Edith Wharton

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Edith Wharton
Edith Newbold Jones Wharton.jpg
Born (1862-01-24)January 24, 1862
New York
Died August 11, 1937(1937-08-11) (aged 75)
Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt, France
Occupation Novelist, short story writer, designer
Spouse Edward Wharton (1885–1913)

Signature

Edith Wharton (/ˈdɪθ ˈhwɔrtən/; born Edith Newbold Jones; January 24, 1862 – August 11, 1937) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, short story writer, and designer. She was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1927, 1928 and 1930.[1] Wharton combined her insider's view of America's privileged classes with a brilliant, natural wit to write humorous, incisive novels and short stories of social and psychological insight. She was well acquainted with many of her era's other literary and public figures, including Theodore Roosevelt.

Biography[edit]

Portrait of Wharton as a girl by Edward Harrison May (1870)

Early life and marriage[edit]

Wharton was born to George Frederic Jones and Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander in New York City. She had two much older brothers, Frederic Rhinelander and Henry Edward. She was baptized April 20, 1862, Easter Sunday, at Grace Church.[2] To her friends and family she was known as "Pussy Jones".[3] The saying "keeping up with the Joneses" is said to refer to her father's family.[4] She was also related to the Rensselaer family, the most prestigious of the old patroon families. She had a lifelong friendship with her Rhinelander niece, landscape architect Beatrix Farrand of Reef Point in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Wharton was born during the Civil War, which is the reason the family traveled throughout Europe.[5] From 1866 to 1872, the Jones family traveled in France, Italy, Germany, and Spain.[6] Along with English, she was fluent in French, German, and Italian. When Wharton was ten years old, she suffered from typhoid fever while the family was at a spa in the Black Forest. She was not impressed with New York when the family came back to the United States when she was 10.[2] After the family returned to the United States in 1872, they spent their winters in New York and their summers in Newport, Rhode Island.[6] While her family was in Europe, she was educated by tutors and governesses. She rejected the standards of fashion and etiquette that were expected of women at the time, intended to enable women to marry well and to be able to be well displayed at balls and parties. She thought these requirements were superficial and oppressive. Wharton wanted more education than she received, so she read from her father's library and from the libraries of her father's friends.[7] Her mother forbade her to read novels until she was married, and Edith complied with this command.[2]

Wharton began writing poetry and fiction as a teenager. In 1877, at the age of 15, she secretly wrote a 30,000 word novella "Fast and Loose" and some poetry. When she was 16 she had two poems published. One of them was in the Atlantic Monthly and the other, Verses (a collection of 29 poems) was privately published by her mother in 1878.[6][7]

Wharton was engaged to Henry Stevens in 1882 after a two year courtship. The month the two were to marry, the engagement abruptly ended.[8]

In 1885, at age 23, she married Edward (Teddy) Robbins Wharton, who was 12 years her senior. From a well-established Boston family, he was a sportsman and a gentleman of the same social class and shared her love of travel. From the late 1880s until 1902, he suffered acute depression, and the couple ceased their extensive travel.[9] At that time his depression manifested as a more serious disorder, after which they lived almost exclusively at their estate The Mount. In 1908 her husband's mental state was determined to be incurable. In the same year, she began an affair with Morton Fullerton, a journalist for The Times, in whom she found an intellectual partner.[10] She divorced Edward Wharton in 1913 after 28 years of marriage.[9] Around the same time, Edith was beset with harsh criticisms leveled by the naturalist writers.

In addition to novels, Wharton wrote at least 85 short stories. [7] She was also a garden designer, interior designer, and a taste-maker of her time. She wrote several design books, including her first published work, The Decoration of Houses (1897), co-authored by Ogden Codman. Another is the generously illustrated Italian Villas and Their Gardens of 1904.

Travels[edit]

The Mount, 2006
Photographic portrait of Edith Wharton

In 1888, the Whartons and the Van Alens took a cruise through the Aegean islands. They sailed on their friend James Van Alen's, yacht. The trip cost the Whartons $10,000 and lasted four months.[11]

In 1902 she designed The Mount, her estate in Lenox, Massachusetts, which survives today as an example of her design principles. Edith Wharton wrote several of her novels there, including The House of Mirth (1905), the first of many chronicles of life in old New York. At The Mount she entertained the cream of American literary society, including her close friend, the novelist Henry James. Although she spent many months traveling in Europe nearly every year with her friend, Egerton Winthrop (John Winthrop's descendant),[12] The Mount was her primary residence until 1911. When living there and when traveling abroad, Wharton was usually driven to appointments by her longtime chauffeur and friend Charles Cook, a native of nearby South Lee, Massachusetts.[13][14] When her marriage deteriorated, she decided to move permanently to France, living initially at 53 Rue de Varenne, Paris, in an apartment that belonged to George Washington Vanderbilt II.

