The New York hieroglyphs: Urban ekphrases in New York novels of Edith Wharton

Finnigan, Johnny (2008) The New York hieroglyphs: Urban ekphrases in New York novels of Edith Wharton. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis critically applies the principles of classical rhetorical ekphrasis to Edith Wharton's three major New York texts - The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country and The Age of Innocence. The opening chapter of this thesis analyses several basic concepts: the classical genesis of ekphrasis (a vivid verbal description in its simplest sense); the role of the city in literature; Wharton's own knowledge of New York City; the cognitive mechanics of understanding images in literature; and of vital importance, Wharton's own formal aesthetic strategies which underpin the entire thesis, and which connect with the former strategies mentioned above. Each of these elements are invoked and developed to illustrate the idea that the New York backdrop of Wharton's major New York texts can be ekphrastically decoded in order to generate a micronarrative which in turn refracts' the master narrative. In the following chapter, I analyse The Age of Innocence and its introduction of topographical sites which, singularly, have a refractive quality on the master narrative, and, collectively, serve to colour the entire text. The ekphrastic model is likened to Bakhtin's chronotopic model and the city is at first viewed in terms of individual topographical sites. I then view these sites collectively as a cipher which when decoded, comments on the changing nature of the New York social hierarchy at the time the novel is set, and establishes the initial element in what - in looking at the three novels studied - is a narrative of change. This metamorphosis, the genesis of which is illuminated in The Age of Innocence, would eventually result in the social, commercial and geographical peripheralisation of its traditional patriarchs, whilst being replaced by an insurgent nouveaux riches. The House of Mirth is discussed in Chapter Three, where a different hieroglyph of the city is constructed by Wharton. This hieroglyph, once decoded, illuminates the peripheralisation of Lily Bart through her lack of a 'place of her own'. This chapter analyses the naturalist impulse which characterises Wharton's writing, and serves to substantiate the narrative of change which is apparent in The Age of Innocence, by showing a city in a state of flux, with Lily Bart's journey being a journey of discovery for the reader, as they observe the difficulties, and possibilities, of social movement in fin de siecle New York. Chapter Four completes the individual analyses of Wharton's New York novels by looking at The Custom of the Country. It also provides the final component of the narrative of change. The catoptric structure of the text is investigated, once again highlighting the emergence of a different hieroglyph which serves to enhance the central thematic concerns which revolve around the palimpsestic sublimation of the patriarchs by the nouveaux riches. Individual topographic sites are analysed ekphrastically and subsequently thematic exponents of the text are explored. Finally, the New York hieroglyphs, as defined in each of the novels, are seen as offering a view of a notional narrative of change which charts the evolution of the social fabric of New York City over a 30 year period. Wharton's naturalist credentials are then established with an overview of the entire thesis.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: American literature, Edith Wharton, New York (NY).
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Castillo, Prof. Susan
Date of Award: 2008
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2008-71114
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 May 2019 10:49
Last Modified: 11 Jul 2021 09:20
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.71114

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