Category Archives: Conferences

Edith Wharton’s Virtual New York

We wanted to let you know that the webpage with details about Edith Wharton’s (Virtual) New York is up and running. At the page, you will find details about the events we are running, including a link to our YouTube channel that contains short videos by roundtable presenters. Those videos should be watched prior to the roundtable event on Thursday, July 16th, 1pm EDT. No preparation is required for the keynote lecture on Wednesday, July 15th, 1pm EDT.
Conference Participants: RE. the keynote talk and the roundtable discussion, you will receive Zoom links over email on the week of the events.
If you have any questions, please let us know.

Margaret Toth (Meg) and Margaret Jay Jessee (Jay), Edith Wharton’s New York Conference Co-Directors

Announcements: Edith Wharton’s (Virtual) New York for Conference Participants

Dear Conference Participants,

We are pleased to invite you to participate in Edith Wharton’s (Virtual) New York, a slate of events we are creating to recognize the canceled 2020 NYC conference and to commemorate the centennial of the publication of The Age of Innocence. These events are designed to honor not only Wharton’s relationship to the city but also the past, present, and future of Wharton scholarship.

We are still working out some details, but Edith Wharton’s (Virtual) New York will include two live sessions, and we ask that you please save the dates for those:

July 15, 2020 1:00 EDT: Keynote Lecture by Francis Morrone (Architecture Historian, NYU), “Newland Archer’s New York,” with an introduction by Meg Toth

July 16, 2020 1:00 EDT: Discussion with Wharton Scholarship Roundtable panelists on the past, present, and future of Wharton scholarship, hosted by Paul Ohler and Jay Jessee

We hope you will be able to join!

Thank you,
Margaret Toth (Meg) and Margaret Jay Jessee (Jay), Edith Wharton’s New York Conference Co-Directors


The original schedule for the in-person Edith Wharton’s New York 2020 is available under Conferences – Edith Wharton’s New York 2020 – Edith Wharton’s New York 2020 Conference Schedule in the menu bar and also here:

Conference Update: Edith Wharton’s New York in 2020

Edith Wharton’s New York:
A Conference Sponsored by the Edith Wharton Society New Yorker Hotel
June 17th-20th 2020

Please join the Edith Wharton Society for its upcoming conference marking the centennial anniversary of the publication of Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, The Age of Innocence. We will celebrate this momentous year in New York, the setting not only of so many of Wharton’s works but also of much of her life.

While all topics are welcome, we are particularly interested in whole panels and individual papers that focus on New York as a geographical and thematic element in Wharton’s life and works. Papers could explore the role of New York City and/or the Hudson River Valley in Wharton’s works, Wharton’s own history with the region, or Wharton’s relationship to place and space more generally. Papers that offer new readings of The Age of Innocence—such as new historical approaches or legacies of The Age of Innocence, the novel’s relationship to other works by Wharton and/or her peers, and adaptations of the novel (for film, theater, etc.)—are also welcome.

Since 1920 marks the beginning of what many consider the “later years” of Wharton’s career, examinations of Edith Wharton’s works in the shifting literary and political foundations of post- WWI society are also of interest. The 20s mark the centennial of other significant Wharton texts, and essays that examine these later works are of particular interest.

In addition, there will be a keynote speaker and opportunities for tours of local attractions. Further details forthcoming.

We welcome submissions for full panels of 4-5 participants and roundtables of 6-7 participants as well as individual paper submissions. Please submit proposals no later than August 1st, 2019 to

For full panel and roundtable proposals, please submit 200-350-word summaries of each presentation included in the panel or roundtable as well as a brief 50-word bio and A/V requests for each presenter.

For individual paper proposals, please submit a 350-500-word abstract, a brief 50-word bio, and A/V requests as one Word document.

All conference participants must be members of the Edith Wharton Society at the time of registration.

For additional information, contact co-directors at email address above or individually: Margaret Toth (Meg), Manhattan College
Margaret Jay Jessee (Jay), University of Alabama at Birmingham

Deadline for Approaches to Teaching the Works of Edith Wharton Extended to February 28, 2018.

Deadline for Approaches to Teaching the Works of Edith Wharton Extended to February 28, 2018.

