Institutions of Authorship: Publishing, Gatekeeping, and Patronage in the Modern Literary Field

Owning the Apparatus: Edith Wharton, Racine, and the Fetishization of Pre-Revolutionary France

Author
  • Sheila Liming (Champlain College)

Abstract

This essay explores the best-selling American author Edith Wharton’s status as a bibliophile and book collector. It draws comparisons between her tastes as a collector and those of some of her neighbors, especially those residing in the Berkshires area of western Massachusetts around 1900. It focuses, in particular, on a rare, first-edition copy of the play Esther (1689), by Jean Racine; Wharton owned a copy of this book and so did her neighbors, the Choate family. As such, the essay launches an investigation into the value that Racine held as an author for members of Wharton’s milieu in fin-de-siècle America, exposing a set of class-specific beliefs that appear to counter the progressivist and democratic ideologies of that era. It reads Wharton’s and her associates’ interests in Racine as indicative of class-specific ideas regarding cultural inheritance. It argues that Wharton and the Choates, in collecting rare editions of Racine, were doing more than paying homage to literary tradition or enhancing their cultural capital; they were mounting tacit claims for their particular positions within a given social order, inspired in part by romantic visions of pre-revolutionary France.

How to Cite:

Liming, S., (2023) “Owning the Apparatus: Edith Wharton, Racine, and the Fetishization of Pre-Revolutionary France”, Authorship 11(1): 2. doi: https://doi.org/10.21825/authorship.85415

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Published on
31 Jan 2023
Peer Reviewed