Edith Wharton was born Edith Newbold Jones to George and Lucretia Jones in New York City on January 24, 1862. She belonged to an upper class New York family. She was expected to devote her time to acquiring the characteristics and perfecting the ceremonies expected of genteel females in those days. Later she would revolt against this role but as a child she was schooled at home and had the privilege of use of her father's extensive library. She was taught privately both at home and in Europe by a series of governesses. In 1885, Edith married Teddy Wharton, who was twelve years older than she. They lived a life of comparative luxury with houses in New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Slowly, Wharton grew dissatisfied with the roles of wife and society matron. When she discovered Teddy had taken money from her to provide a home for his mistress in Boston, their marriage fell apart. Also, Wharton had met and fallen in love with Morton Fullerton and had been sexually awakened as a 46 year old woman living virtually on her own in Paris. The Whartons divorced in 1913. Between 1900 and 1938, Wharton wrote prodigiously. The publication of the House of Mirth in 1905 marked the true beginning of Wharton's literary career. She continued to publish rapidly, producing, among others, Ethan Frome in 1911.

When The Great War began, Wharton became involved in the war effort. She helped unrelentingly with refugees in Paris during the first World War, and actually only returned to the United States once in order to accept the Pulitzer prize for her novel, The Age of Innocence. Many consider The Age of Innocence to be the best of Wharton's literature. It has been described as a "masterful portrait of desire and betrayal set in the New York of her youth." The book is a historical novel, describing the events of a New York long since changed. In fact, the original title of the book was 'Old New York'. The novel describes her own adolescence.

Through her life she held salon where the gifted intellectuals of her time gathered to discuss and share ideas. Teddy Roosevelt, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway were all guests of hers at one time or another. Another facet of Edith's career was her friendship with Henry James whose influence on her writing is inestimable. Although, traditionally, critics consider Henry James "better", but few would argue that Wharton's novels, especially The Age of Innocence, do not have a more relaxed and flowing style to them. Wharton continued writing until her death in 1938. She is buried in the American Cemetery at Versailles.

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