The deadline to contribute to the survey and send a proposal to a Modern Language Association (MLA) volume, Approaches to Teaching the Works of Edith Wharton, edited by Ferdâ Asya, is extended to Wednesday, February 28, 2018.

You can contribute to the volume by completing a survey about your experiences of teaching Wharton’s works. The names of all contributors to the survey will be mentioned in the published volume.


You also can propose an essay for the volume. If you would like to propose an original essay for the volume, please submit an abstract of approximately 500 words in which you describe your approach or topic and explain its usefulness for both students and instructors. The focus of your essay should be pedagogical and the abstract should be as specific as possible. Proposed essays should not be previously published.


Please also attach a short CV.

Please send your abstract and CV to Ferdâ Asya electronically at by February 28, 2018.


You may send any supplemental materials such as course descriptions, course plans, syllabi, assignments, bibliographies, or other relevant documents as separate attachments (.doc, .docx, .rtf, or .pdf) or by surface mail to Ferdâ Asya at Department of English, 111A Bakeless Center for the Humanities, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, 400 East Second Street, Bloomsburg, PA 17815.


The information about proposing an essay is available at the end of the survey.


The survey for Approaches to Teaching the Works of Edith Wharton is also available here:


For other questions, please contact Ferdâ Asya at

Wanted: Conference Director(s) for Next EWS Conference

Have a vision for our next Wharton conference?  A talent for organizing?  An eye for the future of Wharton studies?  The Edith Wharton Society would love to hear from individuals who are interested in directing our next conference.  At MLA Paul Ohler, Melanie Dawson, and Jennifer Haytock will be available for in-person or Skype conversations about the next society conference, likely in 2020.  All inquiries are welcome.
Conference directors set conference themes, arrange dates, calls for papers, organize space rentals, oversee all legal contracts, liaison with caterers, arrange payments to vendors, organize and coordinate reviews of proposals, and arrange the program.  They also organize social media, select guest speakers, and oversee special events for the conference with the support of the Society President, Vice President, and other Board members. We traditionally have two co-directors who work collaboratively. This is an invaluable service to the Wharton community and a way to learn more about your colleagues in Wharton studies.  Please email Paul Ohler at in advance of the MLA conference.

Conference Announcement: EWS Roundtable Participants at SAMLA


The Edith Wharton Society will be holding a roundtable at SAMLA (South Atlantic Modern Language Association) on The Gilded Age in the Twenty-First Century: Edith Wharton’s Continuing Relevance. Join us for the conversation on Saturday, November 4, 2017, 1:45-3:15 PM (Session 9-24) in Piedmont 8 at the Westin Peachtree Plaza in Atlanta, Georgia.

With the roundtable format, we’ll have plenty of time for a wide-ranging conversation about Wharton and the continuing “re-mediation” of her work in contemporary culture. SAMLA’s theme this year isHigh Art/Low Art: Borders and Boundaries in Popular Culture. Our roundtable includes three panelists: Alexis Williams, Middle Tennessee State University, on “Lilies, Dandelions, and the Price of Privilege: Wharton’s The House of Mirth and Kohan’s Orange is the New Black,” Mary Carney, University of North Georgia, on “Re-Framing Wharton: Interpreting Wharton’s Milieu via Modern Photography,” and Monica Miller, Middle Georgia State University on “Finding Edith Wharton: Archival Discoveries and the Popular Imagination.” Join us to share your insights about Wharton and popular culture.


Edith Wharton Panel at ALA (May 25-28, 2017, in Boston)

Session 9-K     Wharton Chapters: Discussing Wharton within Book Projects

Organized by the Edith Wharton Society

Chair: Melanie Dawson, College of William and Mary

1.    “The descendants of Daisy Miller: Edith Wharton and the development of the flirt,” Juliet Conway, Edinburgh University

2.    “Passing Without Failing: Edith Wharton’s Undine and Jessie Redmond Fauset’s Angela,” Madison Priest, The Graduate Center, CUNY

3.    “Wharton, Writing, and Modern Advice,” John Nichols, Christopher Newport University

Responder: Arielle Zibrak, University of Wyoming at Caspar

MLA 2016 EWS Panel and Abstracts

MLA ROUNDTABLE: Edith Wharton and the Fin de Siècle
Allied Organization: The Edith Wharton Society
7 January 2016, 1:45 pm
Austin, TX

