Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




Melanie V. Dawson

Committee Members

Elizabeth Barnes

Alan C. Braddock

Francesca Sawaya


I situate Edith Wharton’s guiding idea of “garden-magic” at the center of my thesis because Wharton’s fiction shows how a garden space could naturalize otherwise inadmissible behaviors within upper-class society while helping a character tie such behavior to a greater possibility for escape. To this end, Wharton situates gardens as idealized touchstones within the built environment of New York City, spaces where characters believe they can reach self-actualization within a version of nature that is man-made. Actualization, in this sense, stems from a character’s imaginative escape that is enabled by a perception of the garden as a kind of natural oasis within the city. The way that this construction overlaps with a greater cultural acceptance of the garden as a “magic” – or, rather, norm-altering – space allows Wharton to evoke a unique perspective of turn-of-the-century nature.