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Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton Edith Wharton[1†]

Edith Wharton, born as Edith Newbold Jones on January 24, 1862, was an American writer and designer[1†]. She was born into a distinguished and long-established New York family[1†][2†]. Wharton used her insider’s knowledge of the upper-class New York “aristocracy” to realistically portray the lives and morals of the Gilded Age[1†].

In 1921, she became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for her novel "The Age of Innocence"[1†]. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1996[1†]. Among her other well-known works are “The House of Mirth”, the novella “Ethan Frome”, and several notable ghost stories[1†].

Wharton was not only a prominent writer but also a significant figure in the field of home and garden design[1†][3†]. She was a prominent philanthropist and war correspondent[1†][3†]. Her influence extended beyond her writing, leaving a lasting impact on American literature and design[1†][3†].

Early Years and Education

Edith Wharton was born as Edith Newbold Jones on January 24, 1862, in New York during the Civil War[4†]. She was the third child and only daughter of George Frederic and Lucretia Rhinelander Jones[4†][5†]. Her family was distinguished and long-established in New York[4†][2†]. Her mother, a cold and uncaring woman, had a troubled relationship with her[4†].

The Jones family traveled frequently, and Edith made her first journey to Europe at the age of four in 1866[4†]. Over the next six years, the family visited France, Italy, Germany, and Spain[4†]. As a result of her travels, she became fluent in French, German, and Italian[4†].

Edith received her primary education from private tutors and governesses[4†][2†][4†]. Unsatisfied with the education she received, she started reading books from her father’s library on her own[4†]. She displayed an unquenchable thirst for knowledge[4†]. Her formal education was, in her words, “an intellectual desert”[4†][6†].

She began writing short stories when she was six but never received any encouragement from her mother[4†]. So she decided to just write poetry[4†]. She would struggle for several years as a writer before finally receiving the acclaim she deserved[4†].

She made her debut in society in 1879 and married Edward Wharton, a wealthy Boston banker, in 1885[4†][2†]. This marked the end of her early years and the beginning of her journey as a writer[4†].

Career Development and Achievements

Edith Wharton began her writing career in earnest after several years of married life[2†]. Her major literary model was Henry James, whom she knew personally, and her work reveals James’s concern for artistic form and ethical issues[2†]. She contributed a few poems and stories to Harper’s, Scribner’s, and other magazines in the 1890s[2†].

In 1897, after overseeing the remodeling of a house in Newport, Rhode Island, she collaborated with the architect Ogden Codman, Jr., on "The Decoration of Houses"[2†]. Her next books, “The Greater Inclination” (1899) and “Crucial Instances” (1901), were collections of stories[2†].

Wharton’s first novel, “The Valley of Decision”, was published in 1902[2†]. “The House of Mirth” (1905) was a novel of manners that analyzed the stratified society in which she had been reared and its reaction to social change[2†]. The book won her critical acclaim and a wide audience[2†].

In the next two decades, she wrote such novels as “The Reef” (1912), “The Custom of the Country” (1913), “Summer” (1917), and “The Age of Innocence” (1920), which won a Pulitzer Prize[2†][7†]. This made her the first woman to receive this award[2†][7†].

Wharton remained very productive into her old age[2†][8†]. In the course of her career, she published nineteen novels, eleven collections of short stories, and several nonfiction studies, memoirs, poems, and reviews[2†][8†]. However, critics generally agree that the quality of her work declined after 1920[2†][8†].

Wharton was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Letters[2†][9†]. She also was the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from Yale University[2†][9†]. During the First World War, the writer aided refugees and the wounded[2†][9†].

First Publication of Her Main Works

Edith Wharton’s journey as a fiction writer began with the short story “Mrs. Manstey’s View”, which was published by Scribner’s in 1890[3†]. However, her first major book was “The Valley of Decision”, published in 1902[3†][2†]. This was followed by “The House of Mirth” in 1905, a novel of manners that analyzed the stratified society in which she had been reared and its reaction to social change[3†][2†]. The book won her critical acclaim and a wide audience[3†][2†].

