edith wharton and oscar wilde

P24_WoolfNaomi Wolf at the TLS:

In 1903 Edith Wharton met the writer Vernon Lee in Italy, and started reading John Addington Symonds. By 1905 she had begun an intimate friendship with Henry James and the circle of male homosexual writers around him, and was soon reading Walt Whitman and Nietzsche, while having an affair with the American journalist Morton Fullerton. Through these influences, Wharton was drawn away from American discourses about sexuality in fiction (which were generally moralistic in this period, regardless of the gender of the writer), and towards British and European aestheticism and sexual liberation. It is after this period that we begin to see the multiple echoes of Oscar Wilde in her work. Wharton used Wilde in order to engage in a necessary, indeed central, argument about what happens to the aestheticist and sexual liberationist project once it is undertaken by heterosexual women.

From 1905 to the end of her career Wharton at times imitated Wilde’s phrasing, and not always successfully. She attempted Wildean paradoxes: in The Fruit of the Tree (1907), for example, the household confidante Mrs Ansell notes that “Most divorced women marry again to be respectable”, to which Mr Langhope, the heiress’s father, replies, nearly quoting Wilde, “Yes – that’s their punishment”.

more here.