Edith Wharton’s Morocco

In 1920, Edith Wharton published a book that had an enduring effect on how Americans viewed the world and their role in it. 

Most literary scholars and Wharton fans would assume I refer to The Age of Innocence, the Pulitzer-prize winning novel published that very year.  Instead, my research focuses on In Morocco, a work often dismissed as a stale recycling of Orientalist clichés.  Wharton used Arabian Nights imagery to describe her trip to Morocco, evoking a magical and vaguely medieval kingdom.  Wharton’s disparaging comments about Moroccans under French colonial rule fueled contemporary debates about whether the US should support Arab autonomy or European imperialism.  A fresh take on this famous author, my research reveals how Wharton shaped and promoted an idea that has since become entrenched in US foreign policy: Western intervention betters the lives of Arab peoples. 

Edith Wharton at Bahia Palace in Marrakesh from Centre des Archives Diplomatiques du Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, La Courneuve, A023470 and A023471