Macquarie University
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A cognitive study of the ethics of adultery in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The scarlet letter and Edith Wharton's The age of innocence

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posted on 2022-03-28, 10:28 authored by Jillian Anderson
The novels that constitute my project, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (1850) and Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence (1920), challenge the conventional taboo that has seen cultures over centuries reject adulterers generally, and female adulterers more particularly. In their respective representations of sexual transgression, both Hawthorne and Wharton surprise us. Adultery becomes a vehicle through which both authors elevate the scarlet woman to the point of admiration. My enquiry is situated in a transdisciplinary space, combining cognitive approaches to literature, gender studies and close attention to historical sources as well as to the novels. It recruits the capacity of the combination of these approaches to examine Hawthorne and Wharton's primary sources in order to gauge how far these sources shed light on both the intent and construction of their respective texts. The primary value that emerges from this combined approach is considered in close detail, both Hawthorne and Wharton can be shown to have held a high regard for women, a regard that plays out in their fiction. This shared value necessitates drawing on gender studies, looking specifically at how 'the spatial turn' and the question of how women are made to 'perform gender' invite us to recognise the originality of Hawthorne and Wharton's representations of Hester Prynne and Ellen Olenska. By enlisting cognitive approaches to literary studies this thesis identifies the narrative strategies deployed by both novelists to invite the reader to not only empathise with the scarlet woman, but, surprisingly, to admire her.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Nathaniel Hawthorne's context - Legalism and laws -- Chapter 2: The Scarlet Letter -- Chapter 3: Edith Wharton's context - Modernity and Morals -- Chapter 4: The Age of Innocence -- Conclusion.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 78-81

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


MRes, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of English

Department, Centre or School

Department of English

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Antonina Harbus


Copyright Jillian Anderson 2016. Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (vi, 81 pages) illustrations

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