Image of Edith Wharton


Lifetime: 1862 - 1937 Passed: ≈ 86 years ago


Novelist, Short Story Writer, Designer.


United States

Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton was an American novelist, short story writer, and designer. Wharton drew upon her insider's knowledge of the upper class New York "aristocracy" to realistically portray the lives and morals of the Gilded Age. In 1921, she became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in Literature, for her novel The Age of Innocence. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1996. Among her other well-known works are the The House of Mirth and the novella Ethan Frome.

Edith Wharton was born Edith Newbold Jones on January 24, 1862 to George Frederic Jones and Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander at their brownstone at 14 West Twenty-third Street in New York City. To her friends and family she was known as "Pussy Jones." She had two older brothers, Frederic Rhinelander, 16 years older, and Henry Edward, 12 years older. She was baptized April 20, 1862, Easter Sunday, at Grace Church.

Wharton wrote and told stories from an early age. When her family moved to Europe and she was just four or five she started what she called "making up." She invented stories for her family and walked with an open book, turning the pages as if reading while improvising a story. Wharton began writing poetry and fiction as a young girl, and attempted to write her first novel at age eleven. Her mother's criticism quashed her ambition and she turned to poetry. At age 15, her first published work appeared, a translation of a German poem "Was die Steine Erzählen" ("What the Stones Tell") by Heinrich Karl Brugsch, for which she was paid $50. Her family did not want her name to appear in print since writing was not considered a proper occupation for a society woman of her time. Consequently, the poem was published under the name of a friend's father, E. A. Washburn, a cousin of Ralph Waldo Emerson who supported women's education. In 1877, at the age of 15, she secretly wrote a 30,000 word novella Fast and Loose. In 1878 her father arranged for a collection of two dozen original poems and five translations, Verses, to be privately published. Wharton published a poem under a pseudonym in the New York World in 1879. In 1880 she had five poems published anonymously in the Atlantic Monthly, an important literary magazine. Despite these early successes, she was not encouraged by her family or her social circle, and though she continued to write, she did not publish anything more until her poem "The Last Giustiniani" was published in Scribner's Magazine in October 1889.

Between 1880 and 1890 Wharton put her writing aside to participate in the social rituals of the New York upper classes. Wharton keenly observed the social changes happening around her which appeared later in her writing. Wharton officially came out as a debutante to society in 1879.

Wharton married in 1885 and began to build upon three interests—American houses, writing, and Italy.

On April 29, 1885, at age 23, Wharton married Edward (Teddy) Robbins Wharton, who was 12 years her senior, at the Trinity Chapel Complex.

She eventually crossed the Atlantic 60 times. In Europe, her primary destinations were Italy, France, and England. She also went to Morocco in North Africa. She wrote many books about her travels, including Italian Backgrounds and A Motor-Flight through France.

On June 1, 1937, Wharton was at the French country home of Ogden Codman, where she was at work on a revised edition of The Decoration of Houses, when she suffered a heart attack and collapsed.

Edith Wharton later died of a stroke on August 11, 1937 at Le Pavillon Colombe, her 18th-century house on Rue de Montmorency in Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt. She died at 5:30 p.m., but her death was not known in Paris. At her bedside was her friend, Mrs. Royall Tyler. Wharton was buried in the American Protestant section of the Cimetière des Gonards in Versailles, "with all the honors owed a war hero and a chevalier of the Legion of Honor...a group of some one hundred friends sang a verse of the hymn 'O Paradise'..."

Books by Edith Wharton

The Age of Innocence Cover image

The Age of Innocence

Fiction Novel
Struggle Moral Act

The Age of Innocence was Edith Wharton's 12th novel and is located in familiar Wharton territory. The genteel snobbery of the upper classes with its underlying cruelty and heartless judgments passed on those who cross the line is wonderfully depicted...

Afterward Cover image


Horror Fiction
Gothic Supernatural

"Afterward" is a short story by American writer Edith Wharton. It was first published in the 1910 edition of The Century Magazine. and later reprinted in her books The Collected Short Stories of Edith Wharton and Tales of Men and Ghosts (1910). It is...

Ethan Frome Cover image

Ethan Frome

Romance Fiction
Isolation Illusions Silence

Ethan Frome is a 1911 book by American author Edith Wharton. It is set in the fictitious town of Starkfield, Massachusetts. The novel was adapted into a film, Ethan Frome, in 1993.

The House of Mirth Cover image

The House of Mirth

Marriage Beauty Society

The House of Mirth is a 1905 novel by American author Edith Wharton. It tells the story of Lily Bart, a well-born but impoverished woman belonging to New York City's high society around the end of the 19th century. Wharton creates a portrait of a stu...

A Son At The Front Cover image

A Son At The Front

Fiction History Novel
War Military World Wars

This is an overlooked novel by the author of House Of Mirth, Age Of Innocence, and more. She already became the first woman to win the Pulitzer prize for literature before this novel was written. Edith Wharton is known for her combination of social o...

Fighting France, from Dunkerque to Belfort Cover image

Fighting France, from Dunkerque to Belfort

Fiction Memoir Essays War
Military Short Works

Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belfort is composed, in part, from magazine articles by the American writer Edith Wharton on her time in France during the First World War, including her visits to the French sectors of the Western Front. "Four of t...