 Chair/Organizer: Emily Orlando, PhD
Associate Professor of English, Fairfield University
President, Edith Wharton Society

1) “Aborigines, Aristocrats and Apex: Narratives of Culture(s) in Wharton’s Custom of the Country

Eric Aronoff, PhD
Associate Professor of English, Michigan State University

In Custom of the Country, Ralph Marvell famously contemplates the difference between the moral and aesthetic order represented by Old New York families like his, and the flamboyant tastes of the newly wealthy class whose fortunes are made through Wall Street speculation: designating his parents’ generation “the Aborigines,” after “those vanishing denizens of the American continent doomed to rapid extinction with the advance of the invading race,” he concludes that “the ideals of aboriginal New York…were singularly coherent and respectable as contrasted with the chaos of indiscriminate appetites which made up its modern tendencies.”

While Ralph here articulates a nostalgic narrative of cultural decline, in which cultural and aesthetic “coherence” is replaced by “chaos,” what Wharton’s language here really suggests is the “chaos” of the concept of culture itself in the fine de siècle. Here, Wharton intertwines at least two of the dominant conceptions of culture at the turn of the century, together capturing both the specter of degeneration and the hope of progress — Matthew Arnold and E.B. Tylor: on the one hand, Ralph draws on an Arnoldian model of “culture” as a universal hierarchy of taste and refinement, in relation to which (in this case) modernity represents aesthetic “anarchy.” At the same time, Arnold would not have recognized “Aborigines” as having “culture” in his sense of the term. That expansion of the term, to cover a “whole way of life” of any group, emerged most influentially from the ethological work of Tylor, Primitive Culture (1871), which extended the idea of culture to (as the title suggests) “primitive” societies. In doing so, however, Tylor articulates an evolutionary, progressive theory of “culture,” counter to Arnold’s romantic theory of cultural decline. Arnold would not have recognized “aboriginal culture,” but Tylor would certainly not recognized the move from “aboriginal” to modern “culture” as a narrative of decline. In combining the two, Ralph indexes the shifting sense of culture as such, a shift that is part and parcel of the shifting aesthetic and social values in fine de siècle America that he – and Wharton — wrestle with.

In this paper, then, I will argue that, far from being a nostalgic narrative of cultural decline, the novel is itself a contemplation of competing narratives of culture itself, from the humanistic Arnoldian conceptions of culture, to evolutionary ethnology, to ideas of culture relativism emerging in American anthropology in precisely this period . Wharton was writing in a period in which, as historians of anthropology have argued, the idea of culture itself was undergoing intense debate and transformation, as 19th Century conception of culture as an evolutionary process of technical sophistication, or of “the best that has been thought and said,” competed with new conceptions of culture as plural, relative “whole” systems of meaning, developed most influentially by anthropologist Franz Boas and his work on precisely the “Aboriginals” to whom Ralph refers. Wharton’s novel, I will suggest, is an extended contemplation of the different narratives these competing conceptions of culture make available. Wharton, I will argue, ultimately substitutes that nostalgic narrative with a narrative of cultural pluralism and difference, with at least the possibility, by the end of the novel, that Apex represents not merely the absence of “culture,” but its own “culture,” as a coherent system of values and manners. Wharton’s narrative moves from a narrative of decline in the first phase of the novel, where Ralph’s “refinement” is nostalgically contrasted to the new, anarchic behavior of Undine and her fellow nouveau riche, to an narrative of cultural pluralism, where Undine can imitate, but never fully inhabit, the self-enclosed traditions of French aristocracy, whose rules and traditions are cast as a “whole way of life.” The final phase of the novel moves from the contrast between French aristocratic “way of life” and the absence of a corresponding “American” culture, to the emergence of Apex as its own “culture” in this model of cultural pluralism, with Elmer Moffett—the millionaire art collector who collects both out of acquisitiveness and a sense of aesthetic appreciation, and defender of Apex as a “way of life” (“we’re differently made out in Apex”)—as its herald.

