Edith Wharton, 1862-1937

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Born Edith Jones, she went on to become the first woman to ever win the Pulitzer prize for her novel The Age of Innocence, in 1921. Her life story is as interesting as those of the women in her novels, and her biography is an excellent source of history, entertainment and context. Wharton probably has not suffered the same level of doubt of her work as some other women writers, in part because of her Pulitzer Prize. She was from a wealthy New York family, and much of her fiction relates partially autobiographical sketches of the kinds of people she grew up with. Her social group included such well-known American aristocracy as the Astors. In fact, one of her most engaging and well-known characters, Mrs. Manson Mignott in The Age of Innocence is based in part on her aunt Mary Mason (Mrs. Isaac) Jones, who built a mansion on Fifth Avenue, at the time not the center of New York. Wharton continued writing until her death in 1937. She is buried in the American Cemetery at Versailles.

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THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (231 KB)
Fiction
Into the world of propriety which composed the rigid code of Old New York society returns the Countess Olenska, separated from her European husband and bearing with her an independence and impulsive awareness of life. Edith Wharton is unique in the intimacy and sureness, not to mention the satiric tone with which she investigated this narrow and declinig world. Somewhere in this book, Wharton observes that clever liars always come up with good stories to back up their fabrications, but that really clever liars don't bother to explain anything at all. Wharton's story of the upper classes of Old New York, and Newland Archer's impossible love for the disgraced Countess Olenska, is a perfectly wrought book about an era when upper-class culture in this country was still a mixture of American and European extracts, and when "society" had rules as rigid as any in history.


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SUMMER (137 KB)
Fiction
One of Wharton's first novels to deal frankly with a young woman's sexual awakening, Summer created a sensation when it was published in 1917. Praised for its realism and candor by such writers as Joseph Conrad and Henry James, it is now considered a classic of American and women's literature.

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