Edith Wharton (née Edith Newbold Jones) was an American novelist and short story writer. She became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in Literature, for her best-seller The Age of Innocence. Edith Wharton is best known for her stories and novels about the upper-class society in which she was born. She wrote more than 15 novels, including The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, and other esteemed books.
Edith Wharton was born into such a wealthy and prosperous New York family that her household inspired the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses." The youngest of three children, Edith spent her early years touring Europe with her parents and enjoyed a privileged childhood in New York and Newport, Rhode Island.
Edith's creativity and talent soon became obvious: By the age of eighteen she had written a novella, (as well as witty reviews of it) and published poetry in the Atlantic Monthly. After a failed engagement, Edith married a wealthy sportsman, Edward Wharton, in 1885. Despite similar backgrounds and a shared taste for travel, the marriage was unsuccessful. Many of Wharton's novels chronicle unhappy marriages, in which the demands of love and vocation often conflict with society's expectations.
While living in Newport, Wharton honed her design skills, co-authoring (with Ogden Codman, Jr.) her first major book, a non-fiction work on design and architecture, The Decoration of Houses (1897).
In 1901, wanting to escape Newport, Wharton bought 113 acres of land in Lenox, then designed and built The Mount, a home that met her needs as a designer, gardener, hostess, and of course writer.
“I am amazed at the success of my efforts. Decidedly, I’m a better landscape gardener than a novelist, and this place, every line of which is my own work, far surpasses The House of Mirth…“ — wrote Wharton.
Her first major novel, The House of Mirth, published in 1905, enjoyed considerable literary success. Ethan Frome appeared six years later, solidifying Wharton's reputation as an important novelist.
Often in the company of her close friend, Henry James, Wharton mingled with some of the most famous writers and artists of the day, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, André Gide, Sinclair Lewis, Jean Cocteau, and Jack London.
In 1913 Edith divorced Edward. She mainly lived in France for the remainder of her life. When World War I broke out, she organized hostels for refugees, worked as a fund-raiser, and wrote for American publications from battlefield frontlines. She was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her courage and outstanding work.
The Age of Innocence, a novel about New York in the 1870s, earned Wharton the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1921 — for the first time, a woman was given this honor. It was her twelfth novel, originally published in the Pictorial Review in 1920 in four parts.
She also continued to write, lying in her bed every morning, as she had always done, dropping each newly penned page on the floor to be collected and arranged when she has done.
Wharton suffered a stroke and died on August 11, 1937. She is buried, in the Cimetière des Gonards in Versailles, close to her good friend an Austrian lyric Walter Berry.