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Edith Wharton and the Modern Privileges of Age$
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Melanie V. Dawson

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780813066301

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813066301.001.0001

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Mourning, Melancholia, and the Loss of Youth

Mourning, Melancholia, and the Loss of Youth

(p.30) 1 Mourning, Melancholia, and the Loss of Youth
Edith Wharton and the Modern Privileges of Age

Melanie V. Dawson

University Press of Florida

Interrogating youth’s cultural and symbolic meanings in the wake of the Great War, this chapter explores fictions of loss by Wharton and Cather rooted in depictions of mourning and melancholia, Freud’s constructs of grief. The loss of young soldiers encompassed not only the losses of particular young men, but also implicated the larger, cultural losses of youthful qualities at large, across a generation. In tales that focus on the older men, the losses of the young threaten to become overwhelming, so fully do the aging depend upon the idea of energized young men, who embody the ideals associated with youth. Articulating fears that the social fabric is forever rent by the loss of positive intergenerational bonds, these texts suggest that a healthy, coherent society depends upon cross-generational bonds of the sort severed by the war-time losses of young men, resulting in a society left to bereaved old men.

Keywords:   youth, mourning, melancholia, grief, soldiers, intergenerational bonds, old men, Cather, Great War

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