[UPDATE] A special issue of The Journal of the Short Story in English on Edith Wharton to be published in 2012
In The Writing of Fiction, Edith Wharton says that the difficult task of the short story is "to suggest illimitable air within a narrow space." This is not a strictly formal imperative: in the more than 85 short stories she published in her lifetime, Wharton returned again and again to the themes of suffocation, entrapment, and entombment. Her chronicles of life in New York, Paris and Italy, her war stories and her ghost stories are not simply illustrations of a state of society (although they are that too), nor are they merely portraits of individuals in moments of strife. They tend, instead, to examine the destinies of men and women exerting themselves within imperfect institutions, paying the price for cruelty, folly, obsession, and for the absence of courage and honour. Wharton analyses conventions, shows how they damage individual lives, but usually leaves her characters caught in their private predicaments. Within the limited space of the story, in other words, she suggests "illimitable air" and the possibility of a world elsewhere, but usually dashes any hope of escape.
One of the pleasures of reading Wharton resides in the scathing irony with which she examines her characters' failings and vices. Her precision and unflinching ruthlessness place her among the master short story-writers of the twentieth century and the seriousness with which she thought about composition and style, as well as the regularity of her output, show that she never thought of the story as being an inferior form. Yet many of Wharton's short stories are no longer available to the general reader, and no complete collection has been published since 1968.
Articles in the special issue of JSSE (but these are only suggestions and other ideas are welcome) might discuss:
• the marriage question (marriage, husbands, wives, divorce, open marriage, children);
• Wharton's ghost stories and her notion of the eerie;
• art, collectors, philistinism;
• material culture: clothes, furniture, houses, and "wanting, getting, having";
• New York as city and as society;
• Edith Wharton's stories at the movies: film adaptations include "Bread upon the Waters" (1935), "Pomegranate Seed" (1951), "Confession" (1953), "Afterward" (1983), "Bewitched" (1983), and "The Lady's Maid's Bell" (1983); the study of the influence of cinematographic techniques on Wharton's work is another possible angle.
Articles might also focus on a particular story or on two or more stories; on Wharton's narrative strategies; on the publication history of a story or a group of stories (e.g. "The Bunner Sisters", which was repeatedly rejected and finally published in 1916) or, more generally, on the reception of the stories. Finally, they might consider the place of the short story within the Wharton canon.
Proposals (of 200 to 300 words) should arrive by 10 February 10, 2011. Completed articles (not exceeding 6,000 words) must follow the MLA manual of style and include an abstract (not exceeding 250 words). Submissions will be peer-reviewed and are due by June 30, 2011.
Please send all queries and proposals to the guest editor, Virginia Ricard, Université Michel de Montaigne-Bordeaux 3 (firstname.lastname@example.org).