Edith Wharton: Writing About Love, Hypocrisy & the Gilded Age

Edith Wharton carries her dogs

Edith Wharton: Writing About Love, Hypocrisy & the Gilded Age

Edith Wharton, circa 1905
Edith Wharton, circa 1905

Edith Wharton is my favorite author and has been since I discovered her as an English major. Unlike many people who see movies based on books they’ve read, I tend to do the opposite. It was after seeing the film version of The Age of Innocence that I decided to read the novel.

To date, I have read six Edith Wharton novels: The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, The Custom of the Country, Summer and The Buccaneers. I also read her autobiography and a collection of short stories.

These six novels, considered among her most famous, are a small sampling considering she wrote more than 100 novels, novellas, short stories and poems.

Biography of a Great Author

Edith Wharton carries her dogs
Edith Wharton carries her dogs

Wharton was born in 1862 into a wealthy, old-money,  New York City family. Her parents were George and Lucretia Jones. The family traveled for part of Wharton youth, but later spent their time split between New York and Newport, Rhode Island.

Her first novel, according to her New York Times obituary, “written when she [w]as 11, began: ‘Oh, how do you do, Mrs. Brown?’ said Mrs. Tompkins. ‘If only I had known you were going to call I should have tidied up the drawing room.’ The little girl showed it to her mother, whose icy comment was: ‘Drawing rooms are always tidy.’”

Wharton’s earliest publications were under a pen name because it wasn’t considered proper or ladylike for a wealthy woman to write.

She married Edward Wharton in 1885. The marriage ended in divorce in 1913. After her divorce she moved to France, where she remained for the rest of her life.

During World War I, Wharton helped 600 Belgian refugees and established a workhouse for unemployed women.  She also traveled to the front lines, pretending to be a magazine journalist, and raised money for charitable causes.

For her efforts, Wharton was awarded the French Cross of the Legion of Honor and became a Belgian Chevalier of the Order of Leopold.

Wharton died in 1937 after a stroke.

She won numerous literary awards over the years including a Pulitzer Prize.

I Enjoy Reading Edith Wharton

Why is Wharton my favorite author?

She exposed a world she knew intimately: high society’s hypocrisy. Wharton felt the standards wealthy girls were raised with during the latter 19th century were unimportant and oppressed women. Her work shows society’s double standard, examines high society’s preoccupation with avoiding scandal and illustrates how its avoidance often caused people unhappiness.

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Updated: 21 October 2020
Melina Druga
Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
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