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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

9. Social

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Activities: Author Activities

Edith Wharton - Teaching Tips

Back Back to Edith Wharton Activities
  • When Lydia threatens to leave Gannett in "Souls Belated," he responds by asking her, "And where would you go if you left me?" Ask your students to brainstorm about the options Lydia would have if she left Gannett. (You might refer them to the Core Context "Making Amendments: The Woman Suffrage Movement" for insight into the limits women faced and the opportunities that were beginning to open to them at the end of the nineteenth century.) Be sure to point out that in Lydia's social class--much like Wharton's own-- many professional occupations would be perceived as inappropriate for women. The exercise should help students realize why Lydia feels so trapped in her role as a companion to Gannett.

  • To make the context of the story clearer--and the characters' problems more compelling--you might explain to your students that divorce was neither as common nor as socially acceptable in Wharton's time as it is in twenty-first-century America. Along the same lines, it is important for students to understand that Lydia and Gannett are not being overly cautious in pretending to be married since sexual relationships outside of marriage were considered scandalous. Ask students to pay attention to Lydia's attitude toward the arrival of her divorce papers at the beginning of the story (she refers to them as "the thing," and the presence of the document seems to exacerbate her anxiety and frustration with her situation). You can compare Lydia's scruples about her divorce to Mrs. Linton/Cope's glee when the envelope containing her divorce arrives at the hotel. What conclusions are readers supposed to draw about these characters based on their reactions to their divorce documents? Why is the arrival of the legal document so important to these women?

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