Edith Wharton (1862-1937), American author best known for her stories and ironic novels about upper class people. Wharton's central subjects were the conflict between social and individual fulfillment, repressed sexuality, and the manners of old families and the 'nouveau riche', who had made their fortunes in more recent years.
Edith Wharton was born on January 24, 1862 in New York, into a wealthy and socially prominent family. She was educated privately by European governesses. In 1885 she married Edward Wharton, a Boston banker, who was twelve years her senior. Wharton's role as a wife with social responsibilities and her writing ambitions resulted in nervous collapse. She had started to compose poems in her teens and she was advised that writing might help her recover. Her first book, The Decoration Of Houses, appeared in 1897. Her husband started to show increasing signs of mental instability. In 1906-09 Wharton had an affair with the American journalist Morton Fullerton, the great love of her life. The Whartons were divorced in 1913 and Edith spent the rest of her life in France.
In the 1890s Wharton started to contribute to Scribner's Magazine. Her first collection of short stories appeared in the late 1890s. Wharton gained her first literary success with her book The House Of Mirth (1905), a story of a beautiful but poor woman, Lily Bart, trying to survive in the pitiless New York City. The Custom Of The Country (1913) was a story of a young ambitious woman. Among Wharton's most famous novels is The Age Of Innocence (1920), which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Wharton's other major works include the long tale Ethan Frome (1911) which was set in impoverished rural New England and The Reef (1912). The novel Hudson River Bracketed (1929) and its sequel The Gods Arrive (1932) compared the cultures of Europe and the sections of the U.S. she knew. Wharton also wrote poems, essays, travel books and her autobiography, A Backward Glance (1934).
During World War I Wharton wrote reports for American newspaper. She assisted in organizing the American Hostel for Refugees, and the Children of Flanders Rescue Committee, taking charge of 600 Belgian children who had to leave their orphanage at the time of the German advance. She was also active in fund-raising activities, participating in the production of an illustrated anthology of war writings by prominent authors and artists of the period.
Wharton's last novel, The Buccaneers (1938), was left unfinished, but her literary executor had the novel published in 1938. Wharton died in France, St.-Brice-sous-ForÐºt, on August 11, 1937.