2) “Flirting with Naturalism: The Undecidable Temporality of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth

Myrto Drizou, PhD
Assistant Professor of English, Valdosta State University

In The House of Mirth, Lily Bart describes her relation to society as an “intricate dance” that asks her to “calculate and contrive, and retreat and advance,” measuring her intentions against her impulses, so as not to fall “out of time” (38). Although critics have analyzed the failure of Lily’s management between intentions and impulses as a result of her commodification on the marriage market, they have not fully developed what remains a rather understudied aspect of the novel, namely, the narrative connections between time and fate that emphasize the impossibility of managing the social tempo. A careful analysis of the temporal dynamic that orchestrates Lily’s attempt to negotiate the urgency of her impulses against the caution of her intentions yields valuable insight into Wharton’s engagement with naturalism. While naturalist tropes, such as fate and chance, evoke evolutionary paradigms—a major topos in Wharton criticism—they allow a negotiation between urgency and deferral that helps Wharton challenge the teleology of the naturalist plot of decline: The House of Mirth imputes an undecidable temporality to fate that Wharton uses metonymically for the impossibility to capture the present moment and delimit future possibilities. Whereas this impossibility makes Lily vulnerable to the vicissitudes of chance, it helps her reflect on a question she would have been unable to ask, that is, why she has failed to fulfill the social fate of the lady of leisure. Wharton keeps this question open, affirming Lily’s death as the embodiment of a dynamic inquiry that echoes her own engagement with naturalism: instead of taking determinism for granted, Wharton turns it into a chance to redefine agency as the decision to “go on living” (251) beyond the predictable future of class and gender roles.

3) “‘I Can’t See Through Any Eyes But His’: The Queer Affiliations of Wharton’s ‘The Spark’”

Meredith Goldsmith, PhD
Associate Professor of English, Ursinus College

This paper argues for a reading of The Spark, the third novella in Wharton’s Old New York collection (1924), in light of fin-de-siècle representations of Walt Whitman. Enjoying a strange relation to the other texts in the Old New York collection, The Spark is ostensibly linked to the 1860s, the period during which the novella’s protagonist, Hayley Delane, served in the Civil War. As the novella reveals, Delane was nursed by Walt Whitman during his tenure in the Washington Convalescent Hospitals, an unusual subject matter and historical moment in Wharton’s corpus. Despite its retrospective material, the story is set in the 1890s and narrated from a later period, estranging it chronologically from the mostly antebellum material of the Old New York collection.

Yet, as I will argue, the turn-of-the-century context offers new insight into this underappreciated novella. The story turns on not only a revelation of Whitman’s role in Delane’s life, but in a scene of homosocial reading, in which the bachelor protagonist and Delane bond over the text of Leaves of Grass. I contextualize the story against not only Wharton’s reading of Whitman, but in relation to a series of texts that circulated shortly after Whitman’s death that attempted to address the poet’s sexuality, some of which Wharton owned. Through a reading of Delane’s memories of Whitman in wartime, the protagonist’s veneration of Whitman in the story’s 1890s present, and Wharton’s own engagement with Whitman, as evident in her published writing and personal library, I argue that Wharton samples the critical conversation that repositioned Whitman as a gay cultural icon. While the 1890s might be seen as a conventional site for the questioning of male normativity, The Spark points backward from the 1890s to the 1860s, revealing a homoerotic dimension within the homosocial culture of the Civil War. Wharton’s depiction of Whitman allows her to bridge the novella’s multiple moments, revealing the fin-de-siecle as an important and underappreciated cultural moment for the novella and for the Old New York collection more generally.

4) “Feeling ‘Beyond!’: Affective Perversity and the Map of Utopia”
Shannon Brennan, PhD
Lecturer, UCLA Writing Programs

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at…”

            -Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”

“‘Oh, my dear—where is that country? Have you ever been there?’”

            -Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

The fin-de-siécle was a period shot-through with utopian imaginings. Readers of Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, dabblers in H.P. Blavatsky’s Theosophy, visitors to the World’s Columbian Exhibition: all gazed upon a prospective world at whose perfection they might marvel, and in whose promise they might dare to believe. Such belief was not affectively neutral. It demanded that most stereotypically American of attitudes, optimism. Ironically, this is the same cultural moment that saw the publication of scores of articles dedicated to explaining the dominance of pessimism, an attitude frequently ascribed to literary naturalism, and, in particular, to the work of Edith Wharton.[1]

