- “I don’t know if I should care for a man who made life easy; I should want someone who made it interesting.”
January 24 is the birthday of Edith Wharton, one of the finest writers the United States has produced, and a woman far ahead of her time.
Born Edith Jones in 1862 to a family well connected in Old New York society, Edith broke through the bounds of conformity imposed on her by that society, determined to be more than a wife to a rich man. Her 28-year marriage to Edward R. Wharton was hard, descending into terrible as time went by until they were finally divorced in 1913. Not too many society women back in the early 20th Century even contemplated a divorce — beyond the social stigma, it meant a probable loss of their only means of support, unless their own family was well off already. Edith was well off already from several trust funds, and she didn’t worry about the social questions, going her own way.
- “A New York divorce is in itself a diploma of virtue.” (The Whartons were divorced in France, incidentally.)
She had already been writing for years before her divorce from Edward, short stories and poetry that were published by the leading magazines of her time, such as Harper’s and Collier’s. The House of Mirth was published in 1905, a story that carried the hallmark Wharton indictment of the very social class she came from, with its manners, pretensions and occasional hypocrisies. Perhaps her greatest book, The Age of Innocence, would win her the Pulitzer Prize in 1921, the first woman to be so honored; and she received an honorary doctorate from Yale University in 1923. But Edith Wharton wrote other things as well over her career; she is also known for her excellent ghost stories, and she wrote or co-wrote nonfiction books on interior decoration, illustrating her precepts on such in The Mount, the house she designed, built and owned from 1902 to 1911. She died in France in 1937, truly a renaissance woman in a time when women’s roles in society were supposed to be confined to “society.”
- “If only we’d stop trying to be happy, we’d have a pretty good time.”