven actions of buying and renewing espoused in the Sunday papers. The genetic material of ideology that w i l l reproduce itself in the consciousness of mass culture's consumers is at odds with the principles of his type. These are, as I have shown, configured by Wharton as 'inherited obligations' that create a 'sense of solidarity between classes.' The narrative's presentation o f the scene in which Marvell discovers that his divorce has become a news item is insightful about the novel's view of the way mass culture erodes leisure-class standards regarding the subordination of public persona to "the slow strong current [of tradition] already fed by so many tributary lives" ( C C 445). Upon seeing the story of Undine's divorce suit against him "the blood rushed to Ralph's forehead as he looked over the man's arm and read: 'Society Leader Gets Decree,' and beneath it the subordinate clause: 'Says Husband Too Absorbed In Business To Make Home Happy'" (CC 300). The irony is that Marvel l is a failure in business; Abner Spragg wonders, "wasn't he ever taught to work?" ( C C 118). The headline cites the standard reason Ohler 160 of abandonment given for divorce (preserving a measure of his dignity) even though it is untrue in Marvel l ' s case. In fact, Undine has left him and their son to travel to take advantage o f the "Dakota divorce-court" (CC 318), and its lenient residency requirement. When his eye is caught "by his own name on the first page of this heavily headlined paper which the unshaved occupant of the next seat held between grimy fists" ( C C 300) the novel associates a belief in the validity o f mass culture as an objective representation o f social reality with this working-class reader. He represents the wider populace to whom Marvel l ' s stratum has leadership obligations. But proximity to this man magnifies Marvel l ' s unease, for the 'poet' has lost contact with the lower depths and the responsibilities that would connect their situations. His condescension toward this lost ideal is clear enough when he selfishly thinks the story a "trivial comment on his tragedy" (CC 300), showing as a facile result o f his romantic poetic his desire to elevate the low. Marvell 's reaction indicates the uniqueness he assigns to his divorce, despite the ready-made attitudes toward this activity in the newspaper which indicate how common divorce has become. The aspiring literary artist sees his private failure transmuted into the gold o f a saleable narrative by the tabloids. He suffers the dispersal of his previously stable association of private, leisure-class literary 'work' with his heightened sensitivity to his innermost thoughts. The marketplace has a use for his experience, even i f he can only engage in desultory attempts to create literature. A s a result of his discomfort, he blushes as he feels "the coarse fingering o f public curiosity" fumbling at "the secret places of his soul" (CC 300). N o longer in control o f self-representation, Marvell begins to understand that his desire to be an artist is an aspiration mediated by his class membership. The perennial lack of fulfillment of his literary goals indicates that what he takes to be his vocation is in actuality a Ohler 161 fulfillment of ideological suggestion patterning his failure as an artist. Veblen describes this kind of leisure-class 'work' when he writes: The criteria o f a past performance o f leisure therefore commonly take the form o f 'immaterial' goods. Such immaterial evidences of past leisure are quasi-scholarly or quasi-artistic accomplishments and a knowledge of processes and incidents which do not conduce directly to the furtherance of human life. (34-35) Veblen's statement is useful because it indicates a similarity between the interests of the prominent sociologist and Wharton's representation of particular class traits. While similar in sharing a common subject, however, Wharton's chronicle examines the effects on the communal social project of the "Veblenesque socioeconomics" that in part anchors the "primitivism of Undine's character" (Ammons 105), thus qualifying her text as one situated against the social Darwinism that colors Veblen's best known work. This aspect of The Theory of the Leisure Class, one alluded to in chapter one's quotation of Veblen's statement that "[t]he evolution of the social structure has been a process of natural selection of institutions" (147), reminds one of the pervasiveness of the view that natural selection operates without hindrance in the social sphere. Fiction emerges as a potent discourse that can array these perspectives in Wharton's novel. The significance of Marvel l ' s desire to be a writer lies in the way this desire is alienated by 'the performance of leisure' he mistakes for the writer's life, and which is nebulously expressed in borrowings from a romantic poetic. His wish to make art, while once a real function of his class, is no longer required to create "that impalpable dust o f ideas which is the real culture" ( U C W 156). The tabloids obviate the finer observations a discerning sensibility would fashion into literature. Ohler 162 He should have negotiated royalties for the use of his story, but Marvel l is no Undine. Wharton describes the way news of his divorce circulates: "The paragraph continued on its way through the press, and whenever he took up a newspaper he seemed to come upon it, slightly modified, variously developed, but always reverting with a kind of unctuous irony to his financial preoccupations and his wife's consequent loneliness" (CC 300). The falsehood that Marvel l has driven Undine to divorce him is also used in a magazine contest. Marvel l discovers a story that reports that he has isolated Undine by being engrossed in business, a possibility that is unlikely, for he has "an inability to get a mental grasp on large financial problems" (CC 231). He finds his story " i n a Family Weekly, as one of the 'Heart Problems' propounded to subscribers, with a Gramophone, a straight-front corset and a Vanity-Box among the prizes offered for its solution" (CC 300). Such misinterpretation connects his story with the anxiety over the way the marketplace distorts facts present in "The Descent of Man." Marvell 's tale, by being printed in a mass-market magazine, recasts his sanctified private world in terms of a commodity. The misleading story is "served as a text for pulpit denunciations of the growing craze for wealth" (CC 300). Fiction in the guise of fact thus elicits an institutional response addressed to a phantom generated by the tabloids. A s social authority is distracted by a non-reality, the unchecked problem of the tabloid's emplacement of a lens for viewing the social whole elides the greater culture stewarded by the declining American gentry. Marvel l exemplifies Huxley's description of a society in which "The garden was apt to turn into a hothouse. The stimulation of the senses, the pampering of the emotions, endlessly multiplied the sources of pleasure" ("Evolution and Ethics" 313). But Marvel l is a vestigial remnant of the old world unaware, until the events that lead to his suicide, that Ohler 163 beyond the misted opacity of his glass-walled world lurk the conditions that required its creation. His conceptualization of self is in lock step with a class training whose faithfulness to an original ideological form is degraded by mutation. When he realizes he can't reckon with the events of his life in any frame other than that handed down to him, the flaw of his tradition as a medium of cultural heredity appears to him: He had been eloquent enough, in his free youth, against the conventions of his class; yet when the moment came [...] deflecting his course like some hidden hereditary failing. [...] his great disaster had been conventionalized and sentimentalized by this inherited attitude: that the thoughts he had about it were only those of generations of Dagonets, and that there had been nothing real and his own in his life but the foolish passion he had been trying so hard to think out of existence. (CC 378-379) He sees nature in the guise of 'passion' as both real and 'foolish,' again suggesting his inculcation into a code that distances unmanageable instinct. The real eludes Marvel l at the same time the press strikes down his ready-made identity. The second aspect of Wharton's portrait of Marvell 's encounter with contingency focuses on his dealings with the stock market. He is member o f a class destined for extinction. He is shown, within the narrative's network of evolutionary metaphor, to be a vestigial "survival, and destined, as such, to go down in any conflict with the rising forces" (CC 249). The market dissolves boundaries between the leisured and the socioeconomic elite, obliterating the class-consciousness that forms the foundation of Marvel l ' s viewpoint. He sees the signs, reflecting thus on the modern version of marriage: "The daughters o f his own race sold themselves to the invaders; [...] it all ought to have been transacted on the stock Ohler 164 exchange" (CC 81). He has traded on his social status to gain Undine's hand, marrying a woman who w i l l , ironically, cause the final act of their union to play out on Wal l Street. The market is a primary feature of men's lives in the novel, even for those members of the leisure class, like Marvell , previously insulated from its demands by a steady income that required no labor save for an appreciation of beauty: "he should live ' l ike a gentleman'—that is, with a tranquil disdain for mere money-getting, a passive openness to the finer sensations" (CC 78). Sti l l , the ability of the market to pull social mechanisms into its sphere is well illustrated by Marvell 's experience. His perception that his fine feelings are insulated from economic matters is undone when he discovers that the free-spending Undine requires capital. Her sole custody of their son Paul, as has been shown, provides her with an avenue by which to raise it. Marvell 's experience with the market comes to a crisis point when he is faced with the task of raising enough money to pay Undine "to admit that it was for her son's advantage to remain with his father" (CC 388). The protagonist's act further distances her from the tradition of close-knit bonds between family members because she has wanted, in fact, nothing to do with her son. Marvell needs to make the required sum through a "quick turn" on the stock market so he consults the "speculator" (CC 389) Elmer Moffatt. Marvel l has trouble focusing on Moffatt's "intricate concert of facts and figures" (CC 391) for he is only able to think of his son: "when I pick him up to-night he ' l l be mine for good!" ( C C 391). Perhaps no other scene in the novel so succinctly juxtaposes the calculating rationality of the market and its chaotic effects with the humanistic traits Wharton sees such objectivity as diminishing. Ironically, Marvell 's humane sensibility here seeks shelter in the shadow of what has heretofore been represented in the novel as a dangerous form of capitalism free from modulation by social constraints. Ohler 165 After learning from Moffatt that the investment has failed, Ralph sees the market with a gritty realism at odds with his usual languid and self-centered habits of perception. He stands "at the corner of Wal l Street, looking up and down its hot summer perspective. He noticed the swirls of dust in the cracks of the pavement, the rubbish in the gutters" ( C C 406) for the first time. His loss makes him see the world beyond the garden of his class from a fresh perspective. Having chanced his capital in an attempt to gain custody of his son, he becomes a pauper. But he ultimately realizes that what he has viewed as his authentic self relies on capital that must work in the marketplace. This makes his way of life complicit with the institution he had thought at arms length. It is an insight that leaves him, as his work does when he is forced to seek employment, "possessed of a leisure as bare and as blank as an unfurnished house" (CC 368). Deprived now of the illusions proffered by a justificatory leisure-class ideology, he recognizes that his artistic pursuits have no redeeming social purpose. Ohler 166 Chapter Four Newland Archer's 'Hieroglyphic World' I. "twice removed from reality" ( U C W 107) Claire Preston has focused critical attention on Wharton's knowledge of evolution, biology and sociology, and related this knowledge to the "social and genetic groupings" (54) found in the novels examined in this study. Preston discusses how Wharton's analysis of human interaction and of the society of Old New York has an almost clinical precision about it, as i f she herself were one of the biologists she admired; in other moods she is the investigating anthropologist describing the folkways of a backward and aboriginal people. Wharton's sociobiological frame o f reference predicts modern social analysis, which has made precisely this useful analogy between