Here are some of her main works:

Each of these works made a significant impact in the literary field, with “The Age of Innocence” earning her the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 1921[3†][2†][1†]. Her works not only reflect her insider’s knowledge of the upper-class New York “aristocracy” but also portray realistically the lives and morals of the Gilded Age[3†][2†][1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Edith Wharton’s work is known for its extensive use of dramatic irony[11†]. Her narratives often reflect the lives of the American upper class, employing humor and empathy to describe their lives and the changes in New York at the beginning of the 20th century[11†]. Major themes in Wharton’s work include the effects of class on both behavior and consciousness, the American belief in progress, the contrast between European and American customs, morality, and sensibility, and the confinement of marriage, especially for women[11†][12†].

Wharton’s work also explores women’s desire for and right to freedom in general, particularly sexual and economic freedom, and the reality that these desires and rights are often thwarted[11†][12†]. She also highlighted the preference of powerful, white, usually upper-class men for childish dependent women and the complexity and pain of relationships between women within patriarchal culture[11†][12†].

Wharton’s talent in affording her reader an elegant, well-constructed glance at upper-class New York and European society won her high esteem from the earliest years of her career[11†][13†]. The novel “The House of Mirth” was her first best-seller and, along with “Ethan Frome” and “The Age of Innocence”, is considered to be one of her finest works[11†][13†].

During World War I, Wharton served the Allied cause in Europe by organizing relief efforts and caring for Belgian orphans, work for which she was inducted into the French Legion of Honor in 1916 and the Order of Leopold (Belgium) in 1919[11†][13†]. By 1930, Wharton was one of the most highly regarded American authors of the time and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters[11†][13†].

Personal Life

Edith Wharton was born Edith Newbold Jones on January 24, 1862, to George Frederic Jones and Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander[1†]. She was known to her friends and family as "Pussy Jones"[1†]. She had two elder brothers, Frederic Rhinelander and Henry Edward[1†].

In 1885, Edith Wharton got married to Edward Robbins Wharton[1†][14†]. However, they had problems in their marriage[1†][14†]. In 1908, she started an affair with journalist Morton Fullerton[1†][14†]. In 1913, she divorced Edward Wharton[1†][14†].

She died on August 11, 1937, of a stroke[1†][14†]. She was buried in the American Cemetery in Versailles, France[1†][14†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Edith Wharton’s legacy is vast and enduring. Her keen observations of society and the human condition have made her work timeless, with contemporary counterparts of her characters found in today’s literature[15†]. Her name has even been used as shorthand to invoke style, character, place, and time[15†].

Wharton was a prolific writer, publishing over forty books in forty years[15†][16†]. Her most successful novel, ‘The Age of Innocence’, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction[15†][6†]. Her other well-known works, such as ‘The House of Mirth’ and ‘Ethan Frome’, continue to be widely read and studied[15†][6†].

Beyond her literary contributions, Wharton’s humanitarian efforts are also noteworthy. During World War I, she oversaw and funded a major refugee relief effort in Europe[15†][16†]. She established workrooms for unemployed seamstresses, convalescent homes for tuberculosis sufferers, hostels for refugees, and schools for children fleeing war-torn Belgium[15†][5†]. At one point, she even fed and housed 600 war orphans at her own expense[15†][9†].

Wharton’s influence extended to the field of interior design, where she developed a new aesthetic that became the foundation for the profession in the United States[15†][16†]. She was also the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from Yale University[15†][9†].

Today, Wharton is remembered not only for her literary achievements but also for her contributions to society and her pioneering spirit. Her work continues to inspire and influence writers and readers alike[15†][6†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Edith Wharton [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Edith Wharton: American writer [website] - link
  3. ThoughtCo - Biography of Edith Wharton, American Novelist [website] - link
  4. The Famous People - Edith Wharton Biography [website] - link
  5. Edith Wharton's Home - Edith Wharton - The Mount [website] - link
  6. HeadStuff - The Literary Legacy of Edith Wharton [website] - link
  7. Famous Authors - Edith Wharton [website] - link
  8. Annenberg Learner - Edith Wharton (1862-1937) [website] - link
  9. National Women's Hall of Fame - Edith Wharton [website] - link
  10. Book Series In Order - Edith Wharton [website] - link
  11. IvyPanda - Essay Example - Edith Wharton's Works Analysis - 2198 Words [website] - link
  12. Georgetown University - Edith Wharton (1862-1937) [website] - link
  13. eNotes - Edith Wharton Analysis [website] - link
  14. SunSigns - Edith Wharton Biography, Life, Interesting Facts [website] - link
  15. Edith Wharton's Home - Legacy - The Mount [website] - link
  16. Edith Wharton's Home - Our Mission - The Mount [website] - link
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