Born on the 24th of January, in 1862, in New York City, Edith Wharton was brought up by her father, George Frederic Jones, and mother, Lucretia Stevens. She belonged to a wealthy and prosperous family, a courtesy to their skill of forming healthy relationships with the governments. Edith’s family traveled to various parts of Europe during her early years, providing her genius mind an opportunity to explore the various parts of the world. Besides learning about the world, she also came to know about different languages such as German, French, and Italian during her visits to these countries. Unfortunately, at nine she suffered from severe illness, which nearly took her life.
She was ardent during her childhood. She used to read books from her father’s and his friend’s libraries, equipping herself with everyday information of general use. As far as her formal education is concerned, first, she was home-tortured by various tutors and mistresses. She disliked the standards and social norms set for the women of her time that tended to display women as marriage materials. Those superficial and oppressive practices seemed insane to her. Therefore, to liberate herself from these absurdities, she wanted to educate herself. Her mother forbade her from reading literary writings until marriage, and she followed her instructions. However, despite these restrictions and less formal education, Edith continued with her education.
As far as marriage is concerned, she married twice in life: first, she married Edward Robbin Wharton, a prestigious sportsman, on the 29th of April in 1885. The couple spent the early years of their marriage in full bloom. Unfortunately, after some years, both suffered from acute depression and serious health issues. Edith recovered after fighting asthma and bouts of depression, but her husband’s mental state became incurable. Considering it a time ripe to lead her own life, she developed an extramarital affair with a journalist, Morton Fullerton, and divorced Robin in 1913.
After leading a prosperous life and securing grand awards and honors, this literary genius suffered a fatal heart attack in 1973. Luckily, she survived the severity of that attack but later died of another stroke on the 11th of August in 1973, and was buried in Versailles, in the American section of its cemetery.
Some Important Facts about Her
- Although she produced various literary marvels, yet her efforts in the interior design field are also commendable. She expressed her artistic ideas in her book, The Decoration of Houses, published in 1897.
- Throughout her life, she produced more than forty books on different topics ranging from architecture, gardening, designing, travel, and others to non-fiction.
- She became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in literature and received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Yale.
Edith Wharton was fond of writing since her childhood. Despite her mother’s restrictions, she wrote various stories for her family. She produced her first novel at eleven but her mother’s criticism quashed her passions for some time. Yet, she never let her mother’s harsh opinions hinder her passion. At fifteen, she published her first work, Died Steine Erzählen, though not under her name; it was rather published under the name of her father s friend. Later, in 1879, she published a poem under a pseudonym in a magazine, followed by another tremendous five poems published the next year in a literary magazine. Despite public appraisal, she failed to win the support of her family in pursuing her literary passion, but she continued to dismiss their opposite stances and kept on amusing the world with her pen. Her first novel The Valley of Decision was published in 1992. It encouraged her to write more, leading to her second novel, The House of Mirth, detailing her personal experiences about the stratified society in which she was brought up. Her other writings included Summer, The Customs of the Country, The Age of Innocence, and Ethan Frome.
Like various authors, Edith Wharton, too, has won global praise for her writing style. Her approach is simple and controlled. It is because of her choice of words, simple sentence structures, and heartwarming descriptions of the events that make her stories fun to read. For example, in her most celebrated work, The Age of Innocence, she h8as used the anthropological style, following a logical sequence and connectivity in the sentence style. Regarding literary devices, she h8as used imagery, rhetorical devices, symbolism, and allusions.
Some Important Works of Edith Wharton
- Best Novels: Some of her prominent novels are The Valley of Decision, The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence, The Glimpses of the Moon, The Custom of the Country, and Hudson River Bracketed.
- Other Works: Besides producing remarkable novels, also she wrote various others. Some of them include The Hermit and the Wild Woman and Other Stories, The Collected Stories of Edith Wharton, Madame de Treymes and Others, Fast and Loose: A Novelette, Edith Wharton: The Uncollected Critical Writings, and Artemis to Actaeon and Other Verse.
Edith Wharton’s Impact on Future Literature
This multi-talented literary figure left a commendable legacy to the world. Her impressive fictional works have inspired various critics, authors, and won a huge fan club for her. Ironically, her legacy is tied to the oppressive and restricted era she belonged to, yet her works provide a clue about how she earned freedom when starting writing. Her works are the embodiment of the struggle and liberation she got from the suffocating environment, providing others an opportunity to peep into her character and learn the lessons of waging struggle like her.
- “I couldn’t have spoken like this yesterday, because when we’ve been apart, and I’m looking forward to seeing you, every thought is burnt up in a great flame. But then you come; and you’re so much more than I remembered, and what I want of you is so much more than an hour or two every now and then, with wastes of thirsty waiting between, that I can sit perfectly still beside you, like this, with that other vision in my mind, just quietly trusting it to come true.” (The Age of Innocence)
- “There are lots of ways of being miserable, but there’s only one way of being comfortable, and that is to stop running round after happiness. If you make up your mind not to be happy there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a fairly good time.” (Ethan Frome and Other Short Fiction)
- Archer received this strange communication in silence. His eyes remained unseeingly fixed on the thronged sunlit square below the window. At length he said in a low voice: “She never asked me.” (The Age of Innocence)