evolution/selection theory and social development, treating the macro-social structure as 'a selection environment.' (Preston 54-55).1 To this point, I have built on Preston's important claim. M y examination of The House of Mir th , for example, depicts the ill-adapted L i l y ' s demise in the 'selection environment' o f that novel. M y focus thus far, however, has been on discerning the effects of Wharton's deformation of scientific concepts resulting from each novel's analogical treatment of 'evolution/selection theory and social development.' Doing so has allowed me to illustrate how this process contributes to Wharton's social criticism. Wharton's use of the analogy Preston articulates is also evident in The Custom of the Country's chronicling of Undine Spragg's rise. I demonstrated in the previous chapter how changes to the 'selection environment' wrought by mass culture and contemporary capitalism result in a contest between systems of ideas that undergird particular subspecies o f the New Ohler 167 York elite. In The Age of Innocence, Newland Archer attempts to make sense of his social environment, which has yet to evolve into the battlefield occupied by openly oppositional ideologies portrayed in The Custom of the Country. Archer's tale is marked by his ambivalence toward social mechanisms that vitiate identity, whereas Undine Spragg embraces them. His ambivalence is evidenced by a questioning o f "the elaborate futility o f his life" ( A l 125) that causes him to feel that he is "being buried alive under his future" ( A l 139), and his interrogation of a "traditional" world that causes him to wonder at "what age 'nice' women [like his fiance May Welland] began to speak for themselves" ( A l 81). Despite his insights, and his mixed feelings, Archer's consciousness is, nevertheless, severely limited by his class identity, which stands in contrast to the more comprehensive vision of links between the social and the natural articulated by the framing narrative.2 These two issues are the main concern of this chapter. This section of the chapter examines Wharton's refinement in The Age of Innocence o f a fictional approach that through biological allegory suppresses differences between the natural and the social. Section two relates this approach to Archer's aesthetic perspective, one formed by the artistic and scientific works he comes into contact with. These works disrupt his capacity to react to Ellen Olenska's "bodily presence" ( A l 243). Disruption of this sort, I show, is one symptom of a cultural distancing of nature the novel represents. In a broader sense, I continue to investigate links between Wharton's scientifically-influenced fictional method and her socially critical engagement with old New York, but focus on gradations of objectivity personified in the novel's characters, and displayed in the overarching narrative. This attribute of the novel is noteworthy because differences in perceptiveness between Newland Archer and the wider field o f vision that tells the story, in Ohler 168 which the problematically transparent ideology of his class is embedded,3 indicates the presence of multiple 'objective' perspectives. To cite one example, Wharton's analogy 'between evolution/selection theory and social development' facilitates her depiction of language as a carrier o f ideology, which appears in the text as a 'genetic' means of cultural reproduction. I examine this subject in detail in section three. This is one area of fictional analysis that distinguishes the framing narrative from the point-of-view of Newland Archer, who, while suspecting that rites, rituals, manners, and language narrow his experience, cannot create anew his consciousness, which they have molded. Section four of this chapter examines further how social form underwrites Archer's consciousness. In doing so I investigate the protagonist's superficial learning to demonstrate how class doctrine makes it difficult for Archer to perceive the real conditions of his life. Section five concludes the chapter by applying these arguments to the final sequence o f the novel. Archer's sense that there exists something beyond his lawyerly life is confirmed at many points in the narrative. In one episode he meets "Dr. Agathon Carver, founder of the Valley of Love community" ( A l 157) at Ellen Olenska's house. Carver, whose strange garments inspire Archer's "curiosity" ( A l 155), gestures in a way that makes him appear to Archer as i f he "were distributing lay blessings to a kneeling multitude" ( A l 156). Indeed, Carver does have something to say, but Archer won't hear the message. Ned Winsett asks Carver i f there is time to explain to Archer the "illuminating discovery o f the Direct Contact" ( A l 158), but the visionary must rush to deliver a lecture. Carver's phrase invokes Whitman, of whom Wharton wrote, "[h]e has the direct vision" (qtd. in Janet Beer, Edith Wharton 82-83). Wondering whether "this young gentleman is interested in my experiences" ( A l 158), Ohler 169 the leader of the 'Val ley of Love ' presents an opportunity to Archer to experience that which lies beyond the boundaries of the "life-in-death" ( A l 52) he and his tribe lead. Archer's understanding of his 'instinctive' behavior is severed from the meaning the term has in the context of biology because it has been reformulated in the context of social practices to be perceived by him as "the conventions on which his life was moulded" ( A l 5). The novel portrays Archer as a man cognizant of coercive, class-based rules and rituals yet unable to free himself from their effects. Despite his frustration at this prospect, opulent signs of wealth charge his sense of identity, and compensate for his resentment of the system: There was something about the luxury of the Welland house and the density of the Welland atmosphere, so charged with minute observances and exactions, that always stole into his system like a narcotic. The heavy carpets, the watchful servants, the perpetually reminding tick of the disciplined clocks [...] the whole chain o f tyrannical trifles binding one hour to the next, and each member of the household to all the others, made any less systematized and affluent existence seem unreal and precarious. (AI218) Archer's frequent disavowals of the anesthetizing effect of this atmospheric 'narcotic' point out that the social surface is an elaborate fiction. It is a fiction, though, that is taken to be the whole of reality by M a y Welland. Althoughthe effect on him of his father-in-law's house may quiet his perceptions, Archer, at his most sensitive, responds to 'tyrannical trifles' with dread: " 'Dar l ing! ' Archer said—and suddenly the same black abyss yawned before him and he was sinking into it [...] while his voice rambled on smoothly and cheerfully" ( A l 187). In his chilled heart, Archer harbors hope that his marriage to May might skirt convention, but "[t]here was no use in trying to Ohler 170 emancipate a wife who had not the dimmest notion that she was not free" ( A l 195). Because Archer is the primary reflecting consciousness in the narrative, it is easy to take his negative evaluation of May unflinchingly. Wharton, however, shows May ' s wisdom to be the intelligence of the social collective. That Archer's previously blinkered perceptions are changing is clear from his ability to discern that M a y Welland in "making the answers that instinct and tradition had taught her to make" might, i f she were to see things as they were, "only look out blankly at blankness" ( A l 82). His musing supposes that May ' s faculties are defined by her socialization. Although his dilettantish study of anthropology ( A l 67) obscures the biological essence of himself and others, Archer's interest in the discipline at least prods him out of a paradigm that he has taken for granted by alerting him to the significance of social forms. The use of these forms continually repels alternatives to convention, such as the ideas of Dr. Carver. Archer notes this too, thinking that "we all are [...] old maids" when so much as "brushed by the wing-tip of reality" ( A l 85). Perceiving in his own marriage ceremony a ritualistic codification of some deeper reality he cannot comprehend, he notes "the imitation stone vaulting" ( A l 180) of the church in which he and May are married. A t other points, ossified codes of conduct and feeling demonstrate their inflexibility, and like the "archaic French" ( A l 84) Archer reads, become progressively more irrelevant and restrictive as his involvement with El len Olenska deepens. Wharton's interest in what is "felt in the blood" (Letters 433) takes the form in The Age of Innocence of showing biological instinct's entanglement with social 'instinct' instantiated by ritual and tradition. That these two meanings of 'instinct' are in play in the novel is clear. Archer might seem to understand that "untrained human nature [...] was full Ohler 171 of the twists and defences of an instinctive guile" ( A l 45), but he also recognizes that trained 'human nature' creates a collective 'guile' which demands individual deference to the needs of the collective: " i f the family had ceased to consult him it was because some deep tribal instinct warned them that he was no longer on their side" ( A l 252). A class-aligned representation of the real sublimates biological imperatives into social forms. The manners and rites that are the framework for a standard leisure-class view of a social subsuming of biological instinct prohibits the infusion of new blood offered by exogamy, something visible in the conspiracy to eliminate Ellen Olenska from the leisure-class "tribe" ( A l 14). Yet the silent but mutually understood effort to expel Ellen targets the knowing Archer too: He guessed himself to have been, for months, the centre of countless silently observing eyes and patiently listening ears, he understood that, by means as yet unknown to him, the separation between himself and the partner of his guilt had been achieved, and that now the whole tribe had rallied about his wife. ( A l 335) Archer's tale is not a tragedy, for he finds compensation for his losses within his class context, but it is a story that relates the difficulty of transcending his training, and the coercive manners of his class. A s the passage just quoted shows, Archer's insight into the system that separates him from Ellen only liberates his perception of how securely he is chained to a class ideology that in translating and moderating instinct makes a cage o f privilege. The Age of Innocence's analogy between 'evolution/selection theory, and social development,' sees natural selection as a motor o f cultural change. A s in the other novels examined in this study, this analogy helps convince the reader of a particular explanation for the fact, as Archer's mother puts it, that "you couldn't expect the old traditions to last much Ohler 172 longer" ( A l 48). A narrative fusion of social and biological evolution denotes the superficiality of Archer's distinction between these elements. Despite his awareness that it is impossible for him to inhabit "a world where action followed on emotion" ( A l 164), his insights are only penetrating enough to dissatisfy him. Indicative of his affiliation with the traditions that encode spontaneous expressions of desire, and separate emotion and action, is his embrace of aesthetic achievement with an energy that is almost sexual. Representations of beauty and desire made by art during a life o f running to "the National Gallery [...] to catch a glimpse of the pictures" ( A l 194) are like his memory of Ellen at the end of the novel, "more real" ( A l 362) to Archer than other reference points in experience. His first sexual encounter with May Welland, which one imagines to have occurred on their honeymoon in London, is attended by Archer's comment that she resembles a virginal goddess, and "looked handsomer and more Diana-like than ever" ( A l 193). Moreover, the validity of Wharton's fictional method as a way to analyze and diagnose Archer's problem can be viewed as one of the novel's subjects. This is tangible, firstly, in the novel's representation of Archer's interpretation of the same analogy 'between evolution/selection theory and social development' used in the narrative's omniscient register.4 The Age of Innocence contains and shows the specific qualities of Archer's thinking on this subject. Central to his interpretation are two elements. First, he idealistically views the social selection environment within which systems of thought compete as a ground for social development. In his view, being unsuited to one's environment does not necessarily imply extinction: "even after his most exciting talks with Ned Winsett he always came away with the feeling that i f his world was so small, so was theirs, and that the only way to enlarge either was to reach a stage of manners where they would naturally merge" ( A l Ohler 173 102-103). For Archer, antinomies