Student Queries: 2002

Queries  2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999
Student Queries 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000  

How to cite this page Submit a question or reply
General Help (X) Meaning of "Real Teeth and Hair" (X)
Ethan Frome Fashion and Dress in The House of Mirth
Title of Custom of the Country  (X) "Roman Fever"
"The Valley of Childish Things" Literary Criticism on Ethan Frome
"Souls Belated"  Portrait of a Lady and The House of Mirth 
Edith Wharton in France Edith Wharton as a Realist Novelist
The House of Mirth and Houses Edith Wharton Foundation on the French Riviera
Epigraph to The House of Mirth  
General Help
NAME: Bethany Reed 


QUESTION: i'm doing a critical essay in my english literature class over edith wharton's works. i need to find a good thesis to prove about her works and i need some  help!! please!! 

(Note: Since this general message is representative of many of the kinds of questions received at the site, future questions of this nature will NOT be answered individually.  Please consult the answer at right for assistance.)

The best way to find a good thesis is to sit down and think about the works that you have read--really think about them.  Here are some suggestions:
1. If you have been asked to compare characters, take a piece of paper and draw a line down the center lengthwise.  Put the name of each character at the top of a column.  What do you know about each character?  Write as quickly as you can, going back to the text for more ideas.  After you've written down the obvious points, go back and look for the less obvious ones.  Do the same thing for the other character.  What similarities and differences do you see?  What points keep coming up? 
2. If you have to write an essay with a thesis about some aspect of Wharton's works, consider these possibilities:
  • Subject and Tone: What is Wharton's attitude toward her subject? How can you tell? What words, images, or scenes show this? To what extent is the narrative voice sympathetic to a character such as Lily Bart?  How can you tell? To what extent is she being ironic? How can you tell?
  • Context: What pieces of information or attitudes does Wharton rely on her audience to supply? For example, is our attitude toward divorce the same as it was in Wharton's day?  In what ways does Wharton respond to or critique her culture?  How can you tell what values are important? In what ways is marriage a business in Wharton's world, and how does this affect the relationships between men and women? What role do women play in the culture that Wharton describes? 
  • Structure:  How is the story told?  Where does Wharton use flashbacks, frame stories, or other devices to tell the story?  How does this affect our perception of the information? Does the work have parallel scenes? How do the characters respond within these scenes?
  • Style: How does Wharton convey her message? What is her sentence structure like? What classical, biblical, literary, philosophical, biological, or musical allusions does she use? What do they mean in the context of the story?
  • Setting: How is the setting of the story important?  If the story is set in a foreign country or with international characters, what do these characters or settings represent?
  • Characters: What do you know about the characters? (See #1 above). Are they round or flat? What has shaped their behavior? Can you figure out how they might behave in a hypothetical situation? What do they look like? What do they do when placed in a social situation? Are they associated with any particular gesture, type of clothing, saying or phrase, or work of art? If so, what does this tell you about them? 
  • NAME: Mizael Gardu=F1o


    I am a student in a translation  English/Spanish program in Mexico, and now I have some problems in translating some expressions in "The Pelican" (1898). The phrases are "Real teeth and hair" and "cut the knot".

    I appreciate any explanation I could receive about these two expressions.

    Best regards.

    Here is the passage from "The Pelican": "After the lecture was over it happened that I walked home with Mrs. Amyot. Judging from the incensed glances of two or three learned gentlemen who were hovering on the door-step when we emerged, I inferred that Mrs. Amyot, at that period, did not often walk home alone; but I doubt whether any of my discomfited rivals, whatever his claims to favor, was ever treated to so ravishing a mixture of shyness and self-abandonment, of sham erudition and real teeth and hair, as it was my privilege to enjoy. Even at the incipience of her public career Mrs. Amyot had a tender eye for strangers, as possible links with successive centres of culture to
    which in due course the torch of Greek art might be handed on." 

    "Real teeth and hair" in this context means that whatever other deficiencies Mrs. Amyot had (of erudition, for example,) she at least does not have false teeth or false hair (like a wig).  Wharton contrasts the two (false and real) to show the real source of Mrs. Amyot's power, her femininity.

    Here is the other passage: "But if Lancelot was not genuine, his mother's love for him was. It justified everything -- the lectures were for the baby, after all. I had not been ten minutes in the room before I was pledged to help Mrs. Amyot to carry out her triumphant fraud. If she wanted to lecture on Plato she should -- Plato must take his chance like the rest of us! There was no use, of course, in being "discriminating." I preserved sufficient reason to avoid that pitfall, but I suggested "subjects" and made lists of books for her with a fatuity that became more obvious as time attenuated the remembrance of her smile; I even remember thinking that some men might have cut the knot by marrying her, but I handed over Plato as a hostage, and escaped by the afternoon train." 

