Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School


First Advisor

Mary R. Ryder


In my thesis, I examine five of Wharton's novels in light of this subject-- The House of Mirth (1905) and four less well-known pieces: The Fruit of the Tree (1907), Summer (1917), The Mother's Recompense (1925), and The Children (1928). By applying feminist psychoanalytic theory, I demonstrate that Wharton, although following some conventional patterns of feminine development, separated from her mother in a manner more typical of a male, as described by Marilyn French and other feminist critics. This separation is played out through the mother-daughter relationships in her fiction. This crucial, primary relationship of mother and daughter as portrayed in Wharton's fiction has gone virtually unexplored and demands attention. In addition, a progression exists over the span of these novels in regard to the relationships of daughter to mother. In The House of Mirth (1905), Wharton begins to separate her mother and daughter characters, an action which parallels her own initial separation from her mother. The Fruit of the Tree (1907) features more unmothered females, and Wharton begins, through Justine Brent, to create a mother figure who embodies feminine qualities or compassion with qualities of authority, power, and control--typically regarded as masculine in Wharton's time and society. Through the bildungsroman Summer (1917), Wharton draws a fictional character who typifies the traditional masculine hero and moves toward individuality by moving psychologically away from mother. In two later novels, The Mother's Recompense (1925) and The Children (1928), Wharton introduces a role-reversal between the mother and daughter figures. These daughters, while exhibiting some feminine characteristics, also display desire for power and control, for example and come to separate and individuate in a manner Wharton's peers would deem as more masculine than feminine. The unmothered females in Wharton's fiction thus emulate the masculine pattern which defined Wharton's own separation from her mother.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Wharton, Edith, 1862-1937 -- Characters -- Daughters
Daughters in literature
Mothers and daughters in literature




South Dakota State University



Rights Statement

In Copyright