between social groups, or between groups and the social selection environment, are resolved under a progressive view that difference can be 'naturally' accommodated. Archer's experience with the way coercive drawing-room manners react to his relationship with El len dashes this perspective. The second element salient to Archer's view on 'evolution/selection theory and social development' is his imagination, which consistently colors the real biological and tribal forces affecting him, for "thinking over a pleasure to come often gave him a subtler satisfaction than its realization" ( A l 4). This aspect of his character remains unchanged by his experience, and in fact ensures that this is the case. Archer and his class express the compelling ideas of evolutionary science only in terms of concern over social change, finding little in science to illuminate the problems presented by social development. In fact, Archer imagines that a scientific instrument distances the novel's primary exponent of social form: "far down the inverted telescope he saw the faint white figure of M a y Welland" ( A l 77). This puzzling image is partially clarified by noting that properly used, the telescope, and other scientific tools, might yield clues with which to construct a realistic picture of the physical universe out of which Archer's social world grows. The natural and the social exist on different planes for Archer. His association of social and ethnic difference with artificial hybridization helps illustrate this. Recalling a youthful trip to Italy, he remarks on how the Florentines he met "were too different from the people Archer had grown up among, too much like expensive and rather malodorous hot-house exotics" ( A l 197). Cross breeding is unnatural, as is a conception of sexuality uncontained by manners directed toward signifying class membership. Thus, the novel Ohler 174 presents the reader with an "Archer-Newland-van-der-Luyden tribe" that "looked down on the grosser forms of pleasure" ( A l 32). A s Archer distances pleasure, he also fails to recognize that sexuality is expressed in cultural forms such as fashion. This is evident when he notes Ellen's appearance in "a long robe of red velvet bordered about the chin and down the front with glossy black fur" ( A l 104).5 However, his impression of Ellen fails to respond to her explicitly sexual appearance; she reminds Wharton's culturally inoculated aesthete only of a painting he has recently seen in London. Archer can only respond aesthetically to this thinly disguised presentation of Ellen's sexuality, for he remembered, on his last visit to Paris, seeing a portrait by the new painter, Carolus Duran, whose pictures were the sensation of the salon, in which the lady wore one of these bold sheath-like robes with her chin nestled in fur. There was something perverse and provocative in the combination of fur worn in the evening in a heated drawing room, and in the combination of a muffled throat and bare arms; but the effect was undeniably pleasing. ( A l 105) What is primary in Archer's perception is the way Ellen's outfit violates that "far off divinity" called "taste" ( A l 14). Only as a second thought does he grant that El len is pleasing to the eye. The apparent disjunction between narrative frame and Archer's outlook likely has a polemical point. Wharton's engagement with evolutionary and sociological thought sweeps away hesitancy about the inapplicability of evolutionary theory to the changing texture of upper class life in the 1870's. 6 Nancy Bentley's consideration of Wharton's fictional method is thus valuable for its insight into the author's linkage of ethnography and culture, but shows Ohler 175 too, that a formulation that does not consider the role of evolutionary theory in the fiction cannot accurately interpret Archer's assumptions, nor account for the novel's position that culture grows from a natural foundation: B y splicing together the roles of novelist and ethnographer to create a figure she calls 'the drawing-room naturalist,' Wharton appears to blithely transcend the distinction between a humanist tradition, in which culture signifies a set of prized Western values that advance human perfectibility, and a sociological sense of culture as a web o f institutions and lived relations that structure any community, [...]. Within this expanded sense of culture, savage and civilized worlds can share, at long last, a common language of interpretation. (Bentley, The Ethnography of Manners 3) Whereas Bentley rightly views Wharton to be 'splicing together the roles of novelist and ethnographer,' the sociological focus on 'institutions and lived relations' present in The Age of Innocence maintains evolution as a touchstone that the practices of 'tribal rituals and bourgeois manners' contend with symbolically. This is apparently the case when May, having returned from the "three months wedding-tour" during which her sexual initiation took place, "vaguely summarized [it] as 'bl issful '" ( A l 194). A n ideology o f perfectibility inhibits Archer's deeper understanding o f his culture's proximity to nature. He has "the passionate man's indestructible dream o f a rounded passion" ( C C 85) that is optimistic in assuming it is achievable. Bentley's formulation o f the fiction's 'smooth suturing [...] of antagonistic strains of the culture idea' helps define the interaction of The Age o f Innocence with scientific and sociological currents, and bolsters the validity of positing the existence o f a continuum between 'savage and civi l ized ' in the novel, even i f Bentley's perspective is not inclusive of evolution. What is 'rounded' for Archer is, indeed, a Ohler 176 'dream,' or imaginary view of a holistic passion more about beauty than sexuality, and, therefore, not as complete as he thinks. The text aligns this falsehood with Archer's appreciation of what Bentley formulates as a 'humanist tradition, in which culture signifies a set of prized Western values that advance human perfectibility.' For Archer, 'instinct' is expressed by adherence to social 'form.' The controlling narrative shows that he redirects his own sexual and competitive drives toward social cohesion. Potential conflicts between instinct and class affiliation subside in the intense ideological light that guides Archer's reasoning. Pressuring his rational behavior, though, is the "sudden revulsion of mood" that causes him, "almost without knowing what he did" ( A l 79), to send roses anonymously to Ellen. That the novel's methodology is one of its subjects is a proposition bolstered by Wharton's pronouncement that "the mode of presentation to the reader, that central difficulty of the whole affair, must always be determined by the nature of the subject" (WF 72). When that subject is the difficulty of accessing what is 'felt in the blood,' Wharton's representation, focused to the depth of the cultural background where social practices shape perception, and depict the substitution of taste and form for Eros, seems a working out of her belief "that some new theory of form, as adequate to its new purpose as those preceding it, w i l l be evolved from the present welter of experiment" ( U C W 124) in the novelistic genre. A t one point, Archer senses that he is being "shown off like a wi ld animal cunningly trapped. He supposed that his readings in anthropology caused him to take such a coarse view of what was after all a simple and natural demonstration of family feeling" (AI'67). In thinking this way, he distances as uncivilized the scientific viewpoint he dallies with; he is thus in direct Ohler 177 conflict with the narrative's view that he is both a 'w i ld animal,' or biological being, and capable o f a finer 'family feeling.' Wharton does not associate the implications for human society o f evolutionary science with the kind of coarseness to which Archer makes reference. His anthropological learning, he understands, colors as 'coarse' that which is interpreted through its framework. He assumes that the disciplinary lens o f anthropology only focuses what is primitive. Wharton's narrative would, i f consistent, not make the mistake of using science to classify its social subjects as morally high or low, for natural selection dictates that simple organisms can be more successful than humans in the right environment. But this might lead to the kind of morally unweighted naturalism Wharton disliked, a subject that was addressed in chapter one. Yet it is Wharton's point, and one aspect of a 'new form' that suppresses difference between the natural and the social through biological allegory, that Archer is victimized by his perspective. Furthermore, that Wharton may have been struggling toward a form capable of containing an evolutionary reading of social development, and finding it in the biological allegory and scientific metaphor discussed here, may explain her over-sensitivity to the perception that her social criticism was perceived to be authoritative because of her membership in the social stratum she portrayed. 7 II. "a curious indifference to her bodily presence" ( A l 243) Despite her disinclination to be interpreted as authoritative solely because o f her class membership, first-hand experience with elite manners and tastes certainly facilitated Wharton's depiction of Archer's superficial appreciation of the opera he attends in the first . scene of The Age of Innocence. This performance possesses edifying content that goes Ohler 178 unnoticed by viewers not attuned to the ability of art to represent what is otherwise fragmentary and incomprehensible. In the autobiographical fragment "Life and I," Wharton reveals the centrality of the literary work on which the opera she represents is based, pronouncing that her reading of "Faust was one of the 'epoch-making' encounters for me" (LI 31). The first sentence of the novel relates that "Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York" ( A l 3). This performance is capable of demonstrating to Archer the error of viewing his world as explicable solely through the terms offered by his superficial study of "the books on Primitive M a n that people of advanced culture were beginning to read" ( A l 44). Real knowledge o f his primitive, or instinctive self, might redeem Archer, but he is late for his lesson for the same reason he can't understand it once he arrives, for "it was 'not the thing' to arrive early at the opera" ( A l 4). His adherence to the standards of form, like Ralph Marvell 's concentration on the rhythmical structures of Whitman's poetry at the expense of its content in The Custom of the Country, precludes the perception of vital ideas. Manners thus affect Archer's exposure to an argument about the value of knowledge apart from its instrumental power that the primary narrative perspective illustrates on the spectacular scale o f operatic performance. In examining Goethe's Faust, which Gounod reworks for his opera, one finds that Archer's compulsion to be fashionably late causes him to resemble the "Women of Crete" who "[n]ever listened when poetry/Sang its sweet lesson" (Goethe 161). Under the sway o f "what was or was not 'the thing'" ( A l 4), his lateness is a function of a way of thinking that prefers the old "Academy of Music [...] to a new Opera House" because the Academy's small size keeps out "the 'new people' whom N e w York was beginning to dread" ( A l 3); this Ohler 179 focus on adherence to the dictates of taste turns Archer's perception away from ideas on which to found an identity less dependent on his social environment. Social ritual expresses the system of thought particular to his class, one crystallized in the centrality of 'the thing.' This system brings certain benefits to Archer. One such benefit is apparent in his domestic arrangement, wherein "[a]n upper floor was dedicated to Newland while the women squeezed themselves into narrower quarters below" ( A l 33). The text shows here that the luxuriousness of Archer's surroundings compensates for the limits class membership places on him. But in being transfixed by manners he cannot ultimately elude, such as propriety in romantic relationships (even i f he is aware of the "hypocrisy" [ A l 41] of these manners), his capacity to progress intellectually and comprehend how he is controlled by class ideology is numbed. Although Archer makes a progressive assertion in "exclaiming [...] I hope she w i l l " ( A l 41) in reference to the possibility that Ellen Olenska wi l l be divorced, he is beholden to "conventions" ( A l 5) that compel his interest in discovering who occupies the various family boxes at the Academy. Instead of discovering his entanglement in a leisure-class thought system that resembles a "[f|able, more persuasive than truth" (Goethe 162), Archer "turned his eyes from the stage" ( A l 5). Even as The Age of Innocence defines the limits of Archer's perspective, its own objectivity can move from its grounding in the sciences to less firm