Edith Wharton was born on 24th January 1862 in an aristocratic family. She was home schooled by private tutors and well groomed by governesses. She got married at the age of twenty to a rich banker, Edward Wharton. Although she got a collection of her poems printed when she was sixteen years old, she began writing vigorously after her marriage in 1885. Her married life was very unhappy. The reason was her husband’s severe condition of acute depression which eventually led to mental disorder.
Her friendship with renowned writer Henry Jones guided her through her writing career. She wrote poems for various magazines notably Harper’s and Scribner’s in the late 1800s. However her first novel ‘The Valley of Decision’ was published in 1902. Wharton wrote numerous novels the more famous being ‘The House of Mirth’ (1905), ‘The Reef’ (1912), ‘The Custom of the Country’ (1913) and ‘Summer’ (1917). She won a Pulitzer Prize for a novel she published in 1920 called ‘The Age of Innocence’. This made her the first woman to receive this award. This was a story about an aristocrat Newland Archer who is engaged to the wealthy and the beautiful member of the elite society, May Welland. With a twist of events he happens to fall in love with Ellen Olenska who has escaped from the misery of her own marriage. The rest of the book is about the events that follow these circumstances. Another popular novel by Wharton is ‘Ethan Frome’ (1911). The main character Ethan Frome, who is a farmer, falls for his wife’s cousin, Mattie. The story is situated in New England farm a place she had known when she resided in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Wharton also published many short stories. She is also known for writing horror stories involving ghosts and other paranormal activities. Her books were mainly about the elite class as she belonged to a wealthy family herself and was well aware of the society’s ups and downs. The stories took place in vivid settings and contained satiric wit and moral seriousness. Edith Wharton’s style included the use of subtle dramatic irony. Her writing style is called social realism, a style of the later part of the nineteenth century. It prevailed mostly as a reaction to the romanticism that had taken up most of the century in its grip.
Edith Wharton was also a talented designer. Her expertise included garden designing and interior designing. She designed and built ‘The Mount’ a home where she lived with her husband for 9 years till she divorced him. She was very fond of travelling. She moved to France after her marriage ended. Because of her strong connections in the French government, she was permitted to travel to the frontline during the First World War. Wharton started her relief work for the refugees and worked unstintingly to provide help in whatever that was possible for her. She set up hospitals for the sick, set up work rooms for the jobless women and founded hostels for the homeless.
Edith Wharton continued to write until her death, which was a result of a stroke attack that she suffered in 1937.