EthanKerrReadingEWVA 38211_1350118069169_1117863874_30817521_6962257_n“Edith Wharton possessed a keen sense of the visual. This gift, accompanied by a penetrating intellect and impressive knowledge of art and architecture, produced a body of fiction that is both startlingly fresh and allusive. Noting these connections, Emily J. Orlando has written a thoughtful, informed analysis of Wharton’s engagement with the visual arts, especially with the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Her book is a welcome interdisciplinary study that enriches our understanding of Wharton specifically and the connections between visual art and American literature generally….Critics have noted Wharton’s reliance on the visual arts but seldom with this study’s depth or specificity. Orlando convincingly makes the case that Wharton’s work invites and deserves such focused attention. She traces Wharton’s engagement with important artistic movements of her day and places her analysis of Wharton’s fiction in the context of psychological and biographical scholarship. Well-researched and persuasively argued, Edith Wharton and the Visual Arts stands out among the growing number of interdisciplinary studies of Wharton.” — Carol J. Singley, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, Volume 27, No. 2

“In her autobiography, A Backward Glance, Edith Wharton has much to say about her love of books, such as her intellectual ‘Awakeners’ Goethe, Walt Whitman, Charles Darwin, and Robert Browning, but she reveals little about her taste in painting and the visual arts. As Emily J. Orlando contends in her excellent study Edith Wharton and the Visual Arts, however, Wharton had an extensive knowledge of the visual arts, one she used in her fiction to reveal her culture’s limited–and limiting–vision of women. Through allusions to art familiar to her audience, Wharton critiqued her culture’s stifling idealization of women and created characters whose very existence served as a means of arguing against its limitations…..Edith Wharton and the Visual Arts is an important book for reading Wharton’s female characters as figures resisting disempowerment not only by their social milieu but also by the very forms of representation that male characters choose as a means to honor them. Through in-depth readings, especially of the lesser-known stories, and reproductions of the paintings being discussed, Edith Wharton and the Visual Arts provides a rich new context for understanding Wharton’s fiction.” — Donna Campbell, The Journal of American Studies, Volume 44, No. 2

“Emily J. Orlando’s Edith Wharton and the Visual Arts makes an important contribution to our understanding of Wharton’s engagement with the visual arts and offers new ways to think about her relationship to gender ideologies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries…. Orlando’s analysis of Lily’s tableau performance [in The House of Mirth] in the context of the art portrayed by her peers is a seminal reading of the novel’s most famous scene. Throughout the study, Orlando’s close textual analysis is impressive, as is her ability to infuse this analysis with historical context and theoretical inquiry without sacrificing her focus on the literary texts themselves. Orlando’s stated emphasis is on literary and visual intertextuality in Wharton’s work, and she displays a firm command of the visual arts context informing the fiction and also provides a compelling discussion of Wharton’s literary allusions, including George Eliot and Dante Gabriel Rossetti…. Edith Wharton and the Visual Arts will likely become essential reading for those hoping to further investigate Wharton’s art in historical context. It is a smart, engaging, and eminently readable work of scholarship.” — Gary Totten, The Edith Wharton Review, Volume 25, No. 1

“[Orlando] reads Wharton as a hard-eyed realist who could see that women in the early twentieth century were little better off than their mothers and grandmothers had been a century before. As the female remained the object of art, she might discover ways to control if and how her image would be used. Thus Lily Bart in The House of Mirth is a primary example of the heroine who revises convention by commissioning her own objectification in the tableau vivant scene when she robes herself as Sir Joshua Reynolds’s painting, ‘Portrait of Joanna Lloyd of Maryland’ (1775–76). We learn from Orlando that Wharton may have selected that particular painting for the very reason that Reynolds was an anathema to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Reynolds’s eighteenth-century painting depicts an agile female body in the act of writing; and, therefore, Lily Bart’s act of becoming Mrs. Lloyd signals female control. The book traces an increasing sense of female agency in later Wharton heroines who imagine and direct themselves into what Orlando calls body art. Undine Spragg in The Custom of the Country understands exactly how to work the system by altering conventional images of the female body. Undine slips easily from gown to gown and scene to scene, bending the gaze to her will…. Contributing significantly to Wharton scholarship, [Orlando and Parley Anne Boswell, author of Edith Wharton on Film] also look beyond familiar texts to later novels and short stories that Wharton wrote as she competed with fashionable magazines and movies for an audience. Looking closely at visual images surrounding and informing Wharton’s fiction, Boswell and Orlando point the way toward future scholarship in material culture.” — Katherine Joslin, Modern Fiction Studies, Volume 56, No. 2.

“In this meticulously researched study of Wharton’s novels and short stories, Orlando (Fairfield University) makes a convincing argument for the ways in which Wharton enacted, through her work, a ‘cultural critique that transcends the literary arts.’ Interweaving illustrations of 19th- and early-20th-century art and detailed close readings of Wharton’s fiction, the author guides the reader through Wharton’s critique of the pre-Raphaelite artists and their vexed representations of women. Thanks to Orlando’s impressive knowledge of art history and of Wharton scholarship, this volume secures an understanding of Wharton’s place as one of ‘American literature’s most gifted inter-textual realists.’ Nor does Orlando sacrifice depth for breadth. So smart and commanding a reader is she that the study’s multidisciplinary approach (art history, cultural history, women’s studies, US literature, Victorian literature) only enhances its appeal. One leaves this book with a more thorough understanding of Wharton’s engagement with the visual arts as well as deeper insight into her complex, often-misunderstood relationship to the representation of women and the emerging feminism of her day. A distinguished contribution to Wharton scholarship. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.”— Choice

“More fully than anyone else, Professor Orlando demonstrates the importance in Wharton’s fiction of the Pre-Raphaelite artists, especially the poetry of Dante Gabriel Rossetti; the paintings by Rossetti, Waterhouse, and others, of women’s bodies in states of trance or death; and the artists’ models (notably Elizabeth Siddall and Jane Morris), whom certain of Wharton’s characters are shown to resemble….In her treatment of the Pre-Raphaelites, the author makes a major contribution to Wharton scholarship.” — Elsa Nettels, author of Language and Gender in American Fiction: Howells, James, Wharton, and Cather

“Orlando argues that Wharton used realism to struggle against the sexualization and objectification of women in art, identifying a progression in her heroines from victims to agents in the visual marketplace over the course of her literary career…. In The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, and a host of short stories, Orlando highlights moments when characters realize that they either ‘can be circulated as works of art’ or take hold of the reins and ‘elect to circulate themselves.’ When Wharton’s women ‘learn, as a survival tactic, to barter their bodies for their benefit,’ they become capable of ‘direct[ing] and produc[ing] a kind of “body art”’ (28). While Orlando emphasizes that Wharton herself did not celebrate or promote such a strategy and even lamented it, her later writings communicate the notion that women’s decisions to become ‘architects of their own construction as marketable works of art’ are the only definite ways ‘to secure power in a culture of display’ (90). …In their efforts to fashion narratives that embrace the breadth and depth of this writer’s intelligence and sensibilities, both books [Orlando’s Edith Wharton and the Visual Arts and Annette Benert’s The Architectural Imagination of Edith Wharton] illustrate the potential of interdisciplinary inquiry to reshape Wharton studies while speaking to concerns of today’s readers—students, scholars, and teachers alike.” — Maura D’Amore, Legacy Volume 26, No. 1