Date of Award

Winter 1988

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Based on primary research, my dissertation, "Friends and Rivals, Edith Wharton's Women," examines the two plots that the author used throughout her career. Her dominant plot is outlined in "Souls Belated" (1899), the tale of a women who escapes a conventionaly stifling marriage only to discover that she and her lover have no choice but to duplicate the union she has just fled. It shows the ways in which Wharton challenged but never escaped the restrictions of the marriage plot. The following year she wrote "Friends" (1900), a story that overtly articulates the subplot that I trace in her fiction. As its name suggests, it is about the meaning and demands of friendship, and its key elements inform nearly all her novels. Women, who seem to be opposites but who are in reality more similar than dissimilar, become the means for the other's growth. By learning to see from the other's perspective, they realize that self-sacrifice gives life meaning and purpose. Using feminist, biographical, and to some extent psychological methodologies. I analyze Wharton's concerns with the allure and danger of romanticism, the development of consciousness, the importance of female artistry, and the continuation of personal and literary traditions in the context of her period and from the dual perspectives of competition and cooperation.