"A New York divorce is in itself a diploma of virtue.""After all, one knows one's weak points so well, that it's rather bewildering to have the critics overlook them and invent others.""Another unsettling element in modern art is that common symptom of immaturity, the dread of doing what has been done before.""Beware of monotony; it's the mother of all the deadly sins.""Habit is necessary; it is the habit of having habits, of turning a trail into a rut, that must be incessantly fought against if one is to remain alive.""He had to deal all at once with the packed regrets and stifled memories of an inarticulate lifetime.""I don't know if I should care for a man who made life easy; I should want someone who made it interesting.""I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.""I have never known a novel that was good enough to be good in spite of its being adapted to the author's political views.""If only we'd stop trying to be happy we'd have a pretty good time.""In any really good subject, one has only to probe deep enough to come to tears.""Life is always a tightrope or a feather bed. Give me the tightrope.""Life is the only real counselor; wisdom unfiltered through personal experience does not become a part of the moral tissue.""Misfortune had made Lily supple instead of hardening her, and a pliable substance is less easy to break than a stiff one.""My little dog - a heartbeat at my feet.""Old age, calm, expanded, broad with the haughty breadth of the universe, old age flowing free with the delicious near-by freedom of death.""Silence may be as variously shaded as speech.""The air of ideas is the only air worth breathing.""The American landscape has no foreground and the American mind no background.""The only way not to think about money is to have a great deal of it.""The worst of doing one's duty was that it apparently unfitted one for doing anything else.""There are moments when a man's imagination, so easily subdued to what it lives in, suddenly rises above its daily level and surveys the long windings of destiny.""There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.""To be able to look life in the face: that's worth living in a garret for, isn't it?""True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision.""What's the use of making mysteries? It only makes people want to nose 'em out."
Wharton was born to George Frederic Jones and Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander. She had two brothers, Frederic Rhinelander and Henry Edward. The saying "Keeping up with the Joneses" is said to refer to the family of her father. She shared a lifelong friendship with her Rhinelander niece, renowned landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, at 'Reef Point', in New York City and often together with Henry James in Europe. Wharton combined her insider's view of America's privileged classes with a brilliant, natural wit to write humorous, incisive novels and short stories of social and psychological insight. She was well-acquainted with many of her era's other literary and public figures, including Henry James and Theodore Roosevelt.
In 1885, at 23 years of age, she married Edward (Teddy) Robbins Wharton, who was 12 years her senior. From a well-established Boston family, he was a sportsman and a gentleman of her social class and shared her love of travel, although they had little in common intellectually. From the late 1880s until 1902 he suffered acute depression and the couple ceased their extensive travel. At that time his depression manifested as a more serious disorder, after which they lived almost exclusively at the Mount. In 1908 her husband's mental state was determined to be incurable and she divorced him in 1913. In 1908 she began an affair with Morton Fullerton, a journalist for The Times in whom she found an intellectual partner.
In addition to novels, Wharton wrote at least 85 short stories. She was also a garden designer, interior designer and lifestyle taste-maker of her time. She wrote several design books including her first published work, The Decoration of Houses of 1897, co-authored by Ogden Codman Another is the generously illustrated Italian Villas and Their Gardens of 1904.
In 1902 she built The Mount, her estate in Lenox, Massachusetts, which survives today as an example of her design principles. There, Edith Wharton wrote several of her novels, including The House of Mirth (1905), the first of many chronicles of the nature of old New York, and entertained the cream of American literary society, including her close friend, the novelist Henry James.
Although she spent many months traveling in Europe nearly every year, The Mount was her primary residence until 1911. When she was there, as well as traveling abroad, Wharton was usually driven to her appointments by her longtime chauffeur and friend Charles Cook, a native of nearby South Lee, Massachusetts. When her marriage deteriorated, however, she decided to move permanently to France, living initially at 58 Rue de Varenne, Paris, in an apartment that belonged to George Washington Vanderbilt II.Helped by her influential connections to the French government, primarily through Walter Berry (then president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris), she was one of the few foreigners in France who was allowed travel to the front lines. Wharton described those trips in the series of articles From Dunkerque to Belfort.
Throughout the war she worked tirelessly in charitable efforts for refugees and, in 1916 was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in recognition of her commitment to the displaced. The scope of her relief work included setting up work rooms for unemployed Frenchwomen, organizing concerts to provide work for musicians, opening tuberculosis hospitals and founding the American Hostels for Belgian refugees. In 1916 Wharton edited The Book of the Homeless, composed of writings, art, erotica and musical scores by almost every major contemporary European artist. When World War I ended in 1918 she abandoned the fashionable urban address for the delights of the country at the Pavillon Colombe in nearby Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt.
Wharton was a committed supporter of French imperialism, describing herself as a "rabid imperialist", and the war solidified her political conservatism. After World War I, she travelled to Morocco as the guest of the resident general, Gen. Hubert Lyautey and wrote a book In Morocco, about her experiences. Wharton's writing on her Moroccan travels is full of praise for the French administration and for Lyautey and his wife in particular.
