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A Negative Outlook on Marriage in Souls Belated by Edith Wharton

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In the short story, “Souls Belated”, by Edith Wharton, a woman named Lydia leaves her husband for her lover Gannett and with it, the respectability and social status in upper class society. Amongst all the scandal, Lydia discovers the gap between her wants and happiness, and the needs of societal norm. In this short story, the plot seems to reveal a lot about marriages and the perceived notions of what society needs from the people and what individuals in a married state do to keep that notion intact. Taking in all that Wharton’s short story, “Souls Belated” has to offer, it becomes harder and harder for the reader to negate the point that Wharton tries to make about marriages being a façade carried throughout life on the backs of two individuals to please other members of that society.

In “Souls Belated” it becomes apparently quickly that the lead character, Lydia, has left her husband, Tillotson for the likes of Gannett. Although in the beginning, it might seem as if the story is about how women coming out of a divorce cope, it slowly divulges itself to be about the war between personal dreams and the social norms. Lydia, proving to be a defiant and daring character, clearly rejects the ways of life in the upper class which in turn leads to her leaving her husband. Whilst wanting to forever escape the dull lifestyle of her marriage, she found it within Gannett to fully realize that what was being imposed on her from the community around her, was not in align with what she wanted. From this realization, many would theorize that rejecting her husband for Gannett, would mean that Lydia finally found her happiness in life, which was in finding a compatible mate for herself. However, it becomes apparent that Lydia is anything but satisfied. While on the train, Gannett asks her about living in a house similar to the one that the train had passed shortly, which leads to them finally talking after an uncomfortable silence. After discussing shortly, the house to live in, Lydia makes the remark that “Why not live everywhere, as we have been doing?”. This alone shows how free-spirited Lydia actually is. She would much rather spend her life travelling, free from anything that might hold her down for a moments time, which in societal ways, is considered scandalous. Wharton adds this into the story to further highlight that Lydia has no intention of wanting to be held down by anything, not even society. Her wanting to travel is in direct conflict of what is expected of married people.

As the story progresses, Lydia and Gannett have more conflicts as Lydia makes it clear she has no intention of marrying Gannett right away. Wharton’s take on marriage was unveiled during the passage in which Lydia rants “We both know that that no ceremony is needed to consecrate our love for each other; what object can we have in marrying except the secret fear of each that the other might escape, or the secret longing to work our way back gradually……into the esteems of the people whose conventional morality we have ridiculed and hated?”.

Wharton strongly portrays a negative outlook on marriage within this text by implying that marriage in society is only meant for a false sense of security and only meant as a way to legitimize and prove their love to other people’s due to blind acceptance of what is deemed right and what is deemed wrong in societal ways. To further depict her view on marriage, Wharton introduced Lydia and Gannett to a situation which closely resembles a society Lydia, and by association Gannett, had left behind in pursuit of their own needs and wants.

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A Negative Outlook on Marriage in Souls Belated by Edith Wharton. (2020, Jun 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from
“A Negative Outlook on Marriage in Souls Belated by Edith Wharton.” GradesFixer, 14 Jun. 2020,
A Negative Outlook on Marriage in Souls Belated by Edith Wharton. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 May 2022].
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