Sunday, January 24, 2010

This Day in Literary History . . .

On January 24, 1862, Edith Wharton was born to an old and wealthy New York family.  She grew up in an opulent world where pre-Civil War society tried to keep the nouveau riche at bay.  Wharton, expected to become a typical wife, mother, and hostess, instead showed intellectual talent and began to write at an early age.  At age 23, she married prominent socialite Edward Wharton, who had neither a profession nor fortune - they divorced in 1913.  Edith returned to writing, often dealing with themes of divorce, unhappy marriages, and free-spirits trapped by societal pressures - in other words, she wrote what she knew.
Wharton's 1905 novel, The House of Mirth, told the story of a New York socialite with a strong sense of individuality who cannot adapt to the roles to which were expected of her. The book became a bestseller.  Her novella, Ethan Frome, detailing a New England farmer trapped by the demands of the women in his life, is one of her best-known works.  Her 1920 novel, Age of Innocence, won the Pulitzer.
Edith remained in France during World War I, assisting refugees, and was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in 1916.
In 1927, she published another bestseller, Twilight Sleep, then her autobiography, A Backward Glance, in 1934.  She died in France in 1937.

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