foundations. I've shown Q that Wharton's fiction recasts Darwinian theory, creating a fictional ground for the exchange of concepts related to natural laws and manners. In The Age of Innocence this practice can show clearly Archer's tendency to sever the connection between instinct (sexual desire, propagation) and culture that the story seeks to connect. One finds this in Archer's Ohler 180 displacement of drives into a love of art and knowledge. Wharton makes this a function of his class when "the spoils of the ages" on display in the new Metropolitan Museum are reduced to "a series of scientifically catalogued treasures" ( A l 344) divorced from the individuals and the histories that produced them. Archer's stripping of an emotional and psychological context from cultural works is one product of the impulse to catalogue and classify. But in fictionally representing the countercurrents of training and impulse that affect Archer, Wharton slips out of an objective mode into representations of subjective human consciousness where her concern is no longer strictly sociological, nor grounded on any explicitly scientific psychological model. N e w York ' s maintenance of a smooth and untroubled social surface in The Age of Innocence keeps its values unimpaired by the mutant individualism associated with membership in the socioeconomic elite. Yet, aspirations of ascending to a place among the Four Hundred founded on the Struthers's shoe polish fortune, or on Julius Beaufort's mysteriously gotten wealth, rasp against class divisions annealed by the power and prestige evidenced by old rituals and the possession of old money. Although the sound of rustling silk dresses, the calling cards left in the front hall, and the predictable rhythms of the social season suggest a world of probity, Newland Archer's class is atavistic in its repulsion o f the new. The enactment of social power is linked to primitive rites in the novel and constant vigilance makes tradition impervious to the mutation of social order that might follow on books being "out of place" ( A l 103) in Ellen Olenska's drawing room, or by Ellen, "heedless of tradition" ( A l 104), wearing the wrong kind of dress in which to receive guests in the evening. Ohler 181 Archer, whose dissatisfaction prods his attempt to span the two worlds that he and Ellen Olenska represent, would, i f true to his type, prefer an undisturbed continuity of ritual that bars social miscegenation. But he becomes aware that this preference, the result of his training, limits his ability to experience Ellen's European ideas, which have the power "to brush away the conventions" ( A l 239) that smother him. Newland may be an 'Archer ' in the sense that he attempts to arc toward Ellen's way of life, but M a y is a "Diana-like" ( A l 211) huntress whose skills within her social context prove deadly to Archer's aspirations o f freedom. She proves in preserving her marriage how wrong Julius Beaufort is when he comments, within earshot of Archer, on May ' s ski l l with a bow and arrow: "that's the only target she'll ever hit" ( A l 211). This comment is notable because Beaufort is an outsider unable to see May ' s behavior as the perfectly modulated performance of social instinct and encoded competitiveness in the arena o f sexual selection, where her body can be displayed in the athletic competition and all can see her "classic grace [... ] nymph-like ease" ( A l 211). The narrative's depiction of the way biological imperatives are encoded in May ' s performance o f social instinct shows the unreality of Archer's assumption that nature and culture are unrelated. Despite his limitations, Archer does see May ' s actions as an exhibition of cultural mores. This is apparent when he discerns in her "the factitious purity, so cunningly manufactured by a conspiracy of mothers and aunts and grandmothers and long dead ancestresses" ( A l 45). His skepticism toward the naturalness of May ' s purity illustrates his deep suspicion of that set of rules which has formed his judgment too, making Adorno's well- known statement, "[o]ne must have tradition in oneself, to hate it properly" (52), as applicable to Archer as it has always been to Wharton. His understanding, and wariness of Ohler 182 the socially constructed dimension of May ' s purity, inflects his role as the central consciousness of the novel with a detachment shaped by his contact with "scientific books" ( A l 82). However, Archer is capable only of a flawed objectivity characterized by a belief that he might analyze the complexity of his class from a perspective of a "sham" ( A l 243) life that has created within him an impressionist's obsession with his perceptions. One finds that this is the case in a passage where Archer's passion for Ellen is intense. It is a moment when he feels "a curious indifference to her bodily presence [...]. N o w his imagination spun about [...] [Ellen's] hand as about the edge of a vortex; [...] his one terror was to do anything which might efface the sound and impression of her words" ( A l 243-244). The novel often portrays the presence of a class-specific imperative to ensure order by arresting change. This requirement is encoded in everyday social practices. The first line of defense against the erosion of social stasis is the intermarriage of elect families. Archer is very pleased that "he was a New Yorker, and about to ally himself with one of his own kind" ( A l 31) through his impending marriage to May. The gentry monitor potentially dangerous affiliations: "grandfather Newland always used to say to my mother: 'Whatever you do, don't let that fellow Beaufort be introduced to the gir ls '" ( A l 35). Other methods of control lie in the specifics of manners: rigid standards of dress, intricate rules governing social calls, and the requirement of strict adherence to particular wording in the refusal of invitations ( A l 47). These manners are so deeply inculcated in Archer that "[fjew things seemed to [him] more awful than an offence against 'Taste,' that far off divinity of whom 'Form ' was the mere visible representative and viceregent" ( A l 14). The depiction of Archer's insight that there exists some irreducible foundation for the behavior he notes, beyond its manifestation in 'form,' again demonstrates his interpretive tendency; the passage also shows, however, Ohler 183 that his concern, indicated by his formulation that taste is the Platonic essence of which form is a manifestation, is more concerned with the signs or effects of such foundations and not the coercive patterning of contingency, variation, and instinct which 'taste' and 'form' also signify. This preoccupation with signs is a distinguishing characteristic of Archer's thoroughly aesthetic orientation, which is signaled to the reader by the fact that his "boyhood had been saturated with Ruskin, and he had read all the latest books: John Addington Symonds, Vernon Lee's 'Euphorion,' the essays o f P .G . Hamerton, and a wonderful new volume called 'The Renaissance' by Walter Pater" ( A l 69). 9 What these writers present to Archer's consciousness colors his evaluative habits, suggesting to the reader that the aesthetic values of his class modulate his perception. The pictures hanging in Ellen Olenska's room, for example, "bewildered him, for they were like nothing that he was accustomed to look at (and therefore able to see) when he traveled in Italy" ( A l 294). Spanning the ethical aesthetics of Ruskin and the 'art for arts sake' detachment of aesthetics from a responsibility for moral teaching found in the work of Ruskin's student Pater, Archer's reading has exposed him to a variety of authoritative Victorian opinions on art. Immersion in the works of the writers Wharton names, I suggest, impresses upon Archer a general concept articulated by one critic who writes that the "goal of the positive Victorian aesthetics [...] was not to objectify others as art, but to provide the conditions that would allow oneself and others to live with the freedom of art" (Gagnier 271). That Archer strives to realize something like this formulation is clear when May tells Archer that "[w]e can't behave like people in novels" and he replies by saying "[w]hy not—why not—why not?" ( A l 82). Archer's artistic interests therefore demonstrate one way his connoisseurship sublimates instinct to aesthetics. Ohler 184 The text portrays Archer's struggle with the limits posed by his overly aestheticized understanding of self and society when his internal conflicts seem to him represented by paintings. When Archer visits the Louvre before he and his son Dallas are to see El len Olenska, "the pictures [...] fill his soul with the long echoes of beauty. After al l , his life had been too starved" ( A l 358). When Archer "stands before an effulgent Tit ian" his old passion for Ellen is recalled, but "[fjor such summer dreams it was too late" ( A l 358). In the novel, renaissance painters like Titian proffer a more truthful representation o f pre-Christian instinct than does the static primitivism of pre-renaissance Italian painting from which the Victorian pre-Raphaelite aesthetic was partially derived. Archer is sympathetic to this sensibility, and at odds with a wildly popular pre-Raphaelitism, for he speaks with "condescension" ( A l 69) of Fra Angelico, one of the group's touchstones. Moreover, the writers mentioned above are significant to this analysis of Archer's powers of appreciation because Pater, Symonds, and Vernon Lee are referred to in the Wharton manuscript "Italy Again" as examples of the "cultivated amateur," whom Wharton contrasts with the "trained specialist" ( U C W 292). Their interpretations of painting, sculpture, and architecture make of Archer an informed amateur who knows the difference between the cultural values expressed in a Fra Angelico and a Titian. Nevertheless, Archer's dilettantism in matters of art gives him a superficial appreciation of beauty and sexuality which causes "his sense of inadequacy and inexpressiveness" ( A l 358). One frequently notes differences between the authorial specialist and her amateur protagonist. Early in the novel, upon seeing Ellen's "swarthy foreign looking maid [...] whom he vaguely fancied to be Sicil ian," Archer reacts by deploying the classificatory armature of his anthropological reading: "[h]e knew that the southern races communicated Ohler 185 with each other in the language of pantomime, and was mortified to find her shrugs and smiles so unintelligible" ( A l 69). His inability to comprehend the maid illustrates that Archer is indeed an amateur in anthropological matters. Although the maid is a punning real-life embodiment of the 'Italian primitive,' she is, in Archer's characterization of her, a narrative vehicle that expresses the difficulties of applying his training and knowledge in human encounters. Archer views with 'condescension' the signified human he knows only through art, and the maid thus remains 'unintelligible.' A s with his inattentiveness to the significance of Faust, the value to Archer of his aesthetic and scientific amateurism is limited in its ability to help him interpret the real signified by sexuality. Wharton's representation of Archer's objectivity charts the framing of his perspective by the artistic, literary, and scientific works he consumes. While works of art history and aesthetic interpretation that depict a positive renaissance revaluation of pre-Christian instinct also seem to Archer authoritative in their call for a life as free as art, they both enlighten and lead to disappointment. Style in painting, orderly geometrical compositional principles, and the perfectly smooth surface of a canvas can represent 'instinct.' The Titian Archer is so moved by demonstrates this. But their value to Archer has been obscured by the aesthetic terms of his appreciation. What the Titian might have taught Archer wasn't visible through his "'Taste,' that far off divinity of whom 'Form' was the mere visible representative'" ( A l 14). B y the end of the novel, then, Archer understands—as he realizes it is 'too late' for him—that "the new generation [...] had swept away all the old landmarks, and with them the signposts and danger signals" ( A l 358). This leaves him to question the principles by which he has lived, and confirms the presence of dynamic social evolution that shifts in the history of art illustrated all along. Ohler 186 When Archer unpacks the latest shipment from his London bookseller, finding "a new volume of Herbert Spencer, another collection of the prolific Alphonse Daudet's brilliant tales, and a new novel called 'Middlemarch' [...] he had declined three dinner invitations in favour of this feast" ( A l 138), 1 0 it is a prelude to the dispersal of his assumption that he is leading a life that utilizes these works. In her 1902 Bookman review o f Leslie Stephen's biography of Eliot, Wharton defended Eliot against charges that she "was too scientific" ( U C W 