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Edith Wharton and Cosmopolitanism$
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Meredith Goldsmith and Emily J. Orlando

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780813062815

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813062815.001.0001

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“The Very Beginning of Things”

“The Very Beginning of Things”

Reading Wharton through Charles Eliot Norton’s Life and Writings on Italy

(p.62) 3 “The Very Beginning of Things”
Edith Wharton and Cosmopolitanism

William Blazek

University Press of Florida

Edith Wharton benefited in her early career from the intellectual cosmopolitanism and encouraging support of the Harvard art professor Charles Eliot Norton. His emphasis on the imagination as a powerful force for social change drew from his close association with the aesthetic principles of John Ruskin and the philosophy of John Stuart Mill, and it found expression in a key art-historical publication, Historical Studies of Church Building in the Middle Ages. The moral and spiritual concepts underpinning this text, along with Norton’s writings about Italy, including Notes of Study and Travel in Italy, and his life itself, are read in this chapter alongside Wharton’s short stories and her first novel, set in late-eighteenth-century Italy, The Valley of Decision. Wharton’s fiction owes much in its focus on the artistic imagination, moral choices, and community transformation to Norton’s lessons in virtuous service, sympathy, and aesthetic sensibility.

Keywords:   art history, imagination, sympathy, morality, Charles Eliot Norton, Notes of Study and Travel in Italy, Historical Studies of Church Building in the Middle Ages, The Valley of Decision

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