Kaleidoscopic allusions: James and Wharton on modernity through art, convention, and the kaleidoscope

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Henry James and Edith Wharton comprise two of the most successful turn-of-the-century American writers. The two follow the progression of young men and women who attempt to navigate marital, social, and monetary concerns of high-society. Through my research, I’ve traced James and Wharton’s recruitment of art, convention, and the kaleidoscope (a cultural phenomenon that infiltrated nearly every social circle and spun its way into the literary sphere) to highlight their respective attitudes toward modernity. Their language especially concerns females and their socially-assumed decorative qualities. I have constructed a cultural and theoretical analysis on modernist literature and the kaleidoscope, followed by close readings of The Portrait of a Lady (James), The Age of Innocence (Wharton), The House of Mirth (Wharton), and The Custom of the Country (Wharton), to prove the valuable insight readers can glean from reading James and Wharton through a kaleidoscopic lens.


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