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Narrative strategies in female adultery stories by Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton

12 March 2009

PhD ceremony: mw. P.E. van der Werf, 16.15 uur, Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

Thesis: Narrative strategies in female adultery stories by Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton

Promotor(s): prof. H.E. Wilcox, prof. E.J. Korthals Altes

Faculty: Arts


Inspired by the work of Continental European, particularly French, writers of the second half of the nineteenth century, Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton frequently introduced the female adultery motif in their literary work. Through their use of the motif, they contributed to the public debate on social and moral issues related to the position of women in contemporary society. At the same time, they dissociated themselves from the dominant American tradition of literature by and about women.

The turn-of-the-century American literary market for which Chopin and Wharton wrote generally considered female adultery an unacceptable topic, especially if it was used to express dissenting views and to criticize the accepted moral values of contemporary society. Chopin and Wharton attempted to circumvent the restrictions which the literary market placed upon potentially offensive and subversive fiction through the strategic use of a number of narrative strategies. They often opted for the genre of the short story and, moreover, for certain subgenres of the short story. In addition, their effective use of point of view was aimed at influencing the reader’s opinion of the adulterous wife and to express criticism at the conventional moral standards without overtly offending their literary audience.

Chopin’s and Wharton’s female adultery fiction was instrumental in introducing into American literature a topic which had, until then, remained virtually unused. Their contribution to female adultery literature can therefore be regarded as significant. However, it seems that they were only partly able to realize their literary ambitions and that they did not succeed in acquiring the discursive authority required to make the most of the negotiating potential of their fiction.


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