Wharton and American Tourists
Chapter 5 places Edith Wharton as an aesthetic cosmopolitan, someone who, in John Urry’s terms, had a curiosity about other places and cultures, had the ability to “map” them historically, ventured beyond “the tourist environmental bubble”—epitomized in the Baedeker guides that Wharton wrote against--and who had the extensive knowledge of European literature, art, and languages necessary for comparative aesthetic judgments. Wharton’s first work of travel writing, Italian Backgrounds, was aimed at fellow cosmopolitans who had the time and means to immerse themselves in Italian culture. She had no time either for Italians or Americans who were ignorant of the cultural treasures of Italy. Her visual consumption of everyday scenes, which leaned toward mythologizing, stands in contrast to the debasement of the Italian poor commonly found in the travelogues of her contemporary compatriots, revealing both a lack of openness to difference and the national and racialized sentiments at the heart of anti-immigration discourse at the turn of the twentieth century.
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