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Literature & Criticism / American Studies / Cultural Studies / Women's Studies


Edith Wharton's Brave New Politics
Dale M. Bauer

"A highly significant contribution to the field, Edith Wharton's Brave New Politics will enliven and enrich debate about Wharton's fiction—especially its political and historical dimensions—and about the intersection between literature and history, fiction and feminism. The book is a richly detailed, forcefully argued piece of critical work, one that draws resourcefully upon Wharton scholarship, historical and biographical materials, and feminist and cultural theory."
—William Cain, Wellesley College

Most critics claim that Edith Wharton's creative achievement peaked with her novels The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence, dismissing her later fiction as reactionary, sensationalistic, and aesthetically inferior. In Edith Wharton's Brave New Politics, Dale M. Bauer overturns these traditional conclusions. She shows that Wharton's post-World War I writings are acutely engaged with the cultural debates of her day—from reproductive control, to authoritarian politics, to mass culture and its ramifications.

Bauer examines the social and political critique implicit in Wharton's later works, from Summer (1917) to her last novel, The Buccaneers (published posthumously in 1938). She deftly integrates historical, political, and feminist concerns to recast Wharton's antimodernism and to recover the novelist's understanding of public life and private morality.

Edith Wharton's Brave New Politics illustrates how literary criticism can change the course of a literary career. In her refutation of the dominant interpretations of Wharton's literary work, Bauer challenges the prevailing conception of this genteel woman of letters, showing that to read Wharton's works in isolation of her complex politics is to misunderstand Wharton's aims and to miss entirely the exhilarating power of these later fictions.

Dale M. Bauer is professor of English and women's studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She has published on Bakhtin and feminism, American culture and feminist theory.

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January 1995

LC: 94-013432 PS
192 pp.   6 x 9

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Paper $18.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-14424-1
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The cloth edition, ISBN 0-299-14420-8,
is out of print.



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