Beauty Enshrined in Edith Wharton’s Fiction

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2008


This chapter concerns moments in Wharton’s fiction in which women are “enshrined” in art as poems, pictures, or statues—idols intended for possession or exhibition (Letters 136). The chapter addresses Wharton’s lesser-known early tales “The Muse’s Tragedy,” “The Moving Finger,” “and “The Duchess at Prayer” in context with the well-known The House of Mirth, while drawing connections to other texts by Wharton and those whose work her fiction invokes—Browning, Hawthorne, Poe, Balzac, George Eliot, Christina Rossetti, and especially Dante Rossetti. These Wharton tales embrace a number of shared themes: an awareness of the cultural predilection for imaging women as objects of display for possession or exhibition; a recognition of the period’s inextricable link between art and the death of a beautiful woman; and a consciousness of the way in which the representation of women has been theorized as akin to sexually overpowering them and/or appropriating their “fertile gardens” and that this conquest is marked by violence.


"Field Notes" is a publication of the Master of Arts Teaching Program at Bard College. http://www.bard.edu/mat/fieldnotes/index.php.

Publication Title

Field Notes

Published Citation

Orlando, Emily. (2008) “Beauty Enshrined in Edith Wharton’s Fiction,” Field Notes: A Publication of the Master of Arts in Teaching Program at Bard College, Fall 2008, Vol. 4 Iss 2.

Peer Reviewed