71), demonstrating her allegiance to the author of a work to which Henry James referred by writing, "Middlemarch is too often an echo of Messrs. Darwin and Huxley" (qtd. in Beer 139). Archer's reading of Middlemarch is thus a fictionalized encounter with a writer Wharton was sympathetic to, "but though he turned the pages with the sensuous joy of the book-lover, he did not know what he was reading" ( A l 138). Throwing over his social persona for the evening to immerse himself in these works, he demonstrates that he is quite ready to enjoy "possibly forbidden pleasures o f the mind" (Preston 42)" that are capable of rubbing through the patina of a leisured life. Yet he is not prepared for the complexity of the new vision that he finds. The dispersal of a fantasy generated by his immersion in a book o f verse entitled "The House o f Li fe ," which "gave a new and haunting beauty to the most elementary of passions" ( A l 138), comes the following morning when he looks out on the brownstone houses of the street. Again, Archer can't break down the binary of passion, or Eros, and "beauty' so characteristic of his perspective. His conception of'elementary passions' in terms of "warm [...] rich [...] ineffably tender [...] haunting beauty" ( A l 138) shows once more that for Archer sexuality is signified by aesthetic 'taste.' He has pursued in "those enchanted pages the vision of a woman who had the face of Ellen Olenska" (138), but Ohler 187 making of this fantasy an actuality is "far outside the pale of probability" ( A l 138). His training disrupts his instincts. What completely dissipates his vision of El len is the "thought of his desk in M r . Letterblair's office, and the family pew in Grace Church" ( A l 138). The social institutions of law and religion overmaster Archer's fantasies, and the expression of their authority as 'desk' and 'pew' is a metonymical illustration of his subordinate position to class ideology. The novel's presentation of the forms taken by "rituals of exclusion" (Bauer 12) is one of its first concerns. Julius Beaufort is considered dangerous because he is "a 'foreigner' of doubtful origin" ( A l 44). In the case of Ellen's expulsion there "were certain things that had to be done, and i f done at all , done handsomely and thoroughly; and one of these, in the old New York code, was the tribal rally around a kinswoman who was about to be eliminated from the tribe" ( A l 334). Ellen is to be expelled because the "individual, in such cases, is nearly always sacrificed to what is supposed to be the collective interest" ( A l 111). But 'rituals of exclusion' are also the manacles of inclusion. May does not possess Archer's consciousness of the harm potentially done by the 'collective interest,' even though she is the primary exponent of this phenomenon in the text. Archer sees this, reflecting upon how, after marrying May, "[i]t would presently be his task to take the bandage from this young woman's eyes" ( A l 81). But the inability to transcend expected thoughts and actions that Archer notes in May he sees in himself too, causing him to resent the extent to which his life is choreographed: "'[s]ameness—sameness!' he muttered, the word running through his head like a persecuting tune" ( A l 83). Archer reacts to the narrow, coercive aspect of manners, providing an example of how, as one critic has argued, "the text makes it hard to sustain readings that dismiss cultural furnishings as Ohler 188 'background' (whether picturesque or oppressive) or that see characters as discrete beings, with an independent 'selfhood' separate and intact from any social inscriptions" (Knights 20). Archer is all too aware of the social inscriptions that write him into a tradition he cannot resist. This tradition envisions marriage as a duty that i f not considered as such, lapses into "a mere battle of ugly appetites" ( A l 347) that must be patterned. The difficulty o f remaining coherent to oneself outside that tradition keeps Archer from smelling "the flower o f life [...] a thing so unattainable and improbable" ( A l 347). Standing at the center of the establishment, Archer becomes alienated from habits and customs that are transparent to his future wife. He is unafraid to remedy May ' s unawareness of the fact that she is the product of social determinism: "We're all as like each other as those dolls cut out of the same folded paper. We're like patterns stencilled on a w a l l " ( A l 82), he cries. Despite the fact that he feels a responsibility to teach her, his sense that "she simply echoed what was said for her" ( A l 81) elicits foreboding: "[h]e shivered a little, remembering some of the new ideas in his scientific books, and the much-cited instance of the Kentucky cave-fish, which had ceased to develop eyes because they had no use for them" ( A l 82). This allusion to Archer's knowledge of natural selection figures social evolution in Darwinian terms, making of class ideology a component of the social selection environment that over the course of generations 'blinds' May and those like her. Another passage from Wharton's 1905 review of Howard Sturgis's Belchamber addresses the topic o f representation in a way useful to understanding how and why Wharton constructs Archer's perspective in her novel as she does. In the essay, Wharton suggests that following the rules of 'taste' by adhering to ' form' in the creation of art denies an element of the real. She writes that form "when it is a mere lifeless reproduction of another's design, the Ohler 189 dreary 'drawing from a plaster cast,' twice removed from reality, it is of no more artistic value than any other clever reproduction; whereas [...] the thing personally felt and directly rendered, asserts itself through all accidental difficulties of expression" ( U C W 107). In The Age of Innocence this artistic dilemma mirrors Archer's situation, for his is a position 'removed from reality' by his training, which elevates 'form,' as has been shown, to a primary position that makes of his passion a thing that cannot be directly felt. This claim, as w i l l be seen, finds support in the narrative's presentation of a class-specific lexicon that substantially affects what Archer can and cannot signify. One might object to the suggestion that Wharton creates Archer's compromised objectivity in order to articulate the dangers of a superficial scientific basis for social analysis on the grounds that she sought only to depict a tragic story of thwarted love. In fact, such an objection could rely on Wharton's own words: "I did so want 'The A g e ' to be taken not so much as a 'costume piece' but as 'a simple and grave' story of two people trying to live up to something that was still 'felt in the blood' at that time" (Letters 433). But it is exactly what Archer and Ellen feel ' i n the blood' that their social environment forbids them to express. It is those moments where mutual understanding is elusive when the barriers to their expression become a subject. One could object too that the novel's concern with 'tribes' and 'ritual ' employs an anthropological point of view that responds to the fact that "[t]he subject of manners [...] had been newly discovered in this era by social scientists, anthropologists, social theorists, and psychologists [who] increasingly located the source of all social praxis and regulation in cultural habits and customs" (Bentley 69). Such an objection would imply that Wharton is not interested in the sources of Archer's viewpoint, but wishes only to represent it. Evidence Ohler 190 to the contrary exists in the specific qualities of the contrasting perspectives of Archer, and the narrative within which his viewpoint is contained; in particular, such evidence is visible in the novel's representation of how linguistic norms modulate the way Archer sees his world. It is to this matter that I now turn. III. ' " W o r d Dust '" (WF 16) In French Ways and their Meaning. 1 2 a treatise "[ijntended to instruct American military men about French mores" (Benstock 348), Wharton characterizes an aspect of American language that in The Age of Innocence affects Archer's ability to express himself. Composed while she wrote the novel, French Ways bemoans the "deplorable loss of shades of difference in our blunted speech" (FW 83). Wharton attributes this loss of the means to make fine distinctions to the fact that in America one finds "a race that has had a recent beginning" (FW 83). Due to "the sudden uprooting of our American ancestors and their violent cutting off from all their past" (FW 82), Americans live in linguistic poverty in comparison to the French. This claim materializes in the novel's portrayal, in a long passage from which I've chosen the following excerpts, of Archer's difficulty discussing with M a y his involvement with Ellen Olenska: [Tjhere's something I want to say [...] the slight distance between them [...] an unbridgeable abyss [...] The sound of his voice echoed through the homelike hush, and he repeated: 'There's something I've got to tell you [...] Archer checked the conventional phrases of self-accusal that were crowding to his lips. He was determined to put the case baldly [...] 'Madame Olenska—' he said; but at the same time his wife raised her hand as i f to silence him. ( A l 323) Ohler 191 In this passage, Wharton's portrayal of Archer's involvement with Ellen is a reality that cannot be represented by a class dialect that reduces linguistic means to a reflection of concepts and behavior appropriate to burnished, gilt-laden drawing rooms. In 1925 Wharton articulated a problem for the fiction writer that bears on her representation of Archer's point-of-view in The Age o f Innocence, and my interest in the limitations to what Archer can represent linguistically: The novelist works in the very material out of which the object he is trying to render is made. [...] It is relatively easy to separate the artistic vision of an object from its complex and tangled actuality i f one has to re-see it in paint or marble and bronze; it is infinitely difficult to render a human mind when one is employing the very word-dust with which thought is formulated. (WF 16-17) The difficulty Archer has in recognizing why he cannot transcend his training is a variation on the artistic issue presented in the passage above; his cultural analysis is limited by the breadth of a system of signification specific to his class, not just his amateurish scientism. His shallow scientism obfuscates the inability of 'scientific ' knowledge to impassion him, and conceals that what he wishes to learn through books can be understood only experientially. Furthermore, Wharton's fictional examination of the linguistic forms of old N e w York is an aspect of her controlling mode of objectivity, one that subordinates Archer's perspective, and positions the narrative's objectivity outside the reach o f the effects it describes. Archer's limited ability to grapple with "hard facts" ( A l 198) shines through the text's reflection on the linguistic habits of his tribe: Ohler 192 In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by an arbitrary sign; as when Mrs . Welland, who knew exactly why Archer had pressed her to announce her daughter's engagement at the Beaufort ball (and had indeed expected him to do no less), yet felt obliged to simulate reluctance, and the air of having her hand forced. ( A l 44) Beneath the glitter of the chandelier the articulation of a mating rite in ritualistic forms that include the obligation to 'simulate reluctance' contains a sign of its foundation in inarticulate instinct. One sees this in Mrs. Welland's perception of the 'arbitrary sign' as encoding, or signifying something she wi l l not directly state, for though 'she knew exactly why' Newland wants a hasty marriage, there is no acceptable lexicon available through which to express the sexual subject matter running below sexuality's oblique referents in social forms. Social 'form,' as I have shown, defines a system of referents available for Archer's objective inquiry, but this system depends not just on dress and gesture as forms of signification, but on language. 