Class Year


Document Type

Student Research Paper

Date of Creation

Spring 2014

Department 1



Blake Nevius identifies a governing theme in Edith Wharton’s fiction, there is a “larger nature . . . trapped by circumstances ironically of its own devising into consanguinity with a meaner nature . . . There is no accounting for such disastrous unions except as a result of the generous but misguided impulses of the larger nature” (9-10). I will explore this “disastrous union” between the “larger” and “meaner” natures in four Wharton novels: The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, The Custom of the Country, and The Age of Innocence. By “larger” nature, I will mean characters who are magnanimous, thoughtful, and self-sacrificing. With “meaner” nature, I will refer to characters who are ambitious, manipulative, selfish, and conventional. The majority of Wharton’s’ novels focus on the upper class in New York high society; Ethan Frome, which takes place in rural New England, is the only exception. In most cases, the females exhibit characteristics of the meaner nature, while men are examples of the larger nature. With each novel in this selection, Wharton presents a distinct illustration of the larger and meaner natures. Both the constant and evolving qualities of these “larger” and “meaner” characters will reveal Wharton’s evolving perception of the “disastrous union.”


English Honors Thesis