An Examination of Imperialism in Edith Wharton’s Travel Writing

Christine Kelley, Elizabethtown College

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Introduction Edith Wharton, one of the greatest fiction writers of the 20th century and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence, was not only talented at crafting stories but was also renowned for her travel writing. A body of her travel literature centers around her experiences in France, her opinion of their culture, and her observations on the lives of French women. By using Mary Louise Pratt’s Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation to make a critical evaluation, it becomes apparent that Wharton’s travel writing, though useful for the growing tourism industry in the early 20th century, showed a biased preference for France, which lauds the “superiority” for French culture over the more “primitive” French colony of Morocco. Edith Wharton Abroad: Selected Travel Writings 1888-1920 excerpts essential chapters from Wharton’s Motor Flight through Paris and In Morocco.

Sarah Bird Wright–the editor–suggests the two works are in dialogue with each other because they feature the changing landscapes in each country due to rapidly evolving transportation systems (i.e., roads for automobiles), while contrasting Wharton’s views on culture. In reality, the differences between the two cultures portrayed in each book make for a more fascinating study of Wharton’s drift towards expatriation from the United States, to her identification with France as her home later in life, and her participation in France’s colonization of Morocco after WWI.

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