Page from original manuscript of The House of Mirth, in Edith Wharton's hand

Aided by her influential connections to the French government, primarily Walter Berry (then president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris), she was one of the few foreigners in France allowed to travel to the front lines during the First World War. Wharton described those trips in the series of articles Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belfort.

Throughout the war she worked tirelessly in charitable efforts for refugees and, in 1916 was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in recognition of her commitment to the displaced. Her relief work included setting up workrooms for unemployed French women, organizing concerts to provide work for musicians, opening tuberculosis hospitals and founding the American Hostels for Belgian refugees. In 1916 Wharton edited The Book of the Homeless, which included writings, art, erotica and musical scores by many major contemporary European artists. When World War I ended in 1918, she abandoned her fashionable urban address for the delights of the country at the Pavillon Colombe in nearby Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt.

Wharton was a committed supporter of French imperialism, describing herself as a "rabid imperialist", and the war solidified her political conservatism.[15] After World War I, she travelled to Morocco as the guest of the resident general, Gen. Hubert Lyautey and wrote a book In Morocco, about her experiences. Wharton's writing on her Moroccan travels is full of praise for the French administration and for Lyautey and his wife in particular.

After the war she divided her time between Paris and Hyères, Provence, where she finished The Age of Innocence in 1920.

In 1927 she purchased a villa, Castel Sainte-Claire, on the site of a 17th-century convent, in the hills above Hyères in Provence, where she lived during the winters and springs. She called the villa "Sainte-Claire du Chateau" and filled the garden with cacti and subtropical plants. She returned to the U.S. only once after the war, to receive an honorary doctorate degree from Yale University in 1923.

Later years[edit]

Wharton's Le Pavilion Colombe, Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt, France

The Age of Innocence (1920) won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for literature,[16] making Wharton the first woman to win the award.

Wharton was friend and confidante to many gifted intellectuals of her time: Henry James, Sinclair Lewis, Jean Cocteau and André Gide were all her guests at one time or another. Theodore Roosevelt, Bernard Berenson, and Kenneth Clark were valued friends as well. Particularly notable was her meeting with F. Scott Fitzgerald, described by the editors of her letters as "one of the better known failed encounters in the American literary annals." She spoke fluent French (as well as several other languages), and many of her books were published in both French and English.

In 1934 Wharton's autobiography A Backward Glance was published. In the view of Judith E. Funston, writing on Edith Wharton in American National Biography,

What is most notable about A Backward Glance, however, is what it does not tell: her criticism of Lucretia Jones [her mother], her difficulties with Teddy, and her affair with Morton Fullerton, which did not come to light until her papers, deposited in Yale's Beinecke Rare Book Room and Manuscript Library, were opened in 1968.[17]

Death[edit]

Edith Wharton died of a stroke in 1937 at Le Pavillon Colombe, her 18th-century house on Rue de Montmorency in Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt. The street is today called rue Edith Wharton.[18][19] She is buried in the American Cemetery in Versailles, France.[9]

Writing style[edit]

Wharton first began inventing stories when she was six. She would walk around the living room holding a book while reciting her story. In 1873, Wharton wrote a short story and gave it to her mother to read. Her mother criticized the story, so Wharton decided to just write poetry. Before she was fifteen, she wrote Fast and Loose (1877). In her youth, she wrote about society. Her central themes came from her experiences with her parents. She was very critical of her own work and would write public reviews criticizing it. She also wrote about her own experiences with life. “Intense Love’s Utterance” is a poem written about Henry Stevens.[20]

In 1889 she sent out three poems for publication. They were sent to Scribner’s, Harper’s and Century. Edward L. Burlingame published “The Last Giustiniani” for Scribner’s. It was not until Wharton was 29 that her first short story was published. "Mrs. Manstey's View" had very little success, and it took her more than a year to publish another story. She completed "The Fullness of Life" following her annual European trip with Teddy. Burlingame was critical of this story but Wharton did not want to make edits to it. This story, along with many others, speaks about her marriage. She sent Bunner Sisters to Scribner’s in 1892. Burlingame wrote back that it was too long for Scribner’s to publish. This story is believed to be based on an experience she had as a child. It did not see publication until 1916 and is included in the collection called Xingu. After a visit with her friend, Paul Bourget, she wrote “The Good May Come” and “The Lamp of Psyche”. “The Lamp of Psyche” was a comical story with verbal wit and sorrow. After “Something Exquisite” was rejected by Burlingame, she lost confidence in herself. She started “travel writing” in 1894.[21]

