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UBC Theses and Dissertations

‘Unafraid of change’: the development of Edith Wharton’s authorship and magazines Pajot, Pavlina


This dissertation, which studies Wharton’s authorship through the lens of her periodical publications and subsequent book revisions, contrary to earlier evaluations of her career, portrays her as a modern writer attuned to the changing literary marketplace and able to cater to diverse audiences. It argues that studying Wharton’s authorship—her “trajectory” (Bourdieu, Field 189)—through her engagement with various periodicals (from the higher-brow Scribner’s Magazine to the middlebrow Pictorial Review and Delineator) and within the context of the American literary field at the turn of the twentieth century offers a more nuanced view of her career as a “series of positions” in the literary arena characterized by the progressive adaptation of her authorship to the marketplace. Examining Wharton’s trajectory through her involvement with periodicals shows her as a writer who in her Scribner’s stage (1904-1913), was, to an extent, still affiliated with genteel values about art reflective of Scribner’s ideology. Then, in the 1920s and early 1930s, during her affiliation with Pictorial Review and Delineator, she became a more commercially successful and critically acclaimed professional who understood how to navigate the changing field. During the later years of the Depression when Wharton’s sales decreased and her work was often rejected by mass magazines, she became a writer out of sync with the demands of the field. In addition to examining Wharton’s changing positions, this dissertation also studies the development of her “disposition” (Bourdieu, “Habitus” 43) regarding artistic compromise—selling one’s art for money. I present a detailed discussion of the magazine versions of her artist stories published in Scribner’s, “The Descent of Man“ (1904), “The Potboiler” (1908), and “The Verdict” (1908); her Pictorial Review ghost/detective stories, “The Temperate Zone” (1924), “Miss Mary Pask” (1925), and “The Young Gentlemen” (1926); and the novels that she serialized in Delineator, namely, Hudson River Bracketed (1928-1930) and The Gods Arrive (1932). Wharton employed what I call the authorial strategy of plasticity in her postwar work, which allowed her to simultaneously cater to both the middlebrow readers of women’s magazines and her higher-brow book audience—using textual revisions, unreliable narration/perspectivism, paratext, and genre hybridity/duality/renovation.

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