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

Representations of Urban Space in Edith Wharton and Anzia Yezierska


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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Acknowledgments - 13


Acknowledgments Time has been my most potent foe throughout the many years it took to write this book. Place has been a dear companion to me and New York City, in particular, conditio sine qua non for writ- ing this book in the first place. Ultimately, however, it is people who have given meaning and significance to both place and time. My gratitude thus goes to the people who gave life to this project: I am deeply grateful to my dissertation supervisor at the University of Lausanne, Professor Dr. Emeritus Peter Halter, who with unfailing patience, great insight, academic knowledge and careful reasoning always pointed me into the right direction. I am also very much indebted to Professor Dr. Liam Kennedy, Director of the Clinton Institute for American Studies at University College Dublin, who – by reading my manuscripts not only critically but also very analytically – offered many valuable signposts by which to map the subject matter; and I am very grateful, too, to Dr. Boris Vejdovsky, Senior Lecturer at the University of Lausanne, for guiding me along paths I had not previously considered in my research. My thanks go to Dr. Regula Giovani and Dr. André Rogger, my peers for segments of our respective academic journeys and friends I have cherished for the better part of my life. I owe them many inspiring and critical discussions about life and literature. They always gave me new fuel for thought and encouraged me to continue. I thank Katrin Forrer of Peter Lang...

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