Edith Wharton, Canine Tyrant

Ask Dog Lady, an advice column for dog owners, is asked to settle a question regarding Edith Wharton‘s attitude toward dogs:

I am an English major and, in my American Novel course, we have been reading Edith Wharton’s “Ethan Frome” and “House of Mirth.” I also am a dog lover. When I bought a greeting card with a picture of a dog to send to a friend, I was glad to see it featured a quote from Wharton: “A heartbeat at my feet.” This quote also appears all over the Internet on various dog-devotional blogs.

The more I think of this, the more I wonder whether Wharton was really referring to the dog as a dominated creature of lowly position at her feet. Wharton wrote of the tyrannical forces of money and class. Look at poor Lily Bart, the anti-heroine in “House of Mirth” who basically killed herself because status and wealth eluded her. Bart became a heartbeat at various peoples’ feet. Does this oft-quoted line from Wharton slyly demean dogs?

An expert gets called in to answer.

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