The Decoration of Houses Cover image

The Decoration of Houses

Non-Fiction Reference work
Interior Design

The Decoration of Houses, a manual of interior design written by Edith Wharton with architect Ogden Codman, was first published in 1897. In the book, the authors denounce Victorian-style interior decoration and interior design, especially rooms decor...

The Touchstone Cover image

The Touchstone

Romance Fiction
True Love

The Touchstone is a novella by American writer Edith Wharton. Written in 1900, it was the first of her many stories describing life in old New York. Stephen Glennard, the novella's protagonist, is suddenly impoverished and unable to marry the woman...

The Reef Cover image

The Reef

Fiction Novel
Love Ignorance

The Reef is a 1912 novel by American writer Edith Wharton. It was published by D. Appleton & Company. It concerns a romance between a widow and her former lover. The novel takes place in Paris and rural France, but primarily features American charact...

Summer Cover image


Fiction Novel
Pride Independence Honesty

Summer is a novel by Edith Wharton, which was published in 1917 by Charles Scribner's Sons. While most novels by Edith Wharton dealt with New York's upper-class society, this is one of two novels by Wharton that were set in New England. Its themes in...

The Custom of the Country Cover image

The Custom of the Country

Fiction Novel
Marriage Social Class Culture Customs

The Custom of the Country is a 1913 tragicomedy of manners novel by American Edith Wharton. It tells the story of Undine Spragg, a Midwestern girl who attempts to ascend in New York City society.

The Valley of Decision Cover image

The Valley of Decision

Politics Peasant Royalty

Odo Valsecca, a promising nobleman, inherits a dukedom at a young age and, over the course of his young life, must quickly learn the politics of royalty as he deals with other nobles, the church, the free-thinking movement, and, of course, his subjec...

Bunner Sisters Cover image

Bunner Sisters

Social Customs Life

“Bunner Sisters,” like “The Age of Innocence” is set in 1870s New York, however the lives of Ann Eliza and Evelina Bunner reflect impoverished New York. The sisters run a "very small shop, in a shabby basement, in a side street already doomed to decl...

The Descent of Man and Other Stories  Cover image

The Descent of Man and Other Stories

Twentieth Century Marriage Short Story New York Culture Heritage Classics Courtship Human Behaviors

“The Descent of Man” – Professor Linyard is a man of science who writes a book where he pretends to take the side of religion, expecting it to be understood as a satire of popular scientific books. When it is taken as serious, he goes along with it i...

The Marne: A Tale of the War  Cover image

The Marne: A Tale of the War

Fiction War
Love Military Life America World Wars Summer United States General Fiction

Edith Wharton had been living in France for many years when WWI began. Like many in Europe, Wharton was frustrated and angry at America’s reluctance to enter the war and The Marne was written in response. The main character, Troy Belknap, is her voic...

The Greater Inclination  Cover image

The Greater Inclination

Short Story Tragedy Journey General Fiction

The Greater Inclination was the earliest collection of short fiction by Edith Wharton. Published by Charles Scribner's Sons on 25 March 1899 . The collection consisted of eight works: seven short stories, and one short play in two acts.

Sanctuary  Cover image


Fiction Novel
Marriage Love Realism Literature Happiness Discovery Literary Fiction

Edith Wharton's early novella focuses on Kate Orme, who begins the story happily in love with her fiance, only to discover that he hides a terrible secret.

The Fruit of the Tree Cover image

The Fruit of the Tree

Marriage Social Progressive Wealth Divorce General Fiction

This novel about the lives of a wealthy mill owner, her socially progressive husband and friends caused a stir due to its treatment of drug abuse, mercy killing, divorce and second marriages.

Madame de Treymes  Cover image

Madame de Treymes

Fiction Novel
Marriage Love Romance Happiness America Catholicism United States Divorce General Fiction

Edith Wharton's 1907 novella explores the milieu of Americans living abroad in Paris. New Yorker John Durham travels to Paris to woo an old flame, Fanny Frisbee, now the Marquis de Malrive. Fanny is separated from her husband and wants to marry John...

The Mother's Recompense Cover image

The Mother's Recompense

Marriage Love Engagement Society Identity Exile

Kate Cephane, now living in self-imposed exile in France, left her three-year-old daughter Anne behind when she fled her impossibly unhappy marriage for a brief affair. When Anne asks her to return because she is getting engaged, Kate risks the scorn...

The Writing of Fiction Cover image

The Writing of Fiction

Fiction Reference work
Wisdom Social Development Emotion Humanity Experiences Writing Literary Fiction Character Develpoment Creative Writing

Unleash the Power of Your Imagination: Explore the Art of Fiction Writing with Edith Wharton! In "The Writing of Fiction," the renowned author Edith Wharton opens the doors to the enchanting world of storytelling, inviting aspiring writers on an enli...

Twilight Sleep Cover image

Twilight Sleep

Satire Novel
Moral Dilemmas Materialism Wealth Human Behaviors Ambition Interaction

Step into the opulent world of high society as Edith Wharton masterfully unveils the dazzling facade hiding the inner turmoil in "Twilight Sleep." In the midst of New York's glamour and excess, a web of secrets and desires unfolds. As wealthy sociali...