Surely one of the reasons that Edith Wharton lived most of her life in France was that she greatly admired the way the French "instinctively applies to living the same rules that they applies to artistic creation." Wharton believed that the French had an eye for beauty, or what she called "the seeing eye," in contrast to Americans whose sight had been dimmed by the puritanism of their Anglo-Saxon heritage. However, in her last and unfinished novel, The Buccaneers (1938), Wharton suggests through her American protagonist's relationship with her European governess, Laura Testvalley, that the art of seeing can be taught, even to Americans. And starting with her first book, The Decoration of Houses (1897) and continuing with her fiction, Edith Wharton, like Laura Testvalley, teaches that sensitivity to one's surroundings is important to well-being. In theorizing about character and setting in The Writing of Fiction (1925), Wharton insists that "The impression produced by a landscape, a street of a house should always, to the novelist, be an event in the history of a soul." But the different fictional environments which Wharton chose throughout her career affected her treatment of the domestic environments that so fascinated her.

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Copyright © 1997 Indiana University Press.

The definitive version is available at: http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/pages.php?pID=20&CDpath=4

Full Citation:

Jones, Suzanne W. "Edith Wharton's "Secret Sensitiveness" The Decoration of Houses, and Her Fiction." Journal of Modern Literature 21, no. 2 (1997): 177-96.