Wharton, Edith

(redirected from Edith Newbold Jones)

Wharton, Edith (Newbold b. Jones)

(1862–1937) writer; born in New York City. Raised in a wealthy "old" family, she was privately educated and traveled often in Europe, where she met her lifelong friend and mentor, Henry James. She married a Boston banker, Edward Robbins Wharton, in 1885 and they divided their time among homes in New York City, Newport, R.I., Lenox, Mass., and Europe. Her husband was ten years older than she and gradually deteriorated from a mental illness, so she devoted herself to her early passion for writing (she had privately printed a volume of her poems in 1878). Her first book was The Decoration of Houses (coauthored with Ogden Codman Jr., 1897), literally about interior decoration but also prefiguring her concern with the social mores of her class. Her first novel was The Valley of Decision (1902), but her first popular novel was The House of Mirth (1905). Her next popular work—and still a minor classic—was Ethan Frome (1911). By 1907 she had effectively settled in France; she divorced Wharton in 1913 and during World War I she was active in relief work in France; she also traveled extensively—eventually writing about her travels in Italy and Morocco; over her lifetime she was friendly with many of the most notable men of the time, from Bernard Berenson to Theodore Roosevelt. Perhaps her most admired collection of short fiction, Xingu and Other Stories, was published in 1916; her Age of Innocence (1920) won the Pulitzer Prize, the first in fiction awarded to a woman. She continued to publish both short fiction and novels; in 1925 she published her thoughts on literature, The Writing of Fiction (1925), and in 1934 her autobiography, A Backward Glance. She was noted for her polished prose and for her ability to capture the psychological realities of her characters; as for her themes, she attacked the hypocrisies and rigidities of the old society she came from, but she also had little liking for the new monied class she saw emerging around her.