Biography of Edith Wharton (1862-1938)
Edith Wharton was born Edith Newbold Jones to George and Lucretia Jones in New York City on January 24, 1862. She belonged to an aristocratic New York family with ancestry dating back three centuries. As a daughter of society , her role was to learn the mannerisms and rituals expected of well-bred young women in those days. Later she would rebel against this role but as a child she was schooled at home and had the privilege of use of her father's extensive library. She was privately educated at home and in Europe by governesses and tutors.
In 1885, Wharton married Teddy Wharton, who was twelve years older than she was. They lived a life of relative ease with homes in New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Slowly, Wharton grew dissatisfied with the roles of wife and society matron. When she discovered Teddy had taken money from her to provide a home for his mistress in Boston, their marriage fell apart. Also, Wharton had met and fallen in love with Morton Fullerton and had been sexually awakened as a 46 year old woman living virtually on her own in Paris. Wharton divorced in 1913.
Between 1900 and 1938, Wharton created many, many novels. The publication of the House of Mirth in 1905 marked the true beginning of Wharton?s literary career. She continued to publish rapidly, producing, among others, Ethan Frome in 1911.
When WWI began, Wharton was in the middle of it. She traveled extensively by motorcar, helped untiringly with refugees in Paris during the first World War, and actually only returned once again in her lifetime to the United States to accept the Pulitzer prize for her novel, The Age of Innocence.
Many consider The Age of Innocence to be the best of Wharton?s literature. It has been described as a "masterful portrait of desire and betrayal set in the New York of her youth." The book is a historical novel, describing the events of a New York long since changed. In fact, the original title of the book was Old New York. The novel describes her own adolescence.
Through her life she held salon where the gifted intellectuals of her time gathered to discuss and share ideas. Teddy Roosevelt, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway were all guests of hers at one time or another. Another facet of Edith's career was her friendship with Henry James whose influence on her writing is inestimable. Although, traditionally, Henry James is considered "better" by critics, now that the stodgy prejudice against women writers is lessening, most agree that the two are on par.
Wharton continued writing until her death in 1938. She is buried in the American Cemetery at Versailles.