'Doing the unspeakable' thus consists in behavior that has no corresponding entry in the lexicon of Archer's tribe, one in which the fashionable is possessed of a gravity whose source is a historical past distant yet singular in its influence: "What was or was not 'the thing' played a part as important in Newland Archer's N e w York as the inscrutable totem terrors that had ruled the destinies of his forefathers" ( A l 4). In linking normative social habits with the 'totem terrors' that guided the 'destinies o f his forefathers,' Archer is similar to his law partner, who is seen by him as "the Pharisaic voice of a society wholly absorbed in barricading itself against the unpleasant" ( A l 98). What is 'unpleasant' is an aspect of the real at the periphery of Archer's perception. This is not to say Ohler 193 that Archer isn't skeptical of the appearance of absolute verity that gilds surfaces, ideas, and thoughts he finds in his class environment. In fact, while he stands at his wedding he thinks that "real people were living somewhere, and real things happening to them" ( A l 182). Archer's problem, though, is that in this two-fold fictional world in which Archer's perspective is nested within that of the narrative, he is anchored in the unreal by a system of signification unequipped to represent the 'real ' he alludes to. Language is the transmission medium for cultural traits that in Wharton's genetic theory o f values is shown to convert into linguistic matter what is 'felt in the blood.' In Wharton's era "Mendel's laws, and with them the concept of the gene as a unit of heredity, was the salvation of Darwinian thinking" (Dennett 220). Salvation though it was, these were daunting ideas, even for Wharton's discipline-crashing intellect. She recognized the significance of "the allelomorphs & heterozygotes" explained in Lock ' s book (Letters 151). But, as I shall show in a moment, she portrays the transmission of values in terms that equate genes and language. Yet, hers is not only a metaphorical representation of social reproduction in which language carries cultural D N A that manifests itself as a class-bound angle of vision. Rather, it is an argumentative strategy that demonstrates the inseparability of 'taste' and forms of social expression, including language, from biological foundations. Wharton's implicit theory of cultural reproduction shows language to evolve, presenting its mutation and variation as inevitable. Archer's statement that "[wle've no character, no colour, no variety" ( A l 241), is thus true to a point. But errors in transmission still result in Beaufort and his type, whose presence hints at the reality of alternate classes and other ways o f articulating passion in the social context. This reading adds a dimension to interpretations that have seen Beaufort solely as representative of new money. It is the Ohler 194 resistance to mutation and variation that distinguishes Archer's class as being engaged in a maladroit attempt to preserve their social artifice under the rotting umbrella of so-called "natural [...] conventions" ( A l 5) that are anything but. This effort, moreover, fixes linguistic borders of representation in such a way as to incite May ' s "blushing circumlocution" ( A l 344) and the other instances of inarticulateness, as when Archer's "arms were yearning up to her [Ellen]; but she drew away, and they remained facing each other, divided by the distance that their words had created" ( A l 172). One critic has discussed Ian Burkitt 's work in a way that backgrounds my argument that Wharton pursued the effects of ideological inscription through language on individual psychology: "[personality develops within discourse," that is [...] ' s e l f and 'mind ' are formed within the communicative activity o f the group" (Knights 21). The evidence necessary to grant that something like this exists in The Age of Innocence falls into two related categories; first, the novel shows the use of language to be regulated by ideological interpellations regarding what can and can't be said, and second, that such communication affects the ability of individuals to conceive of ideas outside the "pale of probability" ( A l 138). These aspects of language use are portrayed in the novel within the hierarchy o f narrative and character perspectives already discussed. For example, shortly before Archer is to leave for Washington, D . C , where he hopes to meet privately with Ellen, an omniscient narrative interjection follows an exchange between Archer and May that differentiates Wharton's analytical mode from her protagonist's: 'The change wi l l do you good,' she said simply [...] It was the only word that passed between them on the subject; but in the code in which they had both been trained it meant: ' O f course you understand that I know all that people have been saying about Ohler 195 Ellen, and heartily sympathise with my family in their effort to get her to return to her husband. I also know that, for some reason you have chosen not to tell me, you have advised her against this course, which all the older men of the family, as well as our grandmother, agree in approving; and that it is owing to your encouragement that Ellen defies us all , and exposes herself to the kind of criticism o f which M r . Sillerton Jackson probably gave you, this evening, the hint that has made you so irritable. [...] Hints have indeed not been wanting; but since you appear unwilling to take them from others, I offer you this one myself, in the only form in which well-bred people of our kind can communicate unpleasant things to each other: by letting you understand that I know you mean to see Ellen when you are in Washington, and are perhaps going there expressly for that purpose; and that, since you are sure to see her, I wish you to do so with my full and explicit approval—and to take the opportunity of letting her know what the course of conduct you have encouraged her in is likely to lead to. ( A l 267-268) It is a "mute message" ( A l 268) that they share, but as the narrator makes clear, much is communicated that is not verbalized. Here one might object that Archer and May have transcended the linguistic code that I am arguing limits their ability to conceptualize alternatives to scripted behavior. However, what is«encoded is a not-said that is yet signified by oblique reference and gesture: '"and you must be sure to go and see Ellen, ' [...] Her hand was still on the key of the lamp when the last word of this mute message reached him. She turned the wick down, lifted off the globe, and breathed on the sulky flame" ( A l 267); thus is Ellen extinguished. In other words, the taboo subject of sexual infidelity can be signified within a class-specific system of meaning, Ohler 196 but it is a sign at the margin partially dependent on the silence that corresponds to unknown but possible entries in Archer's lexicon. In this unsaid is the inescapable potential for linguistic evolution that powers social change too, and leaves Archer regretting the "stifled memories of an inarticulate lifetime" ( A l 357). Such passages are an ironic manifestation of Wharton's edict governing "[t]he use of dialogue in fiction [...] [which] should be reserved for the culminating moments, and regarded as a spray into which the great wave of narrative breaks in curving toward the watcher on the shore" (WF 73), for this key exchange passes in silence. A t the level of what is enunciated one finds that May, at the end o f the scene, does not state directly her desire that Ellen's threat to the marriage be ended. Rather, May again refers to Ellen metaphorically when upon snuffing the flame of the lamp she remarks: "[fjhey smell less i f one blows them out" ( A l 268). Although, May ' s reference is to the imminent social extinction of Ellen, the representation of a felt need to avoid direct statement is fictionally registered by depicting a system o f signification that assiduously disperses the question of why such linguistic obscurantism exists. The narrative's perspective brings this forth by using a less constrained objective stance that arises from the wide scope that contains and gives meaning to Archer and May ' s exchange. The issue of why these characters can't speak plainly, apparently attributable to the simple fact that the topic is off limits, is seen by a wider narrative perspective that reads in May ' s stifled thoughts an enunciation of a linguistic code that is class-specific: 'the only form in which well-bred people of our kind can communicate.' One could contend, as Wharton herself did, that "[w]hen, in real life, two or more people are talking together, all that is understood between them is left out of their talk" (WF 74). But in the quoted passages, Ohler 197 Wharton's subject is an involuntary self-censorship evidenced by the author's insistence on reiterating that meaning—such as it is—emerges in such exchanges from the context o f straitjacketed communication that May and Archer's son refers to as the sign of a "deaf-and-dumb asylum" ( A l 357). That the requirement to encode is in full effect is also evident in the frequency with which Archer catches himself in ingrained habits and thoughts, as when he becomes "conscious in himself of the same instinctive recoil [at "unusual situations"] that he had so often criticized in his mother" ( A l 108). Further evidence of Wharton's interest in identifying connections between language, social practices, and individual psychology exists in her statement that in "[inherit ing an old social organization, modern America has [...] reduced the English language to a mere instrument of utility [...] so she has reduced relations between human beings to a dead level of vapid benevolence" ( U C W 154). The vapidity of the smooth social surface that Archer both loves and loathes belies a deeper reality that Wharton's fictional method makes a claim to represent. For instance, the announcement of Archer's engagement to M a y prompts him to reflect that "[h]is joy was so deep that this blurring of the surface [the public announcement of the engagement] left its essence untouched; but he would like to keep the surface pure too" ( A l 23). His preference, in other words, is to avoid social intercourse where the topic of his marriage is concerned, and to not see his affections interpreted in the language of the tribe: "it was not thus that he would have wished to have his happiness known. To proclaim it in the heat and noise of a crowded ball-room was to rob it o f the fine bloom of privacy which should belong to things nearest the heart" ( A l 23). Archer doesn't want the private 'essence' of his feeling toward May articulated in stock phrases. Ohler 198 In so thinking, he displays a wish to avoid the use of English as an 'instrument o f utility' to represent this 'fine bloom.' He prefers to avoid the discursive fray altogether: "Now we shan't have to talk" he whispers to M a y as they ritualistically float "away on the soft waves of the Blue Danube" ( A l 23). M a y follows Archer into silence. He observes how "she made no answer [...] as i f bent on some ineffable vision. What a new life it was going to be, with this whiteness, radiance. Goodness at one's side" ( A l 23). But May ' s 'whiteness' is blankness and her 'Goodness,' like her 'niceness,' nearly empty except for its signification of stock language affiliated with "admonitory" ( A l 65) manners. The gilt o f normalcy that makes of ideological effects an objective reality for May has been rubbed off in Archer's perception, giving him "an awkward way of suddenly not seeming to take the most fundamental things for granted" ( A l 252). Archer's joy at the imminence of his marriage to May does not survive his first meeting with the adult Ellen (with whom he once played as a boy). Ellen is a woman who can satisfy Newland's yearning for "transcendent experience" (Wolff, A Feast of Words 319) both sexually and intellectually. Late in the novel, as Archer and Ellen travel by steamboat to Point Arley, Ellen's effect on Archer is cast in terms that allude to the value placed on the unblemished surface by his world, and also the potential for movement toward an alternate reality El len represents: " A s the boat left the harbour and turned seaward a breeze stirred up about them [...] The fog of sultriness still hung over the city, but ahead lay a fresh world of ruffled waters, and distant promontories with light-houses in the sun" ( A l 238). This vision, distinguished by the visual clarity bestowed by multiple sources of illumination, is linked to a sensual image in which "Madame Olenska, leaning back against the boat-rail, drank in the coolness between parted lips" ( A l 238). The truth of sex and its resistance to linguistic Ohler 199 representation, its association in the scene with nature, and the knowledge o f the world beyond New York that Ellen possesses, draws Archer away from his love o f surface. Wishing to evade a social order that has become as labyrinthine in its layers of subtle signs as the royal court at Versailles, he feels solidarity with yet another phantom—that imaginary place he longs to escape to with Ellen. Ellen, for her part, sees the matter clearly and articulates the situation using words that sound alien to Archer's ears: Is it your idea then that I should live with you as your mistress—since I can't be your wife? The crudeness of the question startled him: the word was one that women of his class fought shy of even when their talk flitted closest about the topic. He noticed that Madame Olenska pronounced it as if it had a recognized place in her vocabulary [italics added] [...] Her question pulled him up with a jerk, and he floundered. 