By D. Chambers
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Extra resources for Feminist Readings of Edith Wharton: From Silence to Speech
Indeed, the Progressive Era was marked by heightened concerns about masculinity. Ammons observes, The era that saw women gain the vote, earn unprecedented percentages of college degrees, enter the professions in unheard-of-numbers, lower the birthrate, raise the divorce rate, and stop the sale of liquor was also, it is important to remember, the era of San Juan Hill, the Rough Riders, World War One, and a political party named, not carelessly, the Bull Moose Party. (Conflicting Stories 16) WHARTON AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY 29 In both the larger culture and academic circles, men worried about how to shore up American masculinity.
I say you have been blessed among women” (Lewis, Letters 217). For Wharton, the work of writing and the identity of author became increasingly central in giving meaning and shape to her life. Wharton escaped the pain of Teddy’s illness and their disintegrating marriage only in her writing: “It has been impossible to work except spasmodically these last months, & more & more & more I find that Salvation is there, & there only” (Lewis, Letters 218). Indeed, Wharton made the painful decision to divorce Teddy only after it was clear that Teddy could no longer manage even the appearance of contented and responsible spouse.
She writes, “You will wonder that the priestess of the Life of Reason shd take such things to heart; & I wonder too. I never have minded before; but as my work reaches its close, I feel so sure that it is either nothing, or far more than they know . . ” (Lewis, Letters 483). But in 1933, Wharton concludes in her autobiography, If one has sought the publicity of print, and sold one’s wares in the open market, one has sold to the purchasers the right to think what they choose about one’s books; and the novelist’s best safeguard is to put out of his mind the quality of praise or blame bestowed on him by reviewers and readers, and to write only for that dispassionate and ironic critic who dwells within the breast.