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By J. Haytock

This examine imagines modernism as a chain of conversations and locates Edith Wharton’s voice in these debates.  

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Extra resources for Edith Wharton and the Conversations of Literary Modernism (American Literature Readings in the 21st Century)

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Such critical speculation is tricky, of course, because Darrow sees what he wants to see in Sophy, but in Paris he does offer an interpretation of the streets around them that differs from his own and that he attributes to Sophy. If Darrow regards the scenes of Paris as a series of Impressionist landscape paintings, Sophy, in contrast, seems to look at the city as if standing too close to a neo-Impressionist painting: She seemed hardly conscious of sensations of form and colour, of any imaginative suggestion, and the spectacle before them—always, in its scenic splendour, so moving to her companion—broke up, under her scrutiny, into a thousand minor points: the things in the shops, the types of character and manner of occupation shown in the passing faces, the street signs, the names of the hotels they passed, the motley brightness of the flower-carts, the identity of the churches and public buildings that caught her eye.

Her understanding of the social structure does not allow for a woman to have affairs and retain Sophy’s appearance of respectability and generous, attractive personality. Mrs. ” 9 If Mrs. ”10 Sophy Viner herself emerges as the artist figure with the most to offer Anna. As we see through her relationship with Darrow, Sophy becomes identified as an Impressionist. Explaining her situation to Darrow early in the novel, “she had brushed in this outline of her career with light rapid strokes” (17). Darrow experiences Sophy as an “extraordinary conductor of sensation” (59); he finds the play Oedipe “airless and lifeless” (65) until he hears Sophy’s comments on it at intermission: “Seen in this light, the play regained for Darrow its supreme and poignant reality.

As previously noted, the novel uses only Darrow and Anna as centers of consciousness, leaving Sophy’s view largely unknown. Rebecca Blevins Faery calls her the unknown itself, the “submerged text,” unreadable to both Anna and Darrow (87). I agree that Sophy embodies and lives the female sexuality hidden in both the text and the culture, but I also believe Wharton provides clues to her inner life. PROBLEM OF IMPRESSIONISM IN THE REEF 39 Although the story of Darrow and Sophy’s affair is told from Darrow’s perspective, Darrow also seems to receive glimpses of how she views the world.

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