In 1901, Wharton wrote a two act play called “Man of Genius”. This play was about an English man who was having an affair with his secretary. The play was rehearsed, but was never produced. She collaborated with Marie Tempest to write another play, but the two only completed four acts before Marie decided she was no longer interested in costume plays. “The Joy of Living,” criticized for its name because the heroine swallows poison at the end, was a short lived Broadway production. It was, however, a successful book.[22]

Many of Wharton's novels are characterized by a subtle use of dramatic irony. Having grown up in upper-class, late-nineteenth-century society, Wharton became one of its most astute critics, in such works as The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence.

Books[edit]

Novels[edit]

Poetry[edit]

  • Verses, 1878
  • Artemis to Actaeon and Other Verse, 1909
  • Twelve Poems, 1926

Short story collections[edit]

Non-fiction[edit]

As editor[edit]

Adaptations[edit]

Cinema[edit]

TV[edit]

  • Ethan Frome, a 1960 (CBS) TV US adaptation, directed by Alex Segal, starring Sterling Hayden as Ethan Frome, Julie Harris as Mattie Silver and Clarice Blackburn as Zenobia Frome. First Wharton adaptation on television.
  • Looking Back, a 1981 TV US loose adaptation of two biographies of Edith Wharton: A Backward Glance, Wharton's own 1934 autobiography & Edith Wharton, a 1975 biography by R.W.B. Lewis (1976 Bancroft Prize-winner).
  • The House of Mirth, a 1981 TV US adaptation, directed by Adrian Hall, starring William Atherton, Geraldine Chaplin and Barbara Blossom
  • The Buccaneers, a 1995 BBC mini-series, starring Carla Gugino and Greg Wise[24]

Theatre[edit]

  • The House of Mirth was adapted as a play in 1906 by Edith Wharton and Clyde Fitch[25][26]
  • The Age of Innocence was adapted as a play in 1928. Katharine Cornell played the role of Ellen Olenska.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Edith Wharton is mentioned in the HBO television series Entourage in the third season's 13th episode: Vince is handed a screenplay for Wharton's The Glimpses of the Moon by Amanda, his new agent, for a film to be directed by Sam Mendes. In the same episode, period films of Wharton's work are lampooned by agent Ari Gold, who says that all her stories are "about a guy who likes a girl, but he can't have sex with her for five years, because those were the times!" Carla Gugino, who plays Amanda, was the protagonist of the BBC-PBS adaptation of The Buccaneers (1995), one of her early jobs.
  • "Edith Wharton's Journey" is a radio adaptation, for the NPR series Radio Tales, of the short story "A Journey" from Edith Wharton's collection The Greater Inclination.
  • The American singer and songwriter Suzanne Vega pays homage to Edith Wharton in her song "Edith Wharton's Figurines," from her studio album Beauty & Crime.

