Tracking the Mind in Edith Wharton’s Writing

John Douthwaite


This paper carries out a close reading of a short extract of an Edith Wharton story using the tools of stylistics. The objective is to demonstrate that Wharton’s fundamental aims are to investigate the mind and to show how mind and society are inextricably intertwined. This she does by employing subtle linguistic means to vary the ‘degree of focalisation’ on the character in order not simply to guarantee the faithfulness of the mode of speech and thought presentation employed at each point in the text, but also to unveil the nature of the character’s thought processes at that given point in the text, thereby distinguishing between the character’s presentation of the Self in everyday life and his private musings, the latter being of two types: unconscious or inchoate thought or conscious thought which the character is fully aware of. It will be shown that each ‘type of thought’ reveals different aspects of the character’s personality and that each type is identifiable through specific linguistic means which Wharton reserves for each thought type. Thus, in addition to providing an analysis of the character’s personality and how society has impinged on his personality, the paper also constitutes a theoretical investigation of the methodological tools employed by Wharton.

Keywords: cognition, emotion, speech    and thought presentation, conceptual metaphor, pragmatics, projection, mind and society.

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