After the war she divided her time between Paris and Hyères, Provence, where she finished The Age of Innocence in 1920.
In 1927 she purchased a villa, Castel Sainte-Claire, on the site of a 17th-century convent, in the hills above the city of Hyères in Provence, where she lived during the winters and springs. She called the villa "Sainte-Claire du Chateau" and filled the garden with cacti and subtropical plants. She returned to the U.S. only once after the war, to receive an honorary doctorate degree from Yale University in 1923.
The Age of Innocence (1920) won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for literature, giving Wharton the honor of being the first woman to win the award.
Wharton was friend and confidante to many gifted intellectuals of her time: Henry James, Sinclair Lewis, Jean Cocteau and André Gide were all guests of hers at one time or another. Bernard Berenson and Kenneth Clark were valued friends as well. Her meeting with F. Scott Fitzgerald is described by the editors of her letters as "one of the better-known failed encounters in the American literary annals". She was also good friends with Theodore Roosevelt. She spoke fluent French as well as several other languages and many of her books were published in both French and English.
In 1934 Wharton's autobiography A Backward Glance was published. In the view of Judith E. Funston, in the entry she wrote for American National Biography about Wharton, "What is most notable about A Backward Glance, however, is what it does not tell: her criticism of Lucretia Jones [her mother], her difficulties with Teddy, and her affair with Morton Fullerton, which did not come to light until her papers, deposited in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book Room and Manuscript Library, were opened in 1968."
Edith Wharton died of a stroke in 1937 at the domaine Le Pavillon Colombe, her 18th-century house on Rue de Montmorency in Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt, in the département of Seine-et-Oise (78), but now in Val d'Oise (95). The street is today called Rue Edith Wharton. Domaine du Pavillon Colombe à Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt (95) She is buried in the American Cemetery in Versailles, France.
Many of Wharton's novels are characterized by a subtle use of dramatic irony. Having grown up in upper-class pre-World War I society, Wharton became one of its most astute critics. In such works as The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence she employed both humor and profound empathy to describe the lives of New York's upper-class and the vanishing of their world in the early years of the 20th century. In contrast, she used a harsher tone in her novel Ethan Frome to convey the atmosphere of lower-class rural Massachusetts.
In addition to writing several respected novels, Wharton produced a wealth of short stories and is particularly well regarded for her ghost stories.
In The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Edith Wharton (Clare Higgins) travels across North Africa with Indiana Jones in Chapter 16, Tales of Innocence.
Edith Wharton is mentioned in the HBO television series Entourage in the third season's 13th episode: Vince is handed a screenplay for Wharton's The Glimpses of the Moon by Amanda, his new agent, for a film to be directed by Sam Mendes. In the same episode, period films of Wharton's work are lampooned by agent Ari Gold, who says that all her stories are "about a guy who likes a girl, but he can't have sex with her for five years, because those were the times!" Carla Gugino, who plays Amanda, was the protagonist of the BBC-PBS adaptation of The Buccaneers (1995), one of her early jobs.
A musical version of The Glimpses of the Moon was presented in New York City in the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room in early 2008.
Suzanne Vega's seventh studio release Beauty & Crime contains a song named "Edith Wharton's Figurines."
"Edith Wharton's Journey" is a radio adaptation, for the NPR series Radio Tales, of the short story "A Journey" from Edith Wharton's collection The Greater Inclination.
In 2009, Edith Wharton's home, The Mount, was investigated for paranormal activity in the hit Sci Fi Channel reality series Ghost Hunters.
In an episode of the CW show Gossip Girl, "The Age of Dissonance", the cast star in a production of Wharton's "The Age of Innocence".
In 2010, the band Tellison are releasing a song entitled "Edith Wharton". Initially available through the Big Scary Monsters record label, an excerpt of the studio version can be found here: Edith Wharton (teaser) and an acoustic version here: Edith Wharton (acoustic).
The Letters of Edith Wharton (R. W. B. Lewis and Nancy Lewis, eds.) ISBN 0-02-034400-7, particularly the editorial introductions to the chronological sections, especially for 1902—07, 1911—14, 1919—27, and 1928—37, and the editorial footnotes to the letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald (8 June 1925)
Novellas and Other Writings (Cynthia Griffin Wolff, ed.) ( The Library of America, 1990) ISBN 978-0-940450-53-0, which contains her autobiography, A Backward Glance.
Twilight Sleep (R. F.Godfrey, ed.) ISBN 0-684-83964-4
Benstock, Shari (1994) No Gifts From Chance: a biography of Edith Wharton. New York: Scribner's ISBN 0-292-70274-4
Lee, Hermione (2007) Edith Wharton. London: Chatto & Windus ISBN 0-7011-6665-7; New York: Knopf
Lewis, R. W. B. (1975) Edith Wharton: a biography New York: Harper & Row ISBN 0-06-012603-5
Wolff, Cynthia Griffin (1977) A Feast of Words Oxford. ISBN 0-19-502117-7