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.nobelprize.org/nomination/literature/nomination.php?string=wharton&action=simplesearch&submit.x=7&submit.y=1&submit=submit
  2. ^ a b c Lee, Hermione. Edith Wharton. Random House, Inc. ISBN 978-0-375-40004-9. 
  3. ^ Lewis, R.W.B. (1975). Edith Wharton: A Biography (First ed.). Harper & Row, Publishers. ISBN 9780060126032. 
  4. ^ Benstock, Shari (1994). No Gifts from Chance: A Biography of Edith Wharton. New York: Scribner's. p. 26. ISBN 0-292-70274-4. 
  5. ^ Lee, Hermione. Edith Wharton. Random House, Inc. ISBN 978-0-375-40004-9. 
  6. ^ a b c "Chronology". The Mount: Edith Wharton's Home. 
  7. ^ a b c Baym, Nina. The Norton Anthology of American Literature (Eighth Edition ed.). W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-393-91885-4. 
  8. ^ Lewis, R.W.B. (1975). Edith Wharton: A Biography (1st ed.). Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-012603-5. 
  9. ^ a b c Davis 2007
  10. ^ "Edith Wharton's World, Portrait of People and Places". US: National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 23 Dec 2009. 
  11. ^ Lewis, R.W.B. Edith Wharton: A Biography (1st ed.). Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-012603-5. 
  12. ^ Lewis, R.W.B. (1975). Edith Wharton: A Biography. Harper & Row, Publishers. ISBN 9780060126032. 
  13. ^ Benstock, Shari (2004). No Gifts from Chance: A Biography of Edith Wharton. University of Texas Press. p. 143. ISBN 0-292-70274-4. 
  14. ^ Singley, Carol J. (2003). A Historical Guide to Edith Wharton. Oxford University Press. p. 238. ISBN 0-19-513591-1. Photograph of Edith Wharton, Teddy Wharton, Henry James and Chauffeur Charles Cook 
  15. ^ Wegener, Fredrick (December 2000). ""Rabid Imperialist"': Edith Wharton and the Obligations of Empire in Modern American Fiction". American Literature 72 (4): 783–812. 
  16. ^ Nelson, Randy F. (1981). The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc. p. 9. ISBN 0-86576-008-X. 
  17. ^ Judith E. Funston, "Edith Wharton," in American National Biography; New York: Oxford University Press, 1999; Vol. 23, pp. 111–112. ISBN 0-19-512802-8.
  18. ^ "Edith Wharton, 75, Is Dead in France". New York Times. August 13, 1937. Retrieved 2007-07-21. Edith Wharton, American novelist, died yesterday afternoon at her villa, Pavilion Colombes [sic], near Saint Brice, Seine-et-Oise. 
  19. ^ Domaine du Pavillon Colombe à Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt (95)
  20. ^ Lewis, R.W.B. Edith Wharton: A Biography (1st ed.). Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-012603-5. 
  21. ^ Lewis, R.W.B. Edith Wharton: A Biography (1st ed.). Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-012603-5. 
  22. ^ Lewis, R.W.B. Edith Wharton: A Biography (1st ed.). Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-012603-5. 
  23. ^ Wikipedia english / Joan_Crawford / Move to Warner Bros.
  24. ^ a b Marshall, Scott. "Edith Wharton on Film and Television: A History and Filmography." Edith Wharton Review (1996): 15-25. Washington State University. 15 Jan. 2009
  25. ^ National Library Of Australia / Catalogue / The House of Mirth: The Play of the Novel, Dramatized by Edith Wharton and Clyde Fitch, 1906; edited, with an introd., notes, and appendixes by Glenn Loney
  26. ^ openlibrary.org / Works / The House of Mirth: The Play of the Novel, Dramatized by Edith Wharton and Clyde Fitch, 1906; edited, with an introd., notes, and appendixes by Glenn Loney

Sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • The Letters of Edith Wharton (R. W. B. Lewis and Nancy Lewis, eds.) ISBN 0-02-034400-7, particularly the editorial introductions to the chronological sections, especially for 1902–07, 1911–14, 1919–27, and 1928–37, and the editorial footnotes to the letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald (8 June 1925)
  • Novellas and Other Writings (Cynthia Griffin Wolff, ed.) (The Library of America, 1990) ISBN 978-0-940450-53-0, which contains her autobiography, A Backward Glance.
  • Twilight Sleep (R. F.Godfrey, ed.) ISBN 0-684-83964-4
  • Benstock, Shari (1994) No Gifts From Chance: a biography of Edith Wharton. New York: Scribner's ISBN 0-292-70274-4
  • Edith Wharton's French Riviera (2002) Philippe Collas and Eric Villedary, Paris, New York : Flammarion/Rizzoli (ISBN 2-84110-161-4)
  • Franzen, Jonathan (February 13–20, 2012). "A Critic at Large: A Rooting Interest". The New Yorker 88 (1): 60–65. Retrieved 2014-11-13. 
  • Lee, Hermione (2007) Edith Wharton. London: Chatto & Windus ISBN 0-7011-6665-7; New York: Knopf
  • Lewis, R. W. B. (1975) Edith Wharton: a biography New York: Harper & Row ISBN 0-06-012603-5
  • Lowry, Elizabeth (December 9, 2011). "What Edith Knew: Freeing Wharton from the Master's Shadow". Harper's Magazine 317 (1903): 96–100, 102. 
  • Wolff, Cynthia Griffin (1977) A Feast of Words Oxford. ISBN 0-19-502117-7

External links[edit]