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New York City: «Gilt Cage» or «Promised Land»?

Representations of Urban Space in Edith Wharton and Anzia Yezierska

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Irene Billeter Sauter

New York City plays a significant, albeit previously neglected, role in the urban narratives of Edith Wharton and Anzia Yezierska at a time when the city was as new and central to the American experience as had been the Western frontier. New York City was the epicenter of the late 19th and early 20th century world at large; its constantly shifting landscape caused by urbanization, industrialization, women’s emancipation, and immigration found its representation in the extremes of the urban spectrum on Fifth Avenue and the Lower East Side. Narrating the domestic sphere from widely diverging vantage points, native Edith Wharton and immigrant Anzia Yezierska present a polarized city where domesticity is always a primal and existential concern. By analyzing exterior and interior city representations in Wharton’s and Yezierska’s New York literature, the author shows how urban space greatly affects, influences and alters questions of identity, assimilation, acculturation, and alienation in protagonists who cannot escape their respective settings. Edith Wharton’s «millionaire» heroines are framed by «conspicuous consumption» in the gilt interiors of their New York City while Anzia Yezierska’s «immigrant» protagonists hunger for a «Promised Land» of knowledge and learning in the perpetually changing urban landscape.

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Illustrations .............................................................................................. 7 Preface ..................................................................................................... 11 Acknowledgments ................................................................................... 13 List of Abbreviations ............................................................................... 15 1. Introduction ................................................................................... 17 2. Cityscape in Edith Wharton’s and Anzia Yezierska’s Fictional New York ....................................................................... 31 2.1. The Geography of City Space .................................................. 35 2.2. The City, Viewed from Without .............................................. 45 2.3. Up on the Roof or Looking Down on the City ......................... 79 2.4. City Streets .............................................................................. 85 2.5. The City Crowd ..................................................................... 109 2.6. Pavement, Gutter, and Below Street Level ........................... 119 3. New York City Interiors in Edith Wharton and Anzia Yezierska ....................................... 127 3.1. Versions of the Home: Tenements, Apartments, Estates, and Hotels ....................... 131 3.2. Opera Boxes ........................................................................... 165 3.3. Mirrors .................................................................................. 177 3.4. Libraries ................................................................................. 197 3.5. Kitchens ................................................................................. 223 4. Conclusion: “Gilt Cage” or “Promised Land”: Resignation and Hope in the City ............................................ 235 6 5. Appendix: A Brief History of New York City until 1900 .......................... 255 5.1. Earliest Evidence: 1524–1621 ............................................... 255 5.2. The First Deal: Indian Real Estate for Dutch Money: 1621–1664 ............................................................................ 256 5.3. New Amsterdam Becomes New York Under British Rule: 1664–1783 ............................................................................. 258 5.4. Commerce Rules: 1783–1843 ................................................ 262 5.5. Manufacturing Takes Over, Immigration Takes Off: 1844–1879 ............................................................................. 268 5.6. Corporate New York City: 1880–1900 .................................. 278 Bibliography .......................................................................................... 283 1. Primary Literature ................................................................ 283 2. Secondary Literature ............................................................. 284 2.1. Critical Literature on Edith Wharton ........................... 284 2.2. Critical Literature on Anzia Yezierska ......................... 286 2.3. New York City: History, Social History, Architecture, and Literature ......................................... 288 2.4. Other Reference Works and Literature Consulted ........ 291 Index ..................................................................................................... 297

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