Search-icon

Edith Wharton

Wikipedia
Edith Wharton
 
Larger Image
FIND EDITH WHARTON ONLINE:
WEBSITEFACEBOOK
About This Author
Edith Wharton was born Edith Newbold Jones on January 24, 1862, during the American Civil War, into a world that could hardly have been more discouraging of her desire to be a writer. Her parents, George Frederic and Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander Jones, descendants of prosperous English and Dutch businessmen, bankers, and lawyers, were pillars of the fashionable New York society Wharton would depict in many of her novels. It was a society in which the only acceptable aim for a young woman of the upper class was to enter into marriage with a gentleman of the upper class and become mistress of a household. Edith's mother, a notoriously commanding and aloof woman to whom the birth of her daughter relatively late in life was an embarrassment, was perpetually critical and disapproving of her daughter's intellectual ambitions.



But Edith demonstrated early a formidable intellect and a great love for books. Though her education—at the ends of a series of governesses—was intended only to provide her the social graces necessary for a society wife, she spoke three languages before adolescence, and read widely in the great literature of Western culture. She first attempted to write a novel at the age of eleven, but her mother criticized her first lines, effectively dissuading her from fiction writing for several more years. She did, however, begin writing poetry, and achieve her first publication at the age of thirteen when a magazine published her translations of several German poems.



Attempting to elude the negative economic repercussions of the Reconstruction, the Jones family moved to Europe for six years beginning in 1866, when Edith was five; when she returned to America, after a life-threatening battle with typhoid fever that would indelibly mark her consciousness, she found her country ugly and deeply depressing. Though the family's move to Newport, Rhode Island temporarily revived her spirits, Wharton's affinity for Europe and her ever deepening loathing for the increasing materialism of American life would lead to many return trips to the Continent. She would settle permanently in Paris in the early 1900s.



In 1885, after the death of her beloved father, when she was twenty-three and thus dangerously close to being considered a spinster, Edith married Edward "Teddy" Wharton, a gentleman from Boston of appropriate social background twelve years her senior. The first years of her marriage were spent in frequent travel and in making the proper social rounds in New York and Newport. Edith was pleased to be mistress of her own house and garden. But as her confidence grew, and she became more and more involved in and excited by her writing, her kindhearted but intellectually unimaginative husband and their stultifyingly predictable, possibly sexless married life began to drain her spirits.



In 1907, at the age of forty-five, she would begin a passionate love affair—apparently the only of her life—with the journalist Morton Fullerton. The relationship was brief, but it marked a profound emotional and sexual awakening for Wharton. Teddy, meanwhile, began to suffer from mental illness—possibly manic depression. He also took a mistress, and embezzled money from his wife to buy his mistress a house. He was institutionalized in 1912, and in 1913, Edith divorced him. She would never remarry.



Wharton published her first short story in 1891; her first story collection, The Greater Inclination, in 1899; a novella called The Touchstone in 1900; and her first novel, a historical romance called The Valley of Decision, in 1902. That same year she began a correspondence with Henry James, to whom she had been introduced by mutual friends. He judged her at the time as a gifted writer but perhaps too imitative a student of his; their friendship would grow, as would James's estimation of his friend's talents, until James's death in 1916. The Age of Innocence, written soon afterward, is marked by several allusions to Wharton's dear friend and to his novel The Portrait of a Lady.



The book that made Wharton famous was The House of Mirth, published in 1905. Between that book and the publication of her autobiography, A Backward Glance, in 1934, she published sixteen novels and novellas, eight collections of short stories, several works of nonfiction, and two volumes of poetry as well as many articles, translations, introductions, and reviews. The novel she was working on before her death, The Buccaneers, was published posthumously in 1938. This impressive productivity was spurred on in part by the fact that many of her works, including The Age of Innocence, were contracted by magazines to appear on a serial basis, requiring her to produce a certain number of words within a limited amount of time and space. Wharton both prospered and chafed under this regime; she wrote prolifically and made a tremendous amount of money, but many critics have noted that the quality of her work, particularly after World War I, suffered under the influence of its rapid production for a mass market.