    "Cut the knot"  means "solve the problem." It derives from the old story about Alexander the Great, who solved the problem of untying the Gordian knot by slicing it in half with his sword. 

    Dear Edith Wharton Society,
         I have recently read Souls Belated by Edith Wharton and have started to write a paper on her styles of writing, in this story.  I have already read it over three times and still fail to find all the necessary things to write a paper.  If you could help me I would greatly appreciate it, I am looking for: Characters, Plot,
     Setting, Theme, Symbols, Narrator, etc.

     Thank you for your time


    The questions given for the first answer should help you in writing your paper.
    Ethan Frome and Frame Story

    NAME: moulin

    I'm a french student I'd like to know few things about Edith Wharton
     novel : Ethan Frome
    In Edith wharton's novel Ethan Frome, : Why wharton used the technique of the
     prologue? What role does it play? 

    Wharton's Importance

    My name is Kelsey Wohlman and I attend a private preparatory school in
     Jakarta Indonesia, JIS.  Right now I am doing an independent novel study on
     the Age of Innocence and must do and oral report on the author, Edith
     Wharton.  I was wondering of you could please help me address the question of
     why should books written by Edith Wharton be placed on the curriculum.  I was
     thinking somewhere along the lines of her books being such accurate
     descriptions of an era and age past....  Also, how the society and time
     period in which she lived influenced her writing.  That one is pretty self
     explanatory, and I could manage.  However, any help that you could offer
     would be beneficial.
     Kelsey Wohlman

    Title of Custom of the Country

    NAME: Kelly,
    Hi, I have just finished reading Edith Wharton's, The Custom of the
     Country.  I am new to novels like these and have found it very difficult to
     read.  I have a paper to write on the appropriateness of the novel's title and I
     would really like some help with that!

    You may want to consult some of the sources in the online bibliography on The Custom of the Country, especially the essays by Adeline Tintner and others who discuss the title. Usually people speak of "the custom of the country" as meaning the manners, customs, habits, and moral traditions of a land, often in the context of doing something that one might otherwise not do (or something one disapproves of) or observing a custom that is strange from the perspective of one's own land. You might also want to look at the play The Custom of the Country (circa 1619) by  John Fletcher and Philip Massinger, for this is also a source for Wharton's title. 
    Puritanism in Ethan Frome
    QUESTION: I'm doing a Research Paper on Puritanism in Ethan Frome and was   wondering if anyone knew any similarites between the life of a Puritan
    individual and the characters in the novel Ethan Frome... If any beliefs of the
    Puritans are illustrated in the novel.     AMBS,
    Summaries of Wharton Stories

    QUESTION: I'm doing a critical analysis on the stories "The  Muse's Tragedy" and "The Pelican," and am having a hard time understand and relating the two. I have searched everywhere on the internet for summaries of the stories, but have had no luck. Any advice?            Emily,

    "The Valley of Childish Things"
    > Hello,
     > I'm looking for background information on the short story: The valley of
     > childish things. It was published in Century Magazine 52 (1896) p467 -
     469; "The
     > valley of childish things and other emblems". Can you help me? I didn't
     > anything about it at your site. Thanks a lot in advance.
     > Gabriela Henschke
     > (student at University of Stuttgart)
     > --
     > GMX - Die Kommunikationsplattform im Internet.
    [some material omitted]
    For my part, the best advice I can give you to get started is

    1) Check the MLA bibliography online to see what articles have been
     published on the story since 1984.

     2) Look in the indexes to the main books of Wharton criticism (list at the
     EW site).  You will find the story mentioned in many of the books.  Though
     it won't be discussed in more than a paragraph at most, these citations will
     give you a sense of how people have been reading the story -- as one about
     the preference in men for women who are child-like rather than experienced,
     and so on.

     Good luck,
    S Shaloo

     Sharon Shaloo, Executive Director
     Massachusetts Center for the Book

    Bibliography on "Roman Fever" 
        I have a class which is english class. 
               We learned "roman fever" written by Edith Warther. 
               I need to make my paper about it. 
               Do you have sources of roman fever? 
               Let me know please 
               Thank you 
    You can find a bibliography by searching this site; the question and answer appear on the Student Queries 2000 page, and there is a bibliography on that page. 
    "Souls Belated" 
    Dear Edith Wharton Society,
         I have recently read Souls Belated by Edith Wharton and have started to write a paper on her styles of writing, in this story.  I have already
     read it over three times and still fail to find all the necessary things to write a paper.  If you could help me I would greatly appreciate it, I am
     looking for: Characters, Plot, Setting, Theme, Symbols, Narrator, etc.

     Thank you for your time.


