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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: November 2019

Chapter 6 - Edith Wharton and Transnationalism

from Part II - International Wharton

Summary

“Edith Wharton and Transnationalism” traces the intersecting themes of gender, exile, cosmopolitanism, and transnationalism in Wharton’s postwar novels. The essay proposes that distinctions between cosmopolitanism (characterized by wealth, voluntary mobility across national boundaries, and personal autonomy) and transnationalism (characterized by economic precarity, involuntary mobility, and alienated workers) break along gender lines. In the postwar novels, vulnerable agents, typically young women, try to establish a secure base for themselves despite lacking either economic capital (in The Reef and Glimpses of the Moon) or a social cachet lost through their actions (The Mother’s Recompense, Hudson River Bracketed, The Gods Arrive), in both cases experiencing a rootless existence at odds with the travel among countries and cultures in which their male counterparts engage. Wharton’s signposts of transnationalism, among them a focus on transportation and movement, mechanically mediated communications, economic exchanges for social benefits, and adoptive motherhood figure within these novels as a means of illustrating not so much the value of rootedness as the effects of modernity in erasing it as a possibility for transnational women.