Beyond her writing, Wharton's life was also distinguished by her selfless service to France and to the European refugees who flooded Paris during World War I, work for which the French government made her—the first woman so recognized—a chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur. When she died in 1937, her coffin was attended by French war veterans on recognition of her adopted country.



Though she was a well-known public figure, Wharton was always guarded about her private life and real feelings. Her autobiography was so unrevealing that her publishers, to Wharton's fury, tried to adjust their contract to permit severe cutting of what they called long "dull" parts. Wharton had destroyed many photographs, letters and literary documents that might well have better illumined her life. Her letters to Morton Fullerton, which she had asked him to destroy, did not surface until the mid-1980s, many years after her death.



Edith Wharton's interior life is known best through her letters to many treasured friends, through their reminiscences of her, and through the miracle of her writing. As Wharton's biographer Shari Benstock noted, "Nothing in Edith Jones's background heralded her diverse creativity and abounding energy, nor was she encouraged her to develop her 'gift.'" Yet she did, through a force of character and imagination which enabled her to produce a body of work remarkable for its craft, its insight into human nature, and its depictions of the complex interactions between individuals and their limited social world, full of pitfalls and obstacles, in which they do or do not reach for meaning.

Show less
Edith Wharton was born Edith Newbold Jones on January 24, 1862, during the American Civil War, into a world that could hardly have been more discouraging of her desire to be a writer. Her parents, George Frederic and Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander Jones, descendants of prosperous English and Dutch businessmen, bankers, and lawyers, were pillars of the fashionable New York society Wharton would depict in many of her novels. It was a society in which the only acceptable aim for a young woman of the upper class was to enter into marriage with a gentleman of the upper class and become mistress of a household. Edith's mother, a notoriously commanding and aloof woman to whom the birth of her daughter relatively late in life was an embarrassment, was perpetually critical and disapproving of her daughter's intellectual ambitions.



But Edith demonstrated early a formidable intellect and a great love for books. Though her education—at the ends of a series of governesses—was intended only to provide her the social graces necessary for a society wife, she spoke three languages before adolescence, and read widely in the great literature of Western culture. She first attempted to write a novel at the age of eleven, but her mother criticized her first lines, effectively dissuading her from fiction writing for several more years. She did, however, begin writing poetry, and achieve her first publication at the age of thirteen when a magazine published her translations of several German poems.



Attempting to elude the negative economic repercussions of the Reconstruction, the Jones family moved to Europe for six years beginning in 1866, when Edith was five; when she returned to America, after a life-threatening battle with typhoid fever that would indelibly mark her consciousness, she found her country ugly and deeply depressing. Though the family's move to Newport, Rhode Island temporarily revived her spirits, Wharton's affinity for Europe and her ever deepening loathing for the increasing materialism of American life would lead to many return trips to the Continent. She would settle permanently in Paris in the early 1900s.



In 1885, after the death of her beloved father, when she was twenty-three and thus dangerously close to being considered a spinster, Edith married Edward "Teddy" Wharton, a gentleman from Boston of appropriate social background twelve years her senior. The first years of her marriage were spent in frequent travel and in making the proper social rounds in New York and Newport. Edith was pleased to be mistress of her own house and garden. But as her confidence grew, and she became more and more involved in and excited by her writing, her kindhearted but intellectually unimaginative husband and their stultifyingly predictable, possibly sexless married life began to drain her spirits.



In 1907, at the age of forty-five, she would begin a passionate love affair—apparently the only of her life—with the journalist Morton Fullerton. The relationship was brief, but it marked a profound emotional and sexual awakening for Wharton. Teddy, meanwhile, began to suffer from mental illness—possibly manic depression. He also took a mistress, and embezzled money from his wife to buy his mistress a house. He was institutionalized in 1912, and in 1913, Edith divorced him. She would never remarry.



