Unsettled intimacies: revisiting Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country through Nella Larsen’s Quicksand

Keywords: Nella Larsen, Edith Wharton, colonialism, capitalism, motherhood, racism


Scholars have highlighted Nella Larsen’s textual interventions into aspects of Edith Wharton’s major works. The interventions, they claim, not only unmask Wharton’s pointed operations of erasure against people of color but, in some cases, showcase her racism. None of these works, however, devote critical analysis to the interventions staged on Wharton’s The Custom of the Country (1913), the novel that, I argue, is her most definitive statement on the role of market-based capitalism on the fate of Western civilization. Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928) shares many of Custom’s thematic concerns. Though writing from different class and racial perspectives, both writers must account for the social developments that spilled over from the previous century to articulate their implications for their heroines in terms of marriage, family, work, divorce, sex, and race relations on a trans-Atlantic scale. However, given that Custom almost entirely elides the presence of people of color, assessing it alongside Quicksand animates the spectre of colonialism that haunts the text, inviting us to remember why not all bodies, as M. Jacqui Alexander argues in “Not Just (Any) Body Can Be a Citizen,” can be imagined as naturalized citizen subjects within the rubric of modern capitalism.

Author Biography

Kedon Willis, University of Florida, Gainesville

Kedon Willis is a PhD candidate at the University of Florida. His research focuses on the intersection of queer identity and regional folklore by writers of different linguistic traditions in the Caribbean.


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How to Cite
Willis, K. (2019). Unsettled intimacies: revisiting Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country through Nella Larsen’s Quicksand. Tydskrif Vir Letterkunde, 56(1), 62-73. https://doi.org/10.17159/2309-9070/tvl.v.56i1.6273
Research articles