A Backward Glance

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Overview

This is Edith Wharton's vivid account of both her public and her private life. With richness and delicacy, it describes the sophisticated New York society in which Wharton spent her youth, and chronicles her travels throughout Europe and her literary success as an adult.
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A Backward Glance

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Overview

This is Edith Wharton's vivid account of both her public and her private life. With richness and delicacy, it describes the sophisticated New York society in which Wharton spent her youth, and chronicles her travels throughout Europe and her literary success as an adult.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781174565519
  • Publisher: Nabu Press
  • Publication date: 8/7/2011
  • Pages: 428
  • Product dimensions: 0.87 (w) x 7.44 (h) x 9.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Wharton was born to George Frederic Jones and Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander in New York City. She had two brothers, Frederic Rhinelander and Henry Edward. The saying "Keeping up with the Joneses" is said to refer to her father's family. She shared a lifelong friendship with her Rhinelander niece, landscape architect Beatrix Farrand of Reef Point in Bar Harbor, Maine, and often traveled with Henry James in Europe. 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 Henry James and Theodore Roosevelt.

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

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

Biography

Edith Newbold Jones was born January 24, 1862, into such wealth and privilege that her family inspired the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses." The youngest of three children, Edith spent her early years touring Europe with her parents and, upon the family's return to the United States, enjoyed a privileged childhood in New York and Newport, Rhode Island. Edith's creativity and talent soon became obvious: By the age of eighteen she had written a novella, (as well as witty reviews of it) and published poetry in the Atlantic Monthly.

After a failed engagement, Edith married a wealthy sportsman, Edward Wharton. Despite similar backgrounds and a shared taste for travel, the marriage was not a success. Many of Wharton's novels chronicle unhappy marriages, in which the demands of love and vocation often conflict with the expectations of society. Wharton's first major novel, The House of Mirth, published in 1905, enjoyed considerable Literary Success. Ethan Frome appeared six years later, solidifying Wharton's reputation as an important novelist. Often in the company of her close friend, Henry James, Wharton mingled with some of the most famous writers and artists of the day, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, André Gide, Sinclair Lewis, Jean Cocteau, and Jack London.

In 1913 Edith divorced Edward. She lived mostly in France for the remainder of her life. When World War I broke out, she organized hostels for refugees, worked as a fund-raiser, and wrote for American publications from battlefield frontlines. She was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her courage and distinguished work.

The Age of Innocence, a novel about New York in the 1870s, earned Wharton the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1921 -- the first time the award had been bestowed upon a woman. Wharton traveled throughout Europe to encourage young authors. She also continued to write, lying in her bed every morning, as she had always done, dropping each newly penned page on the floor to be collected and arranged when she was finished. Wharton suffered a stroke and died on August 11, 1937. She is buried in the American Cemetery in Versailles, France.

Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of The Age of Innocence.

Good To Know

Upon the publication of The House of Mirth in 1905, Wharton became an instant celebrity, and the the book was an instant bestseller, with 80,000 copies ordered from Scribner's six weeks after its release.

Wharton had a great fondness for dogs, and owned several throughout her life.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Edith Newbold Jones Wharton (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 24, 1862
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      August 11, 1937
    2. Place of Death:
      Saint-Brice-sous-ForĂȘt, France

Introduction

A Backward Glance is Edith Wharton's vivid account of both her public and her private life. With richness and delicacy, it describes the sophisticated New York society in which Wharton spent her youth, and chronicles her travels throughout Europe and her literary success as an adult. Beautifully depicted are her friendships with many of the most celebrated artists and writers of her day, including her close friend Henry James.

In his introduction to this edition, Louis Auchincloss calls the writing in A Backward Glance "as firm and crisp and lucid as in the best of her novels." It is a memoir that will charm and fascinate all readers of Wharton's fiction.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 23, 2012

    The writing life, uncloseted

    In this orderly collection of autobiographical sketches Edith Wharton - generously and with nearly photographic recall - begins by inviting readers into her early life in nineteenth-century New York. We are treated to its cast of characters, old New York, country life up the Hudson River, the clothes, the houses, and the remarkable (and unremarkable) personalities - Washington Irving was a friend of the family - as well as the sensibilities of a sociable, bright, and wonderfully observant little girl.

    Edith began to read so early that it surprised her upper-class (but unintellectual) family. Before long she became an "omnivorous reader," happiest plowing through the volumes of the classics in her father's library. She soon found that she required time alone - to invent characters, to make up stories. She knew that she had to write fiction - from childhood on, despite realizing by young adulthood that "in the eyes of our provincial society authorship was still regarded as something between a black art and a form of manual labor." Of the social imperative to closet one's writing urges she elaborates: "My father and mother were only one generation away from Sir Walter Scott, who thought it necessary to drape his literary identity in countless clumsy subterfuges, and almost contemporary with the Brontes, who shrank in agony from being suspected of successful novel-writing." The idle rich, Wharton makes clear, were intended to stay idle - and not busy themselves with writing, especially for (horrors!) pay. Her descriptions of her early popular successes are memorable.

    In subsequent chapters Wharton lays out her well-thought-out opinions regarding childhood, self-discovery, the formation of the writer's imagination and intellect, and the importance of finding one's own way - as an intellectual and as a social being. There is dry humor, too. She treasured good literature and good conversation - and pursued (and found) them throughout her life. She loved beautiful things and places, too. Finally, she describes her sojourns abroad (mainly England, France, and Italy) and the relationships and places that sustained her and nurtured her creativity, her productivity - and her soul.

    Lifelong friends play a central role in much of this memoir. She describes people well, without breaches of privacy or confidences. This is not at all limiting. She writes tenderly of the blossoming of her friendship with "American gentleman" Egerton Winthrop, a man of "cultivated intelligence," a shy, physically awkward man whom Wharton considered "the most perfect of friends." Others were George Cabot Lee, Vernon Lee, Howard Sturgis, Geoffrey Scott, Percy Lubbock, and most of all, Henry James, who is drawn wonderfully (and not uncritically) in this book. Of her friendship with James she remarks "The real marriage of two minds is for any two people to possess a sense of humor or irony pitched in exactly the same key, so that their joint glances at any subject cross like interarching search-lights."

    I loved this memoir, and greatly admired Wharton's ability to reveal herself and her world so fully and well.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2013

    Never read it

    Never read it. Hope it is a good book!!!

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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