Date of Award
Program or Major
Doctor of Philosophy
Sarah Way Sherman
The recent scholarly reevaluation of Henry James in terms of queer theory has created a need to reexamine James' influence on Edith Wharton and her works. In this dissertation, I explore how James introduced Wharton to a circle of friends (the "Happy Few"), a group of queer men-of-letters who provided the author with both a literal and figurative space for discovering an interiorized, masculine queer self. Specifically addressing the years between 1905 and 1910, I show in this study how Wharton's initiation into queer culture and her introduction to the pederastic tradition, as reimagined through Walt Whitman's paradigmatic "comradeship," gave the author the tools for resisting late Victorian expectations both in terms of traditional gender constructs and heteronormativity. This postfeminist analysis of these two authors and their "band of brothers," draws upon the theoretical frameworks conceived by Butler, Riviere, and Girard, all of whom address the performance of gender and sexual selves, to show how James and Wharton anticipated a postmodern, theatrical sense of identity. Through the use of erotic triangles, the splitting of identity into public and private personae, camp language, and an understanding of a specific homosexual male literary tradition, Wharton, during her friendship with James, developed a sophisticated register of human emotion; from James, Wharton learned how to channel desire in complex ways, through sublimation and indirect expression. As a result of James' mentorship, and his role within her complicated affair with Morton Fullerton, Wharton not only discovered her mature, authorial voice as an active, masculine speaker, but she experienced a powerful sexual awakening that acted as the catalyst for her writing her greatest works of fiction. James' and Wharton's shared appreciation and understanding of Whitman's poetry, as symbolized in his construct of the "comrade," created a powerful connection between them that powerfully influenced their lives and literary works. The discoveries Wharton made during this rather brief period of five years influenced the literature she produced until her death in 1937.
Kehl Califano, Sharon, "The comradeship of the "Happy Few": Henry James, Edith Wharton, and the pederastic tradition" (2007). Doctoral Dissertations. 408.