Edith Wharton, (1862-1937), was an American author. She became known for her psychological examination of characters faced with changes in the moral and social values of middle-class and upper-class society. Her novels and short stories provide numerous expert characterizations of complex men and women.
Wharton's best-known novels focus on New York society during the 1800s and early 1900s. She won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (1920). This novel provides a questioning view of aristocratic New Yorkers during the 1870s. Her other novels include THE HOUSE OF MIRTH
(1905), ETHAN FROME (1911), THE REEF (1912), THE CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY (1913), SUMMER (1917), OLD NEW YORK (1924), and THE MOTHER'S RECOMPENSE (1925). She wrote about 85 short stories.
Wharton was born on Jan. 24, 1862, in New York City into a socially prominent and wealthy family. Her given and family name was Edith Newbold Jones. She began writing as an adolescent but stopped in her late teens. After marrying Edward Wharton in 1885, she lived a fashionable life, mostly in Europe. Eventually, she started writing again, beginning with poems and short stories. But nervous ailments forced her to take rest cures. After her health improved, Wharton also began writing novels.
As she became a best-selling novelist, Wharton supported herself and her husband. After they divorced in 1913, she moved to France. Wharton was friends with many writers, including the novelist Henry James, who stimulated her work. She wrote an autobiography, A BACKWARD GLANCE (1934). She died on Aug. 11, 1937.
Linda Wagner-Martin, Ph.D., Hanes Professor of English, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
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