'I want—I want to get away with you into a world where words like that—categories like that—won't exist. Where we shall be simply two human beings who love each other, who are the whole of life to each other; and nothing else on earth w i l l matter.' She drew a deep sigh that ended in another laugh. 'Oh , my dear—where is that country? Have you ever been there?' ( A l 290) Archer, in fact, need not look past his own world to find a place where such words and categories 'won't exist.' Indeed, in conceiving of ideal conditions in which he and Ellen can live, he imagines a place where limitations on vocabulary and concepts are in full force. This seems to describe the very world he seeks to flee—a place where 'words like that [...] won't exist.' Finding himself within an alien lexicon, he flounders and proposes a return to the sphere he knows. Ohler 200 Alternative frameworks in which they might be together would be contexts in which he, as a socially construed subject, would not exist—so tightly integrated with his milieu does Wharton conceive of his psychology. The only context in which contact between them can continue, Ellen observes, is that of kinship relations; however, this framework does not allow for the expression of desire either: 'Then what exactly is your plan for us? he asked. 'For us? But there's no us in that sense! We're near each other only i f we stay far from each other. Then we can be ourselves. Otherwise we're only Newland Archer, the husband of El len Olenska's cousin, and Ellen Olenska, the cousin of Newland Archer's wife, trying to be happy behind the backs of people who trust them.' ' A h , I 'm beyond that,' he groaned. 'No , you're not! You 've never been beyond. AndT have,' she said in a strange voice, 'and I know what it looks like there.' ( A l 291) Ellen's 'beyond' is a psychic space, and a material and sexual one, outside of the linguistic and experiential frame within which Archer interprets and analyzes the social stratum he dwells in. Particular limitations on the meaning of language, certain programmatic evacuations of meaning from key words and concepts, make it difficult for Archer to imagine what Ellen's 'beyond' looks like. His perceptions are directed, as I have shown, by "the invisible deity of 'Good Form '" ( A l 182). For example, in Archer's set the concept of women's equality contains no arguments, suggests no thesis or antithesis, something made tangible in how his exclamation that ' "Women should be free—as free as we are,' struck to the root of a problem that it was agreed in his world to regard as non-existent" ( A l 43). Additionally, Ohler 201 'Nice ' women, however wronged, would never claim the kind of freedom he meant, and generous minded men like himself were therefore—in the heat of argument—the more chivalrously ready to concede it to them. Such verbal generosities were in fact only a humbugging disguise of the inexorable conventions that tied things together and bound people down to the old pattern. ( A l 43) In contemplating May, he wonders: "What i f 'niceness' carried to that supreme degree were only a negation, the curtain dropped before an emptiness?" ( A l 212). May ' s 'niceness' is a socially generated aspect of'inexorable conventions' that in part explains how it is that in M a y "such depths of feeling could coexist with such absence of imagination" ( A l 188). May ' s deep feelings are expressed in conventional marriage-day statements. When Archer admits that "I thought I 'd lost the ring. [...] I had time to think of every horror that might possibly happen" ( A l 187), May responds by "flinging her arms about his neck. 'But none ever can happen now, can it Newland, as long as we two are together?'" ( A l 187). Such wishful thinking does have depth insofar as their marriage wi l l be vigorously defended by the same "conspiracy of mothers and aunts and grandmothers and long dead ancestresses" ( A l 45) responsible for May ' s normative attitudes, and in this sense nothing can happen to them. But M a y is not wholly cognizant of this coercive element of her happiness. Her statements are like her "clear eyes [which] revealed only the most tranquil unawareness" ( A l 188). May ' s physical characteristics mirror the fact that she speaks for a social order and its traditions: "[p]erhaps that faculty of unawareness is what gave her eyes their transparency, and her face the look of representing a type rather than a person; as i f she might have been chosen to pose for a civic virtue or a Greek goddess" ( A l 189). Nothing as natural as the chance variation in the codes passed from generation to generation exists in this static Ohler 202 environment, one in which the ingenue is, though an embodiment of ideal physical grace, a type rather than a person, and one seen as stone no less, for "her face wore the vacant serenity o f a young marble athlete" ( A l 141). A recent critical response to the issue of May ' s 'niceness' as a negation is expressed in terms that view the linguistic nullities of Archer's tribe as a sign that it avoids the 'real ' : 'Not-niceness' is an odd litotes which seems to summarise an essential linguistic and behavioral demarcation in Wharton's fiction. It represents an impoverishment of vocabulary, in which the opposite of a thing is formulated merely as its own cancellation. It is the evasion of particularity (what is 'niceness', exactly, and how far would one have to go not to be nice?). Non-logical and 'indeterminately evaluative', it represents the linguistic atrophy of her fictional tribe. (Preston 1-2) In contrast to May ' s conformity to a static class-world in which the opposite of 'niceness' has no signifier, Ellen's fate in the 'macro-social environment,' one explicitly troped as a selection environment by the overarching narrative, is "what we've all contrived to make it" ( A l 144). This is evidence of a social environment that can deflect change through limitations on what can be represented linguistically. Ellen's ability to think for herself makes her an oddity in a world that favors May ' s adherence to a typology in which 'nice women' never claim the kind of freedom Ellen has. Yet to call it 'linguistic atrophy,' as Preston does, underestimates the capacity of such a 'weak' linguistic system to quell unorthodox ideas. In Archer's world, verbal utterances in the form of refusals of invitations, and linguistic gestures of opprobrium and obliquity, direct scripted ritual behavior between Archer and May, the collusion that excludes Archer from discussions of Ellen 's fate, and her eventual banishment itself. Archer sees that "to all o f them he and Madame Olenska were Ohler 203 lovers, lovers in the extreme sense peculiar to 'foreign vocabularies" ( A l 335). Such otherness must be expelled. "[T]he silent organization which held his little world together" ( A l 339) is non-verbal, and reliant on a mode of communication that is similar to the effusion of wordless desire rendered elsewhere as the ability of Ellen's "silence to communicate all she had to say" ( A l 245). In contrast to the inability to speak plainly that is characteristic of Archer's class, his initial conversations with El len contain "hard facts," but "[fjheir very vocabulary was unfamiliar to h im" ( A l 108); confronted with Ellen's frank discussion of her past, Archer does not verbalize a response to the question "[y]ou know about my husband— my life with him?" ( A l 108). Instead, "He made a sign of assent" ( A l 108) that avoids the bramble o f locution his silent reply skirts. Archer cannot enter into such conversations; the class-based lexicon that defines what he can and cannot say, think, and do has no entry for Ellen's situation. IV. '"the knowledge o f ' f o rm ' must be congenital'" ( A l 8) The opening sequence of The Age of Innocence at the old "Academy of Mus ic" ( A l 3) blurs distinctions between the high art the audience takes its evening's entertainment to be, and the gatherings of "Primitive M a n " ( A l 44) with which Archer implicitly compares it to. The scene introduces the reader to Archer, to the way leisure-class manners create the group psychology affecting him, and his concomitant sense of apartness and superiority. Archer won't openly challenge "the carefully brushed, white-waistcoated, button-hole-flowered gentlemen who succeeded each other in the club box" ( A l 7) because doing so wi l l impair his connection to the group. However, Ohler 204 [i]n matters intellectual and artistic Newland Archer felt himself distinctly the superior of these chosen specimens of old New York gentility; he had probably read more, thought more, and even seen a good deal more of the world, than any other men of the number. Singly they betrayed their inferiority; but grouped together they represented 'New York, ' and the habit of masculine solidarity made him accept their doctrine on all the issues called moral. He instinctively felt that in this respect it would be troublesome—and also rather bad form—to strike out for himself. ( A l 7-8) Archer feels 'solidarity' with these men even as he distinguishes himself from them; his insight is acute in matters of habit and dress. A s a 'white-waistcoated' gentleman he conforms, in part because of a coercive 'masculine solidarity,' and the potential violation of form likely caused by independent thought. 'Form' is primary in Archer's world; its violation leaves a mark of difference on the offender. In turning again to the language found in Wharton's characterization of men as 'specimens' and Archer 'instinctively' sensing a threat in the group, variation from which would be 'troublesome,' she figures black tie as attire expressive of tribal conformity. Yet Wharton's protagonist does something similar. Archer, in the posture of the concealed anthropologist as he stands in shadow at the back of his opera box, is struck "by the religious reverence of even the most unworldly American women for the social advantages of dress [...] and he understood for the first time the earnestness with which M a y [...] had gone through the solemn rite of selecting and ordering her extensive wardrobe" ( A l 198). A s his focus turns to Ellen's dated outfit, the text makes adherence to sumptuary codes a primary marker of membership in the tribe, and its violation an act that invites observation and sanction. Ellen appears in a "dark blue velvet gown rather theatrically caught up under her Ohler 205 bosom by a girdle with a large old-fashioned clasp. The wearer of this unusual dress, who seemed quite unconscious of the attention it was attracting, stood a moment in the center of the box" ( A l 9). It is Lawrence Lefferts who spies Ellen across the auditorium. His surveillance of the audience, conducted through a "glass" ( A l 9), indicates sensitivity to matters of form that compels him to note nuances of dress and gesture. Lefferts is only one of many who "turned their opera-glasses critically on the circle of ladies who were the products of the system" ( A l 8). Lefferts is a metonymical caricature. He monitors all who pass under his gaze and stands for the watchfulness of the audience as a whole. He is "the foremost authority on 'form' in N e w York" who can only stammer " M y God!" ( A l 8) when he sees Ellen Olenska attired archaically. Lefferts had, Archer notes, "probably devoted more time than any one else to the study of this intricate and fascinating question; but study alone could not account for his complete and easy competence. One had only to look at him [...] to feel that the knowledge of 'form' must be congenital" ( A l 8). In this way Archer suggests that Lefferts was born with this trait, and that it is, in fact, a trait common to the social stratum Lefferts represents. The protagonist's statement is biologically inflected in calling Lefferts's knowledge 'congenital,' and inductive in its conclusion through an accumulation o f facts, illuminating the particular qualities of Archer's objectivity. The terms of Archer's quasi-scientific commentary reflect the superficial learning acquired in his "Gothic library" ( A l 4) where he dallies before arriving late to the opera. Archer's mind earlier touched on works by Herbert Spencer and George Eliot ( A l 138) when he occupied this special room, one decorated "with glazed black-walnut bookcases and finial-topped chairs" ( A l 4). His appreciation of the decoration scheme o f the library parallels Ohler 206 his light skimming of "one book after another [that] dropped from his hand" ( A l 138). Once in his box at the opera, Archer surveys the scene alongside Lefferts, but as he "turned his eyes from the stage and scanned the opposite side of the house" he merely notices the "monstrous obesity" ( A l 5) of Mrs. Manson Mingott, and does not police the scene as Lefferts does. The omniscient register of the narrative here presents Archer's shallow knowledge as hereditary and defective. His spurious objectivity enables his comment on Lefferts's knowledge of Form, but comes from one "shocked and troubled" by the way Ellen's dress "(which had no tucker) sloped away from