Reading Edith Wharton Through a Darwinian Lens

Evolutionary Biological Issues in Her Fiction


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About the Book

Beneath the polished surface of the genteel environments delineated in Wharton’s fiction, characters are competing fiercely for desirable mates, questing for social status and resources, and plotting ruthlessly to advance their relatives’ fortunes in life. This book identifies these and other evolutionary issues central to her fiction, demonstrating their significance in terms of character, setting, plot, and theme. Connections to existing Wharton criticism are made throughout the book, so that readers can see how an evolutionary perspective enriches, refutes, or reconfigures insights derived from other critical approaches.

About the Author(s)

Judith P. Saunders, a professor of English at Marist College in New York State, has published works on a wide range of literary topics. Her contributions to Edith Wharton scholarship may be found in a variety of academic journals and textbook editions.

Bibliographic Details

Judith P. Saunders
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 249
Bibliographic Info: glossary, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2009
pISBN: 978-0-7864-4002-3
eISBN: 978-0-7864-5365-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      vi

List of Abbreviations      viii

Introduction      1

1. The House of Mirth: An Unsuccessful Mate Search      7

2. The Reef: The Costs of Conflict Between the Sexes      35

3. The Age of Innocence: Nepotistic Influences on Mating Behavior      68

4. The Glimpses of the Moon: A Creative Experiment in Long-Term Mating      103

5. The Old Maid and “Roman Fever”: Female Mate Choice and Competition Among Women      139

6. The Children: Social Environment and Parental Investment      167

Conclusion: Evolutionary Biological Preoccupations in Wharton’s Fiction      184

Glossary      213

Chapter Notes      215

Works Cited      233

Index      239

Book Reviews & Awards

“wonderfully insightful…Saunders has done the world of Wharton criticism a great service in illuminating the depth of the novelist’s Darwinian obsessions. Saunders has synthesized an incredible amount of material and thought deeply about how it all fits together. Her prose is fast-paced, consistently interesting, and informative. Yet she never lets her own material overwhelm Wharton’s material, an extraordinarily rare virtue in any critic and one almost never found in a critic who is applying a new theory to a canonical author”—The Evolutionary Review; “well written and well researched…fascinating”—Edith Wharton Review; “definitive”—Literary Matters; “provides new ways for the reader to decipher Edith Wharton’s novels”—South Atlantic Review.