Wharton published her first short story in 1891; her first story collection, The Greater Inclination, in 1899; a novella called The Touchstone in 1900; and her first novel, a historical romance called The Valley of Decision, in 1902. That same year she began a correspondence with Henry James, to whom she had been introduced by mutual friends. He judged her at the time as a gifted writer but perhaps too imitative a student of his; their friendship would grow, as would James's estimation of his friend's talents, until James's death in 1916. The Age of Innocence, written soon afterward, is marked by several allusions to Wharton's dear friend and to his novel The Portrait of a Lady.



The book that made Wharton famous was The House of Mirth, published in 1905. Between that book and the publication of her autobiography, A Backward Glance, in 1934, she published sixteen novels and novellas, eight collections of short stories, several works of nonfiction, and two volumes of poetry as well as many articles, translations, introductions, and reviews. The novel she was working on before her death, The Buccaneers, was published posthumously in 1938. This impressive productivity was spurred on in part by the fact that many of her works, including The Age of Innocence, were contracted by magazines to appear on a serial basis, requiring her to produce a certain number of words within a limited amount of time and space. Wharton both prospered and chafed under this regime; she wrote prolifically and made a tremendous amount of money, but many critics have noted that the quality of her work, particularly after World War I, suffered under the influence of its rapid production for a mass market.



Beyond her writing, Wharton's life was also distinguished by her selfless service to France and to the European refugees who flooded Paris during World War I, work for which the French government made her—the first woman so recognized—a chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur. When she died in 1937, her coffin was attended by French war veterans on recognition of her adopted country.



Though she was a well-known public figure, Wharton was always guarded about her private life and real feelings. Her autobiography was so unrevealing that her publishers, to Wharton's fury, tried to adjust their contract to permit severe cutting of what they called long "dull" parts. Wharton had destroyed many photographs, letters and literary documents that might well have better illumined her life. Her letters to Morton Fullerton, which she had asked him to destroy, did not surface until the mid-1980s, many years after her death.



Edith Wharton's interior life is known best through her letters to many treasured friends, through their reminiscences of her, and through the miracle of her writing. As Wharton's biographer Shari Benstock noted, "Nothing in Edith Jones's background heralded her diverse creativity and abounding energy, nor was she encouraged her to develop her 'gift.'" Yet she did, through a force of character and imagination which enabled her to produce a body of work remarkable for its craft, its insight into human nature, and its depictions of the complex interactions between individuals and their limited social world, full of pitfalls and obstacles, in which they do or do not reach for meaning.

Books by thisAuthor
  • The House of Mirth

    The House of Mirth
    ENDURING LITERATURE ILLUMINATED BY PRACTICAL SCHOLARSHIP An incisive portrait of New York high society and the somber economics of marriage during the late nineteenth century, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth tells the story of beguiling socialite Lily Bart’s ill-fated attempt to find happiness. THIS ENRICHED CLASSIC EDITION INCLUDES: • A concise introduction that gives the reader important background information • A chronology of the author’s life and work • A timeline of significant events that provides the book’s historical context • An outline of key themes and plot points to guide the reader’s own interpretations • Detailed explanatory notes • Critical analysis and modern perspectives on the work • Discussion questions to promote lively classroom and book group interaction • A list of recommended related books and films to broaden the reader’s experience Simon & Schuster Enriched Classics offer readers affordable editions of great works of literature enhanced by helpful notes and insightful commentary. The scholarship provided in Enriched Classics enables readers to appreciate, understand, and enjoy the world’s finest books to their full potential.

    Summer

    Summer
    One of the first novels to deal honestly with a woman's sexual awakening,Summercreated a sensation upon its 1917 publication. The Pulitzer Prize–winning author ofEthan Fromeshattered the standards of conventional love stories with candor and realism. Nearly a century later, this tale remains fresh and relevant.

