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American Writers: a journey through history is a permanent archive for educators, researchers and every one interested in the writers featured in the  C‑SPAN series.


Born: January 24, 1862 - New York, New York
Died: August 11, 1937 - St.-Brice-sous-Foręt, France

Born into a distinguished family, Wharton was educated privately at home and in Europe. In 1885 she married Edward Wharton, a wealthy Boston banker, and a few years later resumed the literary career she had begun tentatively as a young girl.
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Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence
C-SPAN's Video Library: Edith Wharton
Her major literary model was the older Henry James, who became a close friend; her work reveals James's concern for form and ethical issues, and James himself did much to promote her work.

The best of her early tales were collected in The Greater Inclination (1899). Her novel The Valley of Decision (1902) was followed in 1905 by the critically and popularly successful The House of Mirth, which established her as a leading writer. After 1907 she lived in France, visiting the United States only at rare intervals. In 1913 she was divorced from her husband, who had been committed to a mental hospital.

In the two decades following The House of Mirth—before the quality of her work began to decline under the demands of writing for women's magazines—she wrote numerous novels, including The Reef (1912), The Custom of the Country (1913), Summer (1917), and The Age of Innocence (1920, Pulitzer Prize). Her best-known work is perhaps the long tale Ethan Frome (1911), which exploits the grimmer possibilities of the New England farm life she had observed from her home in Lenox, Mass. She also wrote many short stories and poems, several books of travel reflecting her interest in architecture and landscape gardening, and the manual The Writing of Fiction (1925).

Works by Edith Wharton
The Greater Inclination (1899)
The Valley of Decision (1902)
The House of Mirth (1905)
Ethan Frome (1911)
The Reef (1912)
The Custom of the Country (1913)
Summer (1917)
The Age of Innocence (1920, Pulitzer Prize)
The Writing of Fiction (1925)
Twilight Sleep (1927)
Hudson River Bracketed (1929)
The Gods Arrive (1932)
A Backward Glance (1934)
The Buccaneers (1938)
Her novel Twilight Sleep was a best-seller in 1927, but the most ambitious project of her later years was the novel Hudson River Bracketed (1929) and its sequel, The Gods Arrive (1932), books comparing the cultures of Europe and the region of the United States she knew. Her best writing of that period was in the posthumous The Buccaneers (1938). Her autobiography, A Backward Glance, appeared in 1934.

Web sites about Edith Wharton
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution:
Edith Wharton's World
Perspectives in Literature: Edith Wharton

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