Biography of Edith Wharton (1862-1937)
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. She would later rebel against this role to become the author we now celebrate, using literary knowledge she gained not at school but in her father's library and lessons from governesses at home and in Europe.
In 1885, Edith married Teddy Wharton, who was twelve years older than she and from a similar social background. 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 and Teddy's inability to match her wit and creative spirit. This anxiety over her marriage and societal roles likely contributed to the depression she was treated for in the 1890's and her hesitancy to publish work until she was 36. Edith began an affair with Morton Fullerton, a London Times journalist, in Paris in 1908, and recorded details of their deeply intellectual and passionate relationship in diaries. She divorced with Teddy Wharton in 1913.
Between 1900 and 1938, Wharton wrote and published over 40 books. The publication of the House of Mirth, which illuminated the materialistic lives of wealthy Americans, in 1905 marked the true beginning of Wharton's literary career. She continued to create rapidly, publishing Ethan Frome in 1911 and winning the Pulizter Prize for The Age of Innocence, which many consider her best work, in 1921.
When WWI began, Wharton was in the middle of it. She traveled extensively by motorcar, created schools and hostels for refugees in nothern France and Belgium, and wrote reports to be published in America urging the United States to become involved in the war. She returned only once again in her lifetime to the United States (to accept her Pulitzer prize).
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.
Wharton continued writing voraciously until her death in France in 1937 at age 75. She is buried in the American Cemetery at Versailles.