    The Custom of the Country

    The Custom of the Country
    Edith Wharton’s lacerating satire on marriage and materialism in turn-of-the-century New York features her most selfish, ruthless, and irresistibly outrageous female character.   Undine Spragg is an exquisitely beautiful but ferociously acquisitive young woman from the Midwest who comes to New York to seek her fortune. She achieves her social ambitions—but only at the highest cost to her family, her admirers, and her several husbands. Wharton lavished on Undine an imaginative energy that suggests she was as fascinated as she was appalled by the alluring monster she had created. It is the complexity of her attitude that makes The Custom of the Country—with its rich social and emotional detail and its headlong narrative power—one of the most fully realized and resonant of her works.

    The Glimpses Of The Moon

    The Glimpses Of The Moon
    Set in the 1920s, The Glimpses of the Moon details the romantic misadventures of Nick Lansing and Susy Branch, a couple with the right connections but not much in the way of funds. They devise a shrewd bargain: they'll marry and spend a year or so sponging off their wealthy friends, honeymooning in their mansions and villas. As Susy explains, "We should really, in a way, help more than hamper each other. We both know the ropes so well; what one of us didn't see the other might -- in the way of opportunities, I mean." The other part of the plan states that if either one of them meets someone who can advance them socially, they're each free to dissolve the marriage. How their plan unfolds is a comedy of eros that will charm all fans of Wharton's work.

  • The Greater Inclination

    The Greater Inclination
    Webster's edition of this classic is organized to expose the reader to a maximum number of difficult and potentially ambiguous English words. Rare or idiosyncratic words and expressions are given lower priority compared to "difficult, yet commonly used" words. Rather than supply a single translation, many words are translated for a variety of meanings in French, allowing readers to better grasp the ambiguity of English, and avoid using the notes as a pure translation crutch. Having the reader decipher a word's meaning within context serves to improve vocabulary retention and understanding. Each page covers words not already highlighted on previous pages. If a difficult word is not translated on a page, chances are that it has been translated on a previous page.

    The Touchstone

    The Touchstone
    Stephen Glennard, a young lawyer, sells a package of love letters, written to him over the years by distinguished novelist Margaret Aubyn, to raise money to pay for his forthcoming wedding to another woman. After the wedding, his secret comes back to haunt him, and when he confesses to his wife, their marriage is reduced to resigned coexistence.

    Crucial Instances

    Crucial Instances
    Webster's edition of this classic is organized to expose the reader to a maximum number of difficult and potentially ambiguous English words. Rare or idiosyncratic words and expressions are given lower priority compared to "difficult, yet commonly used" words. Rather than supply a single translation, many words are translated for a variety of meanings in French, allowing readers to better grasp the ambiguity of English, and avoid using the notes as a pure translation crutch. Having the reader decipher a word's meaning within context serves to improve vocabulary retention and understanding. Each page covers words not already highlighted on previous pages. If a difficult word is not translated on a page, chances are that it has been translated on a previous page.

    Tales of Men and Ghosts

    Tales of Men and Ghosts
    Webster's edition of this classic is organized to expose the reader to a maximum number of difficult and potentially ambiguous English words. Rare or idiosyncratic words and expressions are given lower priority compared to "difficult, yet commonly used" words. Rather than supply a single translation, many words are translated for a variety of meanings in French, allowing readers to better grasp the ambiguity of English, and avoid using the notes as a pure translation crutch. Having the reader decipher a word's meaning within context serves to improve vocabulary retention and understanding. Each page covers words not already highlighted on previous pages. If a difficult word is not translated on a page, chances are that it has been translated on a previous page.

  • Ethan Frome

    Ethan Frome
    Edith Wharton’s most widely read work is a tightly constructed and almost unbearably heartbreaking story of forbidden love in a snowbound New England village.   This brilliantly wrought, tragic novella explores the repressed emotions and destructive passions of working-class people far removed from the elevated social milieu usually inhabited by Wharton’s characters. Ethan Frome is a poor farmer, trapped in a marriage to a demanding and controlling wife, Zeena. When Zeena’s young cousin Mattie enters their household she opens a window of hope in Ethan’s bleak life, but his wife’s reaction prompts a desperate attempt to escape fate that goes horribly wrong. Ethan Frome is an unforgettable story with the force of myth, featuring realistic and haunting characters as vivid as any Wharton ever conjured.  

