Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Dr. Kelly Reames, Dr. Sandra Hughes, Dr. Elizabeth Weston

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Edith Wharton’s male characters offer an important commentary on the evolving situation of the man in American society. Wharton did not wish for women to usurp all social positions from men but rather to claim their rightful position alongside them. Characters such as Lawrence Selden in The House of Mirth and Ralph Marvell in The Custom of the Country display the same characteristics of fear, passion, and vulnerability as do many of her primary female figures. Wharton’s societal concerns do not merely extend to that of her own sex but to that of the male in society who struggled with his sexuality, his body, and his role in marriage. This examination of masculinity within Wharton’s The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, and “The Other Two” will connect Wharton to the evolving man and his identity crisis, as her male characters have been analyzed by critics far less than her female characters. Specific aspects of masculinity often overlooked in her works, such as homosexuality and effeminacy, will come to the forefront and place her work in the context of the rigid expectations for “real American men” at the turn of the century.


English Language and Literature