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Undergraduate English Courses

358:442 Henry James, Edith Wharton, and the End of Realism

01   TTH6   CAC   18090   EVANS   MU-107

Henry James, Edith Wharton, and the End of Realism

Imagine the elderly Henry James in the back seat of Edith Wharton’s motorcar as they ride around the countryside of France together in the early 1900’s, perhaps with her lover, their mutual friend, Morton Fullerton. Or imagine the two of them wandering through a small rural town in the hills of Massachusetts, after the motorcar has broken down, looking completely out of place as they search for a restaurant that would admit both them and Wharton’s poodle. Theirs was one of the great literary friendships of the early twentieth century, which this class will explore with an eye to their brilliant short fiction and to the ways their work tracks the end of a particularly 19th century mode of realist writing. James and Wharton were probably America’s greatest realist writers, and their novels and stories are remarkable documents of the corrupting influence of money and the complexity of sexuality in the modern world. They were also both incredible literary experimentalists, ushering in the complex forms of 20th century modernism. In our reading and discussions, we will pay particular attention to both Wharton and James as theorists of perception and representation, and as keen observers of new developments in the arts. Readings will include at least one major novel from each author, a large number of their short stories, a smattering of their correspondence, selections from biographies, and secondary criticism. Students in the seminar will be expected to participate actively in discussion and produce a term paper.