    Reef

    Reef
    "I put most of myself into that opus," Edith Wharton said of The Reef, possibly her most autobiographical novel. Published in 1912, it was, Bernard Berenson told Henry Adams, "better than any previous work excepting Ethan Frome." A challenge to the moral climate of the day, The Reef follows the fancies of George Darrow, a young diplomat en route from London to France, intent on proposing to the widowed Anna Leath. Unsettled by Anna's reticence, Darrow drifts into an affair with Sophy Viner, a charmingly naive and impecunious young woman whose relations with Darrow and Anna's family threaten his prospects for success. For its dramatic construction and acute insight into social mores and the multifaceted problem of sexuality, The Reef stands as one of Edith Wharton's most daring works of fiction.

    The Valley of Decision

    The Valley of Decision
    Wharton's first full-length novel is set in 18th-century Italy. Here Wharton pits folks inspired by the anti-religious thoughts of Rousseau and Voltaire against the orthodox leaders of the day.

    Madame de Treymes

    Madame de Treymes
    An American in Paris at the turn of the nineteenth century, John Durham pays court to an old flame, Fanny Frisbee, now married to the dissolute Marquis de Malrive. Devoutly Catholic, Fanny’s husband is unlikely to grant her a divorce or relinquish custody of their young son, who is heir to the family title. When the Malrive family, urged by Fanny’s enigmatic sister-in-law, Madame de Treymes, agrees to a divorce, John must decide whether or not he will pursue a future with the woman he loves, but which forces her to give up her son. Contrasting the simplicity and practicality of John’s brownstone in New York with the decadence and beauty of the Saint-Germain district of Paris, Madame de Treymes intelligently examines the social role of women within two clashing cultures. The novella was inspired by Edith Wharton’s own entrance into Parisian society, and remains one of her best-loved works of fiction. HarperPerennial Classics brings great works of literature to life in digital format, upholding the highest standards in ebook production and celebrating reading in all its forms. Look for more titles in the HarperPerennial Classics collection to build your digital library.

  • The Descent of Man, and Other Stories

    The Descent of Man, and Other Stories
    Webster's edition of this classic is organized to expose the reader to a maximum number of difficult and potentially ambiguous English words. Rare or idiosyncratic words and expressions are given lower priority compared to "difficult, yet commonly used" words. Rather than supply a single translation, many words are translated for a variety of meanings in French, allowing readers to better grasp the ambiguity of English, and avoid using the notes as a pure translation crutch. Having the reader decipher a word's meaning within context serves to improve vocabulary retention and understanding. Each page covers words not already highlighted on previous pages. If a difficult word is not translated on a page, chances are that it has been translated on a previous page.

    The Fruit of the Tree

    The Fruit of the Tree
    Originally published in 1907, this little known novel by the author of The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome was considered controversial for its frank treatment of labor and industrial conditions, drug addiction, mercy killing, divorce, and second marriages. John Amherst, an idealistic middle manager in a New England textile mill, is committed to improving the deplorable working conditions of the laborers in his charge. But upper management, whose only concern is maximizing profits, frustrates his efforts. When Amherst eventually marries Bessy Westmore, the widow of the former mill owner, he is able at last to initiate an ambitious project of reform. But happiness for John and Bessy proves to be short-lived. It becomes quickly clear that Bessy does not understand and cannot share her new husband’s passion for just labor conditions and industrial reform. She even resents the time he devotes to his work and the way in which his expenditures impact her extravagant lifestyle. Complicating the situation is the strong friendship that Bessy’s old friend, Justine, develops with Amherst. Employed as a live-in tutor for Bessy’s daughter, Justine eventually finds herself in an untenable position. How she reacts under pressure has lasting consequences for herself and those around her. In The Fruit of the Tree, Wharton has created a gripping tale full of psychological insights, deft social portraiture, and profound ethical questions that remain challenging even today.

