14 November 2006
Romantic Illusion and Vulgar Realism
In the short-story “Editha,” by William Dean Howells, Howells presents the movement in literature from the idealistic romantic period into modern realism showing the conflict that exists between these ideologies through the expression of sexual dominance.
Howells uses the expression of sexual dominance from the highly romanticized views of war to show the catalyst for the conflict between the two forms. The story begins with an air of impending war showing Editha’s romantic views of war in general and her belief in the glory that wars bring those who fight them. Editha was “a girl who embodied all the nonsense about the heroic romanticism of war…” (Carter, 231) This deeply romanticized idea of the hero leads her to involve her lover, George.
Initially she approaches George in a reserved manner as she “put a guard upon herself against urging him, by any word or act, to take the part that her whole soul willed him to take, for the completion of her ideal for him.” (392) Eventually, though not completely intentionally, she expresses her full nature and focused sexual energy, unguarded, upon her lover; “her womanhood upon his manhood, without knowing the means she was using to the end she was willing.” (392) As stated by Free, “Howells implies that merely by expressing her feelings about the war Editha satisfied her own romantic sense.” (Free 2)
Continuing this manipulation of her lover to its climax, Editha makes even their courtship contingent upon his submission to her belief in this letter to him: “George: I understood-when you left me. But I think we had better emphasize your meaning that if we cannot be one in everything we had better be one in nothing. So I am sending these things for your keeping till you have made up your mind.
“I shall always love you, and therefore I shall never marry anyone else. But the man I...