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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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List of Abbreviations - 15


List of Abbreviations Edith Wharton: The House of Mirth: HOM The Custom of the Country: COC The Age of Innocence: AOI The Mother’s Recompense: MR The Buccaneers: BUC The Decoration of Houses: DEC (With Ogden Codman, Jr.) Anzia Yezierska: Salome of the Tenements SOT Bread Givers BG Arrogant Beggars AB All I Could Never Be AICNB Red Ribbon on a White Horse RR In the Appendix: Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Eds.: Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 GOTHAM 16 Aerial View, Lower Manhattan, 1921 Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

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