Edith Wharton
The Age of Innocence
The Age of Innocence - Study Guide
The Moving Finger


"She sang, of course, 'M'ama' and not 'he loves me', since an unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world requires that the German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences" (The Age of Innocence)

Edith Wharton was born Edith Newbold Jones in New York, 1862. Coming from a distinguished family of substantial wealth, she was educated privately at home and also while travelling in Europe. Her marriage to Edward Robbins Wharton was one filled with unhappiness and difficulties resulting from the writer's nervous illnesses and her husband's problems with his mental state. They had married in 1885 and would move to France in 1907, divorcing in 1913.

In between, Wharton had begun to engage in social functions, meeting such literary accolytes as Henry James with whom she struck up a good friendship. When Wharton wrote to him explaining the sorrow of her marriage, James replied to her, "Keep making the movements of life". Her literary career also begun. In fact it began early, with her verses recommended to Atlantic by Longfellow himself. Around 1890 she published a number of short stories and poems in Scribner's Magazine before putting together her first volume of stories proper, The Greater Inclination in 1899.

A novella, The Touchstone (1900), followed but Wharton's reputation was founded upon a novel about a failed social climber, The House of Mirth (1905). She wrote prolifically and often about class difficulties as experienced by the author first hand in France where she set novels such as Madame de Treymes (1907), The Reef (1912) and The Custom of the Country (1913). She was so fond of writing that she did much of it in bed, and reputedly threw an ugly tantrum when the light in a hotel room she was occupying did not shine on it. Ethan Frome, a brief tale of hardship and romance on a farm in New England, received positive critical attention upon its publication in 1911 and it remains one of her most famous works. The most well-known, though, is The Age of Innocence (1920). This novel is another sad tale of failed romance, marriage and the shackles of society that constrain individual will.

Although she continued to write short stories, novels and travel books (she lived away from America almost continuously from 1900 onwards, largely in France), these are less renowned works. Her autobiography, A Backward Glance, was published in 1934, and she died three years later having left a substantial oevre of satirical and sharp portraits of society in America and Europe for posterity. It is sad, then, that Marion Mainwaring chose to tarnish that legacy with her 1993 'reconstruction' of Wharton's unfinished novel The Buccaneers from the synopsis she left. Obviously, the reader is urged to steer clear.

The Edith Wharton Society Various information on the author and the Society
npg.si.edu A portrait of the author, including a detailed biography and further informative links
Edith Wharton Organisation Extensive coverage of the author, with information on the Maunt, a online catalogue, everything about Edith Wharton and links

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