Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English



First Advisor

Sonstegard, Adam

Subject Headings



Edith Wharton is known for her depictions of the changing New York aristocracy and marriage market in the early twentieth-century. Critics have previously examined Wharton’s views on upper-class New York society and social climbers attempting to insert themselves into that society. What has not been studied as extensively in existing criticism is the way in which the exponential increases in the size of the reading public and the type of literature available at the time Wharton was publishing negatively impacted Wharton’s perception of the lower-class and nouveau riche readers and caused insecurities over her literary legacy. These insecurities influence her depictions of these classes within her writing specifically as they take part in the act of reading and decorating libraries. It is in the libraries owned and inhabited by Wharton’s characters where we can see what Wharton considers proper upper-class behavior and where she grants exceptions to her rules.