    The questions in the "General Help" section of this page should help you get started with this question. At some future date, we will be working on putting more information about the short stories on this site. 
    "Roman Fever" 
    QUESTION: 1. Account for the irony that readers can experience in Roman Fever. 2. After years being married to a successful lawyer, Did Mrs Slade really found the true happiness and peace in mind?-- Anh Ng,
    Fashion and Dress in The House of Mirth
    QUESTION: I need information, articles and  references for my essay on "the Significance of Fashion and Dress in House of Mirth". I am finding very little info on it. Karen Hamlin,
    Literary Criticism on Ethan Frome
    QUESTION: Hi.  My name is Tessa and I am in the tenth grade.  I need a number of literary criticisms on "Ethan Frome" by Edith Wharton.  Any help would be really helpful for my presentation that is due, like, real soon!!!!  Thanks.Tessa Dimsdale,
    You can find some suggestions for finding sources if you look in the Student Queries pages for previous years and also the FAQ pages.  As noted above and on other pages, we can't send you critical articles about your topic; you need to look them up in your library.
    Edith Wharton in France

    I'm a french student and I'm reading this book for my literature class. = I'd like to find information on the book and also on E.Wharton life = while she lived in France, if you could help me, web site, books... Thanks. virginie

    You can find good information on Wharton's life in the biographies written about her life; a short biographical sketch is available at

    Information about where Wharton lived in France is available on the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page.

    Edith Wharton as a Realist Novelist 

    I would appreciate it if you could answer the following queries. 

    -Can we consider Edith Wharton a realist novelist? If so what was her contribution to the edification of the American realistic novel? 

    -What themes did come out more frequently in her works? 


    M.Barkaoui, University of Annaba, Algeria.

    Portrait of a Lady and The House of Mirth 

    I'm doing a project for a Realism and Naturalism class on comparing James' "Portrait of a Lady" to Wharton's 

    "Age of Innocence." I need some information on where the comparisons/references are and what they are. 

    This information would be appreciated. 

    Jennifer Underwood

    You should be able find some relevant articles in the Edith Wharton and Henry James bibliography at, starting with Millicent Bell's Edith Wharton and Henry James: The Story of Their Friendship.
    Edith Wharton and Cities

    I was looking into your great site about Edith Warthon society and I wanted to ask a quick question. 

    I was wondering how I can find some information on Edith Warthon's life in major cities(NY, major European cities) and how it influenced her work. 

    Thanks for your time. 


    Armin Afshar-Hamdi.

    You can find good information on Wharton's life in cities in the biographies written about her life; a short biographical sketch is available at

    Information about cities where Wharton lived is available on the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page.

    Ethan Frome and Happiness

    QUESTION: In "Ethan Frome" do you feel that the character of Ethan should be pitied, or do you think that he is just suffering from his mindset that "the grass is always greener on the other side"? Please help me with this question, thankyou.

    The House of Mirth and Houses

    QUESTION: I am a student and I need some informations about the subject of houses in the novel "The House of Mirth". Could you help me suggesting critics that I can find on the web (or other sources)about this matter? Thank you very much in advance for your help. Have a nice day! Ramona 
    Ramona Lamberti, 

    Edith Wharton Foundation on the French Riviera?

    QUESTION: I have heard a rumor of an Edith Wharton foundation on the French Riviera.  Can anyone provide me with information about this foundation if it indeed exists?  Thanks for your assistance. 
     Leslie Shimotakahara, 

    This may be a reference to her house there, a chateau in Hyeres on the Riviera (Ste. Claire du Vieux Chateau). 
    QUESTION: HELP ME!!!! I have been looking all over the entire web for Reviews and Criticisms of Edith Wharton's "The Fulness of Life" and I can't find anything! I have a paper due on monday and ANY INFORMATION AT ALL WOULD BE WONDERFUL....PLEASE HELP!

    Blair Atwood 

    You will find several suggestions about finding online criticism and other types of sources on Wharton on our FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page.
    Epigraph to The House of Mirth

    QUESTION: Why did Wharton decline her publisher's request to put this epigraph from Ecclelesiastes 7:4 on the title page: "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth?"



    Wharton wrote about this in a letter to her editor, William Crary Brownell (Letters 94). 
    Winter Setting in Ethan Frome

    QUESTION: Do you know what does the winter setting symbolizes in Ethan Frome? Why do you think so? Do you know what does the sled symbolizes in Ethan Frome and why do you think so?

    F. Pedraza 

    Many critics have commented on the winter setting in Ethan Frome. What is your opinion? Why might a white, frozen landscape in which all life is dead or dormant be especially appropriate to an understanding of Ethan's life? You might want to look first at any of the recommended books, especially Marlene Springer's Ethan Frome: A Nightmare of Need or the Norton Critical Edition of the novel.