Drawing on recent critical theory by José Esteban Muñoz, Lauren Berlant, and Sara Ahmed, I suggest that Edith Wharton’s work challenges these affective and aesthetic couplings. Wharton’s “map of the world” frequently has a place for utopia – whether in the “Beyond!” of Lily Barth’s seal, the West of Ethan Frome’s imagination, or the ship Utopia that Mrs. Lidcote of “Autre Temps” laments “was a slow steamer.” In her novels, gothic fictions, and pedagogies of design, Wharton suggests that productive visions of elsewhere might be elaborated through perverse affects like terror and foreboding as much as hope – even as short stories like “The Descent of Man” evince a surprising sanguineness to meet metaphysical disappointments. Resisting readings that emphasize Wharton’s irony and her pessimism, then, this paper makes a case for what we might call Wharton’s affective perversity: her transformation of the emotional, formal, and ideational models through which were produced the fin-de-siécle “utopia” and its opposites.

[1] See, for instance, James A. MacArthur’s reference to Wharton’s “salutary pessimism” in Harper’s Weekly (2 December 1905), John Updike’s discussion of her “moral poise and cosmic pessimism” in The New Yorker (4 October 1993), Elizabeth Ammons’s discussion of her “pessimism about American women’s lives” in Conflicting Stories (1992) and Margot K. Louis’s extended discussion of pessimism, Wharton, and the Persephone myth in Persephone Rises (2009).

5) “Against Aestheticism:  Wharton’s Sentimental Artists”
Madeleine Vala, PhD
Associate Professor, University of Puerto Rico

Edith Wharton’s representations of the artistic world and her personal connections to artists and writers have been well documented by critics, but her connection to Oscar Wilde remains unknown. Hermione Lee mentions that the mother of Wharton’s fiancé, Henry Stevens, entertained Wilde at dinners parties in his 1882 visit to America, which Donna Campbell mentions as strengthening the possibility that Wharton may have met Wilde in 1882. While there is no definitive trace of Wharton having ever met Wilde, she would have been cognizant of his works. Indeed, Walter Berry gave her a copy of Wilde’s poems; Morton Fullerton knew Wilde before his affair with Wharton; and, with many friends of her circle knowing and responding to Wilde’s work, it seems plausible that she would have been aware of his aesthetic beliefs.

This paper examines the ways that Wharton’s short stories champion the sentimental value of paintings over their aesthetic values, and how this value of portraiture challenges the aesthetic philosophy presented in Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). In texts such as “The Portrait,” “The Moving Finger,” and “The Rembrandt,” paintings secure sentimental bonds, even at the expense of aesthetic merit. Rather than expose an unpleasant truth about the sitter (as often occurs in Henry James’ tales), Wharton’s portrait painters are moral agents who consciously sabotage their masterpieces in order to protect their sitters or patrons. While Wilde’s famous preface to his novel reads, “No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style,” Wharton’s short stories condone the fake painting and the “bad” portrait as markers of ethical sympathy. This essay concludes by exploring the extent to which Wharton’s representations of art consciously separate her aesthetic ideals from the art for art’s sake doctrine of aestheticism.

Edith Wharton Society Panels at the 2016 American Literature Association Conference, May 26-29; Deadline: January 15, 2016

Edith Wharton Society Panels at the 2016 American Literature Association Conference, May 26-29; Deadline: January 15, 2016

Wharton and Religion

We invite papers exploring any aspect of religion, spirituality, and the sacred in Wharton’s writing, including the afterlives of religion in gothic, aestheticism, satire, and scientific discourse. How does religion figure within the Wharton imaginary? How is her fiction shaped by the legacy of Biblical poetics, religious fiction, or other religious genres? How does religion inflect her response to modernism? In addition to the Christianity most familiar to Wharton, we also welcome studies of Wharton in relation to Islam, Judaism, and other religions addressed in her work. Abstract and short bio to Sharon Kim,

Wharton and the Culture of the Monthly Magazine

We seek papers that investigate Wharton’s engagement with the culture of the monthly magazine, including critiques of readers and reading in Wharton’s work as well as contextual studies of publications in periodicals. Papers might also offer new information about Wharton’s relations with individual magazines—she published in more than twenty—and/or consider the history of Wharton’s dealings with editors and publishers in the context of Laura Stevens’s call to attend to “questions of authority, canonicity, the means of textual production, and other questions central to feminist literary scholarship.” Please send proposal (250-500 words) and a short CV to Paul Ohler,