Edith Wharton's Letters From the Underworld

Fictions of Women and Writing

By Candace Waid

Edith Wharton's Letters From the Underworld

256 pp., 6 x 9

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4302-4
    Published: May 1991

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In this book, Candace Waid presents an innovative reading of the work of Edith Wharton. Waid examines Wharton's lifelong preoccupation with the place of the American woman writer, which she locates in the context of Wharton's ambivalent reaction to America and American literature. She argues that Wharton used the myth of Persephone to represent both the woman artist and her identification with the daughter who leaves the world of mother to dwell in the "underworld" of experience.

Waid offers detailed interpretations of such works such as The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, Artemis to Actaeon, Summer, The Custom of the Country, and Ghosts -- all of which are read as complex meditations about women and writing. According to Waid, Wharton is obsessed by the potential failure of the American woman artist who risks succumbing to to the false muse of a "feminine aesthetic." Tracing Wharton's literary dialogues with sources ranging from Mary Wilkins to Goethe, from Andrew Marvel to Sir Joshua Reynolds, Waid reveals Wharton's haunting allegories about women, art, and letters.

Originally published in 1991.

A UNC Press Enduring Edition -- UNC Press Enduring Editions use the latest in digital technology to make available again books from our distinguished backlist that were previously out of print. These editions are published unaltered from the original, and are presented in affordable paperback formats, bringing readers both historical and cultural value.

About the Author

Candace Waid is assistant professor of English and American studies at Yale University.
For more information about Candace Waid, visit the Author Page.


"The best full-length critical study of Wharton's work."--Choice

"A rewarding, complexly intelligent and often fascinating achievement. It is a valuable work to be enjoyed, read and re-read by those who love and/or teach Wharton's fiction."--Studies in the Novel

"A superior, original, and fascinating critical performance. Ranging through Edith Wharton's poems and ghost stories and a number of her major longer fictions, Waid traces the author's unexpectedly ambiguous imaging of the American woman and the vocation of writing in America. The discussion is unhampered by theoretical dogma and unburdened by current jargon; it is also enlivened by new modes of critical awareness and has a rare quality of communicable excitement and enjoyment."--R. W. B. Lewis, Yale University

"Candace Waid's passionate, intelligent analysis examines issues of femininity, writing, and experience in Edith Wharton's fiction to demonstrate the intricacies of the novelist's painful yet fruitful awareness. Edith Wharton's Letters from the Underworld reveals its subject as a creator of complicated, powerful stories. It is the achievement of an engaged, innovative, and genuinely imaginative critic."--Patricia Meyer Spacks, University of Virginia