Feminism In The Other Two And Roman Fever
Edith Wharton is a feminist in “The Other Two”, as well as “Roman Fever”.
Edith Wharton’s fiction showed that she was concerned about the social and personal pressures women face, as well as the limitations of other people’s expectations. Wharton portrays women who defy social and personal expectations with a happy outcome. Alice, in “The Other Two,” is the main character who divorces 2 husbands but finds happiness again with a 3rd. She portrays divorce as a positive act. Wharton connects positive outcomes in “Roman Fever”, where Grace Ainsley is the one main character, to past defiances of expectations. Alice’s multiple marriages as well as Grace’s marriage to a man not the father of her child are both examples of how these women reject monogamy. Edith Wharton’s “The Other Two” and “Roman Fever”, both of which are feminist works, question the traditional values that monogamy is a virtue.
Monogamy was one of the many restrictions that women faced at the turn-of-the century. Women rarely considered divorce because there was no system in place to allow them to support themselves financially. Margaret McDowell says that society is “unwilling” to acknowledge women as adults entitled to adult rights and responsibilities (539). James Woodress notes Edith Wharton’s own “28 unhappy years of marriage before divorce” (539). Wharton’s unconventional acceptance of divorce was evident in both her life and her writing. Wharton viewed divorced females with sympathy and encouragement at a moment when the American public and literature frowned upon divorce. McDowell notes Wharton’s tendency to celebrate divorced women who are free to break up with their husbands, instead of pitying them for their decision (535). American women moved from a time when “their attitudes, conduct and standards of propriety were dictated by fixed conventions,” to one where they have “relative autonomy” that allows them “to act according to what is most fulfilling for them individually in a specific situation” (McDowell 531). Wharton’s advanced acceptance of women’s rights, even before 1900, set her apart from other American authors.
Edith Wharton relates her female characters’ successes in society to the rejection of the social norm of monogamy in her short story “The Other Two.” “The Other Two” ends with the image of Alice Haskett-Varick-Waythorn functioning normally amongst her current husband and two ex-husbands. Alice finds the perfect husband and wife by going through divorces. She learns to be a good wife from her many marriages. Waythorn is her third husband and accepts Alice for what she has done in the past, showing Wharton’s positive attitude toward divorce. Alice and three of her husbands sit down to tea, in a scene that is both casual and uncomfortable. It shows the positive attitude Wharton had towards divorce.
Alice’s story begins with her marriage to Waythorn. Waythorn sees Alice as a perfect wife. Waythorn notices Alice’s perfect marriage because of her previous husbands. Alice’s divorces gave her the opportunity to use what she learned from her marriages. Waythorn understands how Varick & Haskett influenced Alice and his values. Waythorn thought that Haskett’s commonness shaped Alice’s values, while Varick’s liberal interpretation of marriage bonds taught her conjugal virtues. Alice benefits from both divorces when she finds happiness in Waythorn. Alice has a happy life and exceptional wife performance with her third spouse after her divorce.
Waythorn finally accepting Alice’s past is the perfect reaction to women being able to divorce. Waythorn was expecting Alice to “shed the past like a real man” when he married her. It is initially awkward when the couple discuss Alice’s past husbands. Waythorn is shocked when Alice notices Varick has poured alcohol into his coffee. Alice reacts by blushing “a sudden, agonizing crimson.” The response suggests that Varick was an issue to avoid, and Alice’s blushing indicates she’s ashamed. Alice blushes a “sudden, agonizing red” when Waythorn notices Varick pouring alcohol in his coffee. This muted response indicates that the subject of Alice’s past with Varick is an avoided topic.
Waythorn’s conclusion, which includes a misogynistic view of “owning”, women, portrays marriages in the past as a chance to learn to make men happy. Waythorn’s stubborn ignorance despite the small acceptance of his society could be a representation of early 1900s society. Men can read women’s actions in a way that suits their expectations. Waythorn rationalizes Alice’s divorces according to the standards he holds women to, as woman-pleasers. Waythorn accepts Alice’s divorces despite these sexist flaws, and gives her credit for them. Wharton viewed female divorcees positively in her final scene with all four coexisting characters, which shows a woman successfully functioning in society following divorce.
Wharton, in “Roman Fever,” connects Grace Ainsley rejecting monogamy as well as others’ expectations with Barbara. Grace’s child and the winner of their argument is Barbara. Grace’s rebellion against Mrs. Slade is symbolized by her trip to the Roman Colosseum in company of Delphin Slade. She was Alida Slade’s fiancée. The defiance to expectations by having an illicit encounter with a woman symbolizes a rejection of monogamous ideals. In the story of Great Aunt Harriet, Alida’s expectation of Grace is described. This shows that the women have a rivalry in their minds and it defines roles for women with the same men. These roles are filled by Mrs. Slade, Mrs. Ainsley, and Great Aunt Harriet. Mrs. Slade, for example, sends a fake Delphin’s letter to Grace in the same way that she sent Great Aunt Harriet to death. The shocking ending, in which Mrs. Ainsley confesses to having committed an act that went against her assigned role, demonstrates “how hopelessly entrenched they are into the fictions” about women’s roles (Bauer 657). Grace benefits from Mrs. Slade’s realization that she had been looking at Mrs. Ainsley through the wrong end. Wharton prefers Grace’s individualistic approach. Mrs. Ainsley’s success at the end is a sign of this.
Grace Ainsley is Grace’s husband, but she has a child with Delphin Slade. Barbara Slade is described by Mrs. Slade as having more vibrancy than her parents. Funny how those nullities were her parents. Alida, without realizing it, attributes Barbara’s “effectiveness” to her deceased husband. This is a result of Grace defying the patriarchal culture. Alida represents traditional patriarchal values while Grace represents their rejection. Wharton contrasted the traditional behavior of Mrs. Slade with that Mrs. Ainsley’s, who defied social expectations. Grace is expected by Mrs. Slade to be stately, cooperative and married. Her daughter sees her as a matron who loves knitting. Grace shows that she’s more than others think of her. Wharton suggested that women could “liberate themselves in patriarchal societies” (McDowell, 538). Grace was liberated from Alida’s expectations. Wharton’s approval of Grace’s liberation is evident in the form of Barbara.
Wharton’s feminism is evident in her portrayal of the positive aspects of women who reject the monogamy tradition. She also supports women’s rights. McDowell observes that Wharton’s women are no longer the dependent wives or dignified mothers. Instead, they try to “destroy” the traditional and simplistic formulations of society, which defined the roles acceptable for them (537). Women have had to struggle in order to find their place within society. They’ve done this by working around unrealistic expectations, like monogamy. Women were not allowed to choose more than one partner or to support themselves. They were expected, therefore, to rely solely on their man for life. Wharton rejected gender subordination by showing women as individual people. Women in Wharton’s stories do not have a single man that provides them with their livelihood. Instead, they experiment with various men. In a time when monogamy implied complete dependency, Wharton was a feminist for taking this step to separate women from men in her fiction.