    A Motor-Flight Through France

    A Motor-Flight Through France
    Edith Wharton proclaims in the opening lines of A Motor-flight through France that "the motor-car has restored the romance of travel"—then sets off in the new invention to explore the cities and countryside of the nation she loved above all. Wharton's spirited account of her journey is a declaration of her passion for travel and her deep affinity for the people and places of France.

    Sanctuary

    Sanctuary
    As her marriage to an eminent and wealthy bachelor approaches, Kate Orme should feel nothing but bliss. But when she learns of Denis's guilty secret, she becomes painfully aware of her fiancé's flawed morality. Determined that no child of hers should inherit such character traits, she does everything in her power to instill in their son the highest moral code. Yet, when Dick is faced with a moral choice of his own, she can only watch to see if history will repeat itself. American novelist Edith Wharton (1862–1937) is celebrated for her finely crafted stories of New York mores, including The Age of Innocence.

  • Fighting France

    Fighting France
    From Dunkerque to Belport
    As nuanced in her observations of human behavior as she is in her vivid depictions of French landscape and architecture, Wharton fully exploited her unique position as consort to Walter Barry, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris, which allowed her unparalleled access to life in the trenches. Sensitive without sentimentality, and offering a valuable and extremely rare female perspective of a war dominated by the male viewpoint, this series of articles is nothing less than an inspirational testament to the strength of the human spirit at a time of the greatest adversity. 

    The Decoration of Houses

    The Decoration of Houses
    The original text of The Decoration of Houses continues without revision as an authentic classic, perhaps the most important book of its kind ever published. Its carefully reasoned chapters on such aspects of house interiors as fireplaces, ceilings and floors, halls and stairs, are of the greatest value to professionals and serious amateurs concerned with interiors. This expanded edition includes an introduction by Henry Hope Reed and three critical essays by John Barrington Bayley, William A. Coles, and Alvin Holm, AIA. Additions to the album of renderings and photographs of modern and contemporary work in the tradition of Wharton and Codman include a number of important works done in the last decade or so. A portfolio of color plates new to the expanded edition offers the work of such accomplished photographers as Bill Ray and Anne Day. First published in Norton paperback in 1978 in association with Classical America. A selection of Book-of-the-Month Club and Newbridge Book Clubs.

    House of Mirth

    House of Mirth
    Lily Bart enjoys an equitable standing within the New York City elite. Although she desires a comfortable life and has received generous proposals from wealthy suitors, Lily remains single with hope for an honest and loving marriage. However, her life takes an unexpected twist when a nasty bit of gossip instigates her long descent down the social ladder. With her reputation plummeting, Lily escapes the city by joining an acquaintance on a European cruise. But this, too, causes irreparable damage to her reputation, and soon Lily finds herself disowned and friendless.

    Italian Villas and Their Gardens

    Italian Villas and Their Gardens
    The Original 1904 Edition
    Edith Wharton’s Italian Villas and Their Gardens, a seminal work on garden design, is a testament to the passionate connoisseurship of one of America’s greatest writers. A comprehensive look at the history and character of Italian garden architecture and ornamentation, the book explores more than seventy-five villas, capturing what Wharton calls their "garden-magic" and illuminating the intimate relationship between the house, its formal gardens, and the surrounding countryside.This beautiful hardcover facsimile is carefully reproduced from the first edition published in 1904 and features all of the original plates, including twenty-six illustrations by Maxfield Parrish, as well as décollage edges. It is published in association with The Mount Press. A portion of the proceeds of the sale of the book support the restoration of The Mount, the Massachusetts estate designed and built by Wharton based on the principles articulated in this book and in The Decoration of Houses. Elegantly written and informed by Wharton’s sensitivity and wit, Italian Villas and Their Gardens is a work that belongs on the shelf of every lover of gardens and good taste.

Bookish