Biography Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton

photo of Edith Wharton
  • Time Period1862 - 1937
  • Place
  • CountryUnited States

Poet Biography

One of the major figures in American literary history, Edith Wharton (1862-1937) presented intriguing insights into the American experience. Author of more than 40 volumes--novels, short stories, poetry, non-fiction--Wharton had a long and remarkable life. She was born during the Civil War, encouraged in her childhood literary endeavors by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and devoted to such varied friends as Henry James and Theodore Roosevelt; yet she had also read William Faulkner, James Joyce, and T. S. Eliot, and had actually met Sinclair Lewis and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Her upbringing provided her with insights on the upper class, while her sense of humor and polished prose produced fiction that appealed to a large audience. Recipient of the French Legion of Honor for her philanthropic work during World War I and of the Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Age of Innocence (1920), in 1923 she became the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from Yale. Wharton was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

A naturally gifted storyteller, Wharton wrote novels and short fiction notable for their vividness, satire, irony, and wit. Her complex characters and subtly delivered point-of-view make the reading of Wharton's fiction both challenging and rewarding, while her own life illustrates the difficulties that a woman of her era had to surmount to find self-realization.

In 1885, when she was twenty-three, she married Edward ("Teddy") Wharton. Although from a similar social background, he lacked her artistic and intellectual interests and after nearly 30 years of marriage, she divorced him. Wharton eventually settled permanently in France, thereafter visiting the United States only rarely. In Paris in 1908 she began a briefly fulfilling but ultimately disappointing affair with Morton Fullerton, a journalist on the London Times and a friend of Henry James. In Paris she found intellectual companionship in circles where artists and writers mingled with the rich and well-born, and where women played a major role. Considered one of the major American novelists and short story writers of the 20th century, Edith Wharton died in France in 1937.