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This paper argues that Elizabeth Robins' reading of The Custom of the Country (recorded in her diary, 25 November 1913) impacted the way Robins drafted her very next novel, Camilla. Unlike Wharton’s Undine, whose careers with men might be characterized by the sequence of her last names (Spragg Moffatt, Marvell, de Chelles, Moffatt), Camilla undertakes one long reflective flashback on her early life with her ex-husband, Leroy Trenholme, as she crosses the Atlantic, east to west, having been proposed to by a deeply caring and comforting Englishman. This reliving of the unraveling of her marriage (especially the scene of nightmarish insight in which her husband, having openly flirted with another, appears out of the darkness of an underground cave, having swum naked with a lighted torch in his mouth) causes Camilla to reject a second bond in favor of a cherished and assertive solitude. Robins did so conscious that she was defying her Cosmopolitan editor's promise of a secure place in his magazine for future work. Close reading of Camilla against Undine's less probing self-examination will suggest that Wharton could put no passion into a novel conceived as a parable of gilded-age excess and fed by stories Teddy Wharton told her; she had interrupted the completion of it with several enterprises that were more at the heart of her developing craft and secret passionate self, beyond her own divorce. My focus on two under-rated Wharton novels that are specifically mentioned by Robins will conclude with the manner in which they shared a friendship with Henry James, yet were not in each other's spheres and likely never met.

Publication/Presentation Information

Presentation for SAMLA 87 in Durham NC

Edith Wharton Society Panel

November 14, 2015 Section 06.06

Original Title of Presentation:

Undressing Undine Spragg: In Camilla, Elizabeth Robins Re-writes the Trans-Atlantic Divorcée as a Feminist who Renounces a Second Marriage Proposal

For the Edith Wharton Society Panel with the theme, Writing (of) Women's Bodies: Wharton and Early Twentieth Century Feminism

Not previously published.

DocumentsForCommonsPostingCamilla.docx (1170 kB)
Conference Program Cover and Panel Info Wharton Robins Divorce Novels