The Next 150 Years: Wharton Goes Digital
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In thinking about the digital future of Wharton studies, I want to turn backward to ltalian Backgrounds (L905), a series of travel essays, mostly previously published, that came out six months before The House of Mirth ( J 905). Drawn from Wharton's travels over the previous decade, the essays follow Wharton as she makes her way from Switzerland to Syracuse by train and carriage (for these were pre-"motor flight" days), seeking out rare sights and attempting at every turn to, as she put it, "circumvent the compiler of [her] guide-book" (Italian Backgrounds 85). The most celebrated piece in the book is the previously published "A Tuscan Shrine," which describes Wharton's discovery that the terra cotta figures at Sao Vivaldo were not from "the mid-seventeenth century" ( I 00) but were modeled by the hand of "an artist of the school of the Robbias" (105) a century earlier. "A Tuscan Shrine" displays some of the characteristic features of Wharton's travel writing, including its quest for out-of-the-way experiences, and further provides logically argued art criticism and narrative elements of suspense and detection.