Date of Award

6-2016

Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

English

First Advisor

Patricia Wareh

Second Advisor

Jenelle Troxell

Language

English

Keywords

social, aesthetic, york, dress, material

Abstract

This thesis explores the role of aesthetics and material culture in Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel The Age of Innocence and in Martin Scorsese’s 1993 film adaptation. In Wharton’s Old New York, material opulence is arguably the most essential aspect of culture. Newland Archer is the primary authority on fashion and taste within the narrative, and is thus charged with enforcing standards of socially constructed Victorian femininity with regard to his two romantic interests, May Welland and Ellen Olenska. Scorsese’s film uses mise-en-scène to echo the detailrich design aesthetic found in Wharton’s prose; however, the film’s abandonment of Newland’s distinctly masculine perspective in favor of a female narrator restructures the power dynamics found in Wharton’s narrative. Both the novel and film highlight society’s fetishizing of material culture, a systematic obsession rooted in the oppressive qualities of the Victorian social climate. For both the novel and the film, material opulence is powerful within society because it is the only form of self-expression and individual agency that the characters have access to given the standards of repression, especially for women. Materials can only represent identity and experience and are therefore meaningless. Wharton and Scorsese use their works to criticize the tyranny of materialism during the Victorian period.

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