author | designer
The young Edith Wharton was strictly forbidden from reading novels until after her wedding day. At age 40, the unhappily married author published her first foray into the risque genre. It turned out to be a bestseller. And, a classic.
A well-to-do daughter born into New York high society, Edith wasn't satisfied to spend her adult life playing wife + hostess. She found her first creative outlet in design ~ building her own estate + writing how-to guides on decor. She went on to make a living + reputation for herself with her pen and incisive wit.
Edith wrote 40 books in as many years, was the first woman to win a Pulitzer in 1921 and got Nobel-Prize noms on more than one occasion. Today, her tragic tales of characters caught in society's snares continue to be favorite teaching texts + inspire many an adaptation on big + small screens.
prolific writing | 40 books, 85 short stories
psychological realism | complex characters with internal conflicts
incisive + humorous social critique | offering an inside view of the privileges + ironies associated with upper-class life
taste-making | trendsetting in architecture, gardens + interior design
1905 | published her first novel, The House of Mirth
1921 | won the Pulitzer Prize for literature for The Age of Innocence
1926 | inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters with 3 other women
from | to
high society daughter discouraged from writing | American literary icon
January 24, 1862
New York, New York
Edith Newbold Jones
The United States of America
George Frederic Jones + Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander
~ former slaves who were married prior to emancipation ~
2 older brothers | Frederic Rhinelander + Henry Edward
home-schooled by tutors + governesses
married to | divorced from
Edward "Teddy" Wharton
~ a gentleman + sportsman 12 years her senior who was prone to depression ~
~ married in 1885 | divorced in 1913 ~
no children, but 70-years worth of beloved pet dogs
among her circle...
animal rights | founding member of ASPCA
war-time charities | during WWI, led efforts to tend to refugees, injured soldiers + unemployed workers
in her spare time, she was...
a prodigious pet-lover who always had a dog or 6
a lifelong traveler who crossed the Atlantic 60 times
a fluent speaker of French, German + Italian
August 11, 1937
~ in France ~
"There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it."Vesalius in Zante (1564) | november 1902
"No insect hangs its nest on threads as frail as those which will sustain the weight of human vanity."The House of Mirth | 1905
"It was one of the days when the glitter of winter shines through a pale haze of spring."Ethan Frome | 1911
"Another unsettling element in modern art is that common symptom of immaturity, the dread of doing what has been done before."The Writing of Fiction | 1925
a portrait of young Edith
Edith was born to money, a daughter in a family line whose last name supposedly inspired the saying ~ "keeping up with the Joneses."
Edward Harrison May
The Mount | Lenox, Massachusetts
Edith designed her own estate + had it built in 1902. She called The Mount her "first real home." Complete with extensive gardens, a studio and pet cemetery for her dearly departed dogs, it was the place where Edith wrote most of her best-known works. Today, the famous author's home is a National Historic Landmark that houses a museum dedicated to her literary + philanthropic legacies.
the author + dog-lover
Edith's marriage to Teddy Wharton was not happy. Her dogs were close companions; she treated them as family + as children. Mimi ~ one of the chihuahuas pictured in this portrait ~ died in 1902. Edith wrote her first + most famous novel ~ The House of Mirth ~ from a studio overlooking the cemetery where Mimi was buried.
E.F. Cooper | The Beinecke Library
Edith's Pulitzer winner
The committee of modern fiction writers assigned to select the 1921 Pulitzer opted for Sinclair Lewis's Mainstreet. Their decision was over-ruled by Columbia University's advisory board. It was a controversial move that made Edith the first woman to win the prestigious literary award.
Appleton | Peter Harrington | BookTryst
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