Term of Award

Fall 2017

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (M.A.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Literature and Philosophy

Committee Chair

Caren Town

Committee Member 1

Gautam Kundu

Committee Member 2

Olivia Carr Edenfield


In early twentieth century old and new New York social circles, the marriage market’s commodification of women acted as the controlling factor for relationships, female power, and personal identity. When considering Wharton’s works for the first-hand viewpoint that she provided of the marriage market, it becomes clear that her interest in art plays heavily into the way women comport themselves within her novels. In order to discuss this relationship in Edith Wharton’s works, I’ve created terms that delineate the various ways female characters respond to the pressures of the marriage market. The best way to analyze Wharton’s women is by breaking down their interactions with the art and settings of scenes in the text. I’ve used art and artisan to more easily categorize these characters. An art figure knows how to use her beauty to get attention, particularly that of a prominent man. The male gaze determines the worth of a woman as art, and the purveyor becomes husband if the art is suitable enough to be a bride. The artisan figure is a female character that can use her beauty as art to attract marriage while also being independent enough to progress in social standing. She may also have a marketable skill, and she always governs her life without regard for societal expectations. In this thesis, I analyze Wharton’s works from the beginning, middle, and end of her career to show her growth as an author and to test the applicability of these terms. This analysis provides reasoning for why Edith Wharton chooses to kill off one female protagonist but let another live. The driving factor behind all of the women’s lives is the need to serve a purpose, either by marketing themselves as art to be enjoyed by another or creating their own space to dictate what they find to be beautiful.

Research Data and Supplementary Material