Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Thousand Little Daily Wonders...

Edith Wharton

This summer biographies have taken over my study. I have been reading about some very inspiring women: Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton, to name a few. Their stories are as thrilling as any of their novels. They were visionaries and adventurers, original thinkers and risk-takers. Recently I have been reading about one of the most fascinating: Edith Wharton. Her intellect, energy, and lifelong curiosity were legendary. She was a master storyteller, chronicler of American society, and a supremely gifted writer. This woman was a force to be reckoned with.

Here are some of the highlights:

1866: At age four, the American writer Edith Wharton was taken by her parents for an extended visit to Europe where they stayed until 1872. By the time she was 18 she had lived half her life in Europe and could speak four languages.

1897: Her first book, The Decoration of Houses, written with the Boston architect Ogden Codman, was published by Scribners. Wharton was as passionate and knowledgeable about architecture and interior design as she was about writing novels. Hugely successful, this book had a major impact on interior design both in America and Europe.

1901: Edith purchased a 113-acre property in Lenox, Mass. and began building The Mount, a classical estate modeled after Belton House in England. Edith designed and supervised the building of the house and gardens, using what she had learned from her years of living in Europe. She lived there from 1902-1911. During that time, she entertained many prominent writers, artists and politicians including President Theodore Roosevelt, writer Henry James, diplomat Walter Berry, landscape designer Beatrix Ferrand and sculptor Daniel French. And it is where she wrote The House of Mirth.

1904: Her book Italian Villas and Their Gardens was published. This was a series of articles on Italian architecture and gardens commissioned by Century Magazine. She traveled to Italy and drove all around the countryside looking at villas and doing extensive research. The articles came out in book form with illustrations by her friend the artist Maxfield Parrish.

1905: Her novel The House of Mirth was published in serial form. When it came out in book form, it was an instant bestseller and stayed on the bestseller list until 1906. It established Edith Wharton as America's most admired writer.

1911: She left the Mount for good and moved to France where she lived for the rest of her life. When World War I broke out, Edith put aside her writing and became involved in the war efforts.

1915: She organized the Children of Flanders Rescue Committee to aid Belgian orphans during the war. She also worked to aid tubercular soldiers and visited front lines and battle areas with her lifelong friend Walter Berry.

1916: She was recognized by France for her war efforts and made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, the highest honor that France could award any civilian. She was recognized for "having given all possible assistance to refugees from those areas of France and Belgium invaded by the enemy."

1920:  Her 12th novel The Age of Innocence was published and awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

1923:  She was the first woman to be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by Yale University

1937:  By the time of her death she had written over a dozen works of non-fiction (design, architecture, travel, memoirs) as well as at least 40 books of fiction (novels, novellas, and short stories). Some of the most famous are: The House of Mirth, Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, The Custom of the Country, Summer, The Buccaneers, and Old New York.

At age 74 she called herself "an incorrigible life-lover and life-wanderer and adventurer." 

She mused about "this wonderful adventure of living." 

She wrote in her memoir:

"Life is the saddest thing there is, next to death; and yet there are always new countries to see, new books to read, a thousand little daily wonders to marvel at and rejoice in..." 

FASCINATING DETAIL:  She spent the mornings writing in bed, tossing the pages onto the floor for her secretary Anna Bahlmann to type.

LOVE OF HER LIFE:  Walter Berry. Although she had a short love affair with Morton Fullerton during the final years of her marriage to Teddy Wharton, she called Walter Berry "the love of all my life."

Curious and always interested in the world, Edith Wharton lived a full life. She was an adventurer, brilliant and bold, unafraid to take risks and tackle big projects. Luckily for us, she wrote many literary masterpieces that will live on forever. They speak to us because she was so wise about the human heart. Everyone can relate to the heartbreak she describes. She also built The Mount, another creation that will live on forever and a place we can visit and feel her presence. If you haven't been and find yourself in Lenox, Massachusetts, be sure to visit! Go here to find out more.

Now I need to find out about Walter Berry, the "love of all her life"?!! Who exactly was he? 

I would love to know which women writers inspire you?


  1. Edith Wharton absolutely. The Age of Innocence is one of my favorite books ever written, and one I read over and over (watch out book club) ~ now I too am curious about Walter Berry.

  2. Well because of YOU I am hooked on VITA!I am on my third book about her.Will finish today then on to THE EDWARDIANS.........a book she wrote.I can't get over how much they traveled back then.........PERSIA and beyond.Again her husband worked there but it just amazes me.........how people got around.The love she had for her TOWER and her house I can relate too...........the love of the garden too although, she is much more knowledgable then I.She loved to plant in old stone sinks........me too!I dragged two back from ITALY from my days there.......one I use in my bathroom the other stands in the garden.I love how she had to walk outside to get to her living room or bedroom..........I could go on and on........THANK YOU SUNDAY I am enjoying reading about her very much.............now on to EDITH!

  3. I didn't realize that Edith Wharton was so well versed in architecture and design. I must read more of her work. As for favorite writers, I've always loved Madeline L'Engle.

  4. Definitely Vita and Virginia. Read Portrait of a Marriage by Nigel Nichloson this summer and have been trying to get into the bio of Virginia by her nephew Quentin Bell, but having a bit of trouble getting into it for some reason. Also Bell's Elders and Betters - short pieces on the Bloomsbury folks.

    I also discovered Beverly Nichols this summer and have read four of his garden books and have his bio in the pile. LOVE him...sweet, funny, lover of houses and gardens and cats...

  5. Are you reading the Hermione Lee biography? I purchased a copy on my first visit to The Mount, but have yet to read it. Should really make it a long-term project...

    1. No, I am reading the older one by R.W.B. Lewis. Also reading "Edith Wharton at the Mount," which is fabulous. I have visited the Mount many times and love it. It is a real treasure.

  6. Like Kathy my favourite book (the only book of EW I have read)is The Age of Innocence.... must check out the rest of her books.Jane Austin,and the Bronte's made a great impact on me while studing English literature as a student which has stayed with me.

  7. I love Ethan Fromme because it so carefully depicts the harsh Western Massachusetts winters. You must come to The Mount in Lenox, MA - Edith Wharton's American home and gardens. Beautiful!

    Donna from alovelyinconsequence.blogspot

  8. Wharton was a remarkable woman and a true inspiration. I will forever love The Age of Innocence which I think is a brilliant, heartbreaking masterpiece.
    I am inspired by Barbara Pym, Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Bowen and Willa Cather.

  9. She was an inspiration. Her mother thought her unattractive and called her Pussy. How that early rejection must have shaped her lifelong search for perfection.

  10. The other day I just found in my library a first edition of Edith Wharton's novel, "The Mother's Reompense" written in 1925. I am not sure how or where I acquired this.

  11. I got all excited because my brain read "Walter Berry" as "Wallace Beery." Love him to bits.

    I need to check my library for an Edith Wharton biography--she was such an interesting woman from what I know about her, which is, unfortunately, only a little bit.

  12. I've never read a biography of Wharton, I'm intrigued. I loved her novel The House of Mirth.