her thin shoulders. [...] He hated to think of May Welland's being exposed to the influence of a young woman so careless of the dictates of Taste" ( A l 15). Wharton's amateur anthropologist cannot grasp how Form limits his analysis of its effects by deflecting deeper considerations. One thus finds in this scene distorted varieties of objectivity represented by Lefferts, who observes Ellen, but is watched by Archer, and the authoritative scope of the narrative that depicts both viewpoints. Following the sighting of Ellen Olenska at the opera, audience members in Lefferts's box look to Sillerton Jackson for an interpretation of her unexpected presence: "the whole of the club turned instinctively to hear what the old man had to say; for old M r . Jackson was as great an authority on 'family' as Lawrence Lefferts was on ' form'" ( A l 8). A tribal elder possessed of vital knowledge regarding kinship ties, Jackson knew all the ramifications of New York ' s cousinships; and could not only elucidate such complicated questions as that of the connection between the Mingotts (through the Thorleys) with the Dallases of South Carolina, and that of the relationship of the elder branch of Philadelphia Thorleys to the Albany Chiverses [...] but could also enumerate the leading characteristics of each family. ( A l 9) Ohler 207 Wharton's depiction of this thicket of intertwining family trees emphasizes the importance to this group of knowing each person's place in a social hierarchy where ambiguity over whether one belongs or not, as is the case with Ellen, can ripple the pool of the elect. That Wharton was intent on representing such intolerance of difference through a narrative lens shaped by current trends in anthropology and sociology is an argument made by Bauer, who observes that Wharton had, [I]n The Age of Innocence only a few years before Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa and Branislaw Malinowski 's Sex and Repression in Savage Society, already dismantled the binary opposition between primitive and civilized cultures, by showing that civilized New York is as dependent upon rituals of exclusion and scapegoating as any other pattern of culture. (11-12) The 'binary opposition between primitive and civilized cultures' Bauer refers to, moreover, can be 'dismantled' by the framing narrative only because Archer's flawed scientific angle of vision exists within the narrative as a devalued point-of-view. The consequence of Archer's reading of culture is the maintenance o f a perceived gap between the primitive and civilized. He, therefore, sublimates instinct, or what is 'felt in the blood,' to the requirements of a group whose 'masculine solidarity,' symptomatic of its power of exclusion and inclusion, controls Archer's urge to 'strike out for himself.' In this way social evolution is potentially arrested. But the tactic of 'exclusion and scapegoating,' while successful in keeping Archer within the fold, w i l l fail to mold the next generation, one represented by Archer's son. In the novel's opening scene, the imminent social miscegenation between Archer and Ellen is metaphorically foreshadowed by a depiction of botanical hybridization. In observing Ohler 208 the stage scenery, Archer notes how "a daisy grafted on a rose-branch flowered with a luxuriance prophetic of M r . Luther Burbank's far-off prodigies" ( A l 6) . 1 3 Considered in terms of the text's advocacy of the notion that new ideas, and new blood are needed to reinvigorate a stifled leisure class, this passage presents the possibility of renewal to be inherent in fresh combinations of social/genetic pairings. Archer's demonstration that he knows Burbank's work, however, is spurred not by real flowers, but by stage dressing for which "[n]o expense had been spared" ( A l 6), reinforcing the fact that this costly portrayal of hybridization is safely confined to the stage, where it can be seen from a distance and controlled for viewers like Archer. Furthermore, the text associates Archer's analysis with his scientific amateurism by having him comment on mere figures of flowers. His difficulty in transcending manners that encourage him not to look deeply into scientific matters is confirmed by his hesitance at invigorating timeworn form and inbred genetic stock through an exogamic pairing with Ellen. Garlepp-Burns' recent discussion of The Custom of the Country argues that its scientifically informed narrative contains significant contradictions. It is worth noting that her argument allows one to view the political dimension of The Age of Innocence as compromising the apparent objectivity of Wharton's method. Objectivity, she writes may seem to exclude the subject, but since its very definition requires a subject to observe the object, the apparently alien element of subjectivity complicates the picture; its connotation of impersonality and impartiality may suggest a neutral purpose, but it often masks the desire and acts as the very mechanism for control in narratives; and it may appear totally subservient to outward facts, but it is frequently Ohler 209 used as a form of moral and intellectual authority derived from its source, the revered discipline of science. (Garlepp-Burns 29-30) Wharton's representation of New York ' s elite as a "clan" or "tribe" ( A l 32) whose qualities are presented in a framework cobbled from the author's evolutionary, biological, and anthropological sources controls the narrative intermittently. The disparity between apparent neutrality and didactic social criticism is too great for Wharton's method to bear without its constituent parts being revealed. Wharton's is not a mode of literary realism that unselfconsciously aligns her narrative method with the conventional view Archer represents. Instead, she distances her text from the conventions it portrays through highlighting Archer's manque-scientist judgments. These judgments reveal a socially generated 'objectivity' that transforms Ellen, for example, from a potential source of positive cultural change into "a young woman [...] careless of the dictates of taste" ( A l 15). It is in these juxtapositions between the narrative's scientifically influenced 'moral and intellectual authority,' and Archer's mediated conclusions, that one finds Wharton's tendency to place authorial objectivity in the service of a vision of social renewal. This narrative strategy demonstrates one reason why Wharton does not suppress omniscience in the way practiced by her modernist contemporaries. Phrases that originate with the controlling voice, such as "beyond that his imagination could not travel" ( A l 71), and the abandonment of Archer as a reflecting consciousness in the novel's final chapter, indicate that a single narrative register would be insufficient for Wharton's analysis of Archer's consciousness, and her representation of the cultural elements that shape i t . 1 4 Wharton writes that "the modern American novelist is told that the social and educated being is an unreality unworthy of his attention" ( U C W 155). This statement is related to her Ohler 210 abjuration o f modernist narrative practices, for the fact that Archer is such a 'being' who nevertheless cannot disentangle himself from mediation by manners requires a narrative position from which to assess and value socialization and education. "[Sjtudents of natural history" ( U C W 155), including Wharton, might assume they can evade the complex ideological pressures exerted on Archer by "society [...] one of man's oldest works of art" ( U C W 155), by representing the collective through a scientifically inflected omniscience. However, Wharton's narrative objectivity produces a problem that in her critical writing she describes, and distances herself from. She finds fault with the early French 'realists,' that group of brilliant writers who invented the once-famous tranche de vie, the exact photographic reproduction of a situation or an episode, with all its sounds, smells, aspects realistically rendered, but with its deeper relevance and its suggestions of a larger whole either unconsciously missed or purposely left out. (WF 10) Wharton's articulation of what is 'left out' by this literary form accurately describes Archer's dilemma, wherein the conventional social surface made up of manners and speech he observes and analyzes "tended to draw him back into his old habits of mind" ( A l 195) and away from the 'deeper relevance' of the coerciveness of these habits. For Archer, as for the 'French 'realists," form is all . But Wharton's commentary describes a formal literary problem she faces in attempting to depict a social self troublingly inattentive to the deeper meanings of manners: how to represent superficiality as a feature of a character and an ideology without seeming to share the values that prompt it. Her politically attenuated objectivity avoids a superficial naturalism 'totally subservient to outward facts' by employing an omniscient mode that colors in what is 'unconsciously Ohler 211 missed' by her main character. A s I have shown, in Archer's case what is averted is "naked instinct" (Letters 159), or desire. This is clear when the narrator relates that Archer sent flowers to Ellen "almost without knowing what he did" ( A l 79). The text's representation of the 'deeper relevance' and 'larger whole' unperceived by Archer causes his shallow consciousness to resemble a supposedly 'exact' literary mode. The Age of Innocence transcends this mode, but only because it maintains a politically invested, deeply subjective projection of objectivity. I have argued to this point that The Age of Innocence relies on a polemical sociobiology that advances the genre of the novel as a form capable of critical acuity beyond that possessed by the frame through which Archer, a cataloguer of social habit himself, analyzes his class. But within the narrative, as I've claimed, is a representation of the protagonist's disquiet at the limitations imposed on him by the habits and standards he notes. Such clouds of disillusionment indicate the presence of social evolution. These are manifest in the attitudes of the next generation, which are represented by Archer's son: Dallas belonged body and soul to the new generation. He was the first-born of Newland and M a y Archer, yet it had never been possible to inculcate in him even the rudiments of reserve. 'What's the use of making mysteries? It only makes people want to nose 'em out,' he always objected when enjoined to discretion. ( A l 356) Wharton reflects on subtle shifts in the spirit o f her age, signifying through Archer's partial awakening to the narrowness of his world the existence of alternatives to the paradigms of his class. It is too late for Archer, though, whose indoctrination has crippled his capacity to redefine himself. This impoverishment leads him to feel that the "things that had filled his days seemed now like a nursery parody of life, or like the wrangles of medieval schoolmen Ohler 212 over metaphysical terms that no one had ever understood" ( A l 182). Although he feels dissatisfied, those who have moved outside the bounds of acceptable behavior and attitude disturb Archer. While the novel contains characters who believe that "tolerating men of obscure origin and tainted wealth" such as Julius Beaufort can only end in the "total disintegration" of society ( A l 338), this representation, made by the hypocritical Lawrence Lefferts, ignores the fact that Beaufort is a variation that the enlightened know their closed system needs. Granny Mingott 's intuition that "new blood" ( A l 30) can infuse a hermetic class with variations that w i l l ensure its continued viability makes of Beaufort, who is heedless of straitening moral codes, a carrier of new values who shares traits with outcasts such as Ellen Olenska and Fanny Ring. Yet Archer reacts to Beaufort with hostility. He believes himself to be in competition with Beaufort for Ellen, thinking that "to have routed Beaufort [from Ellen's house] was something of a triumph" ( A l 108). The protagonist illustrates how the pall o f linguistic convention settles over one's ability to discern any sensibility beyond that given by moral standards, limiting his sympathy with, and understanding of, Beaufort and Ellen's European sensibility. This is evident when Ellen, by uttering the phrase "my husband," causes Archer to wonder at her ability to say the words "as i f no sinister associations were connected with them, [...] Archer looked at her perplexedly, wondering i f it were lightness or dissimulation that enabled her to touch so easily on the past at the very moment when she was risking her reputation in order to break with it" ( A l 105-106). Beaufort's cordiality with El len models the possibility of codes of conduct other than those Archer knows. But blindness to the possibility that Beaufort represents an expansion of his narrow world causes Archer to Ohler 213 rehearse class-based prejudices: "his business would be to make he