Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Edith Wharton's concern with the institution of marriage was both a personal and an artistic one. Her own marriage ended in divorce after many years of trying to nurse her husband through repeated attacks or mental illness. This marriage, not the ideal as far as Mrs. Wharton was concerned, was one of companionship but one lacking spiritual and intellectual satisfaction. The attitude which Mrs.Wharton gradually developed toward her own marriage and its failure is apparent in her fiction. This thesis has analyzed Edith Wharton's three major society novels, The House Mirth, The Custom of the Country, and The Age of Innocence, to reveal her conception of marriage as the ideal human relationship central to man's social happiness, but not always achievable in organized society. Chapter I gives a brief introduction to this study of marriage in Mrs. Wharton's novels and a survey of American attitudes toward marriage. But inherent in Mrs. Wharton's view toward marital happiness lurks a paradox. That paradox 1s that although marriages which create a 11republ1c of the spirit" in the love of 11soul-mates11 are held up as the ideal, they are most often unattainable. Society can prevent the attainment of this ideal; man himself can prevent his achievement of this ideal; and the conflict between conformity to tradition and trying to find personal happiness can also prevent the achievement of this ideal. Man is therefore caught in the inevitable conflict between his personal happiness and the preservation of civilized society. Tragedy is inevitable. Happiness is the almost unattainable ideal.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Wharton, Edith, 1862-1937 -- Criticism and interpretation

Love in literature

South Dakota State University Theses



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University