Wharton (1874-1937) was not only a prolific novelist and short-story writer but a prolific correspondent, and this selection of close to 400 letters, many never-before published, shows her at her epistolary best. Divided into seven chronological sections, each with a useful introduction, the letters reveal a woman of alert mind, broad interests, numerous moods and appealing warmth of heart. She also was endowed with a singular capacity to evoke the life around her, ranging from the exoticism of North Africa to the horrors of the World War I front. A large proportion of the letters are to her friends Henry James and Bernard Berenson, while others address Scott Fitzgerald, Andre Gide and Theodore Roosevelt's sister. The letters that show her at her most passionate, and most vulnerable, are those she wrote to her lover Morton Fullerton. R.W.B. Lewis won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1975 Wharton biography; Nancy Lewis is his wife. Photos not seen by PW. (June)
$29.95. lit Selected from some 4000 letters that span over 60 years, these 400 letters serve to represent Wharton's life and personality. Since her correspondence with Walter Berry and Henry James has not survived, it's probable that what we do have is ``second-best.'' What remains does display Wharton's indefatigable energy, her cultivated intelligence, her unfailing social adeptness, and a kind of efficiency in both thought and emotion. Except for her correspondence with Morton Fullerton, her one-time lover, Wharton's letters are primarily the decisive acts of a social animal. They rarely grope toward the articulation of a feeling, nor do they explore the shadowy limits of her self-awareness. The products of a formidably armored personality, they will be of greatest use to a social historian of the period. Earl Rovit, City Coll., CUNY
One of America's most important novelists, Edith Wharton was a refined, relentless chronicler of the Gilded Age and its social mores. Along with close friend Henry James, she helped define literature at the turn of the 20th century, even as she wrote classic nonfiction on travel, decorating and her own life.
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.