Wharton vs Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age Novel

Wharton’s novel was little appreciated in its time, and it hasn’t benefited from the same revival of interest that eventually rescued F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, another Jazz Age novel. Maybe it’s because our culture is created and largely controlled by latter-day Pauline (and Paul) Manfords. Gatsby’s novel is held to reject the American dream itself as a falsity, obscene wealth as corrupting, and the WASP ruling class as a permanent source of oppression, despite its evident decline. Compared with Wharton’s novel, which cuts deeper and is more personal, Gatsby looks like a cheap attempt at scapegoating. For Twilight Sleep is a satire of the modern age, but it targets some of our permanent temptations. If we’re about to embark on a new Roaring Twenties, Wharton’s book will remind us that we’ve been there before.

Michael Brendan Dougherty

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