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Wharton, Edith. (1862 - 1937).

L i f e

- born into ‘old money’, never experienced economic deprivations (x T. Dreiser & other naturalists)

- educated in foreign languages and an European outlook

- needed a cosmopolitan setting for her fictional needs >> settled in France

W o r k

- a female counterpart of H. James: shares his carefully wrought style x but: adds her peculiarly own treatment of inner life, sense of cultural nuances, and indignation at the lack of social freedom

- a naturalist: human behaviour shaped by environment and heredity <=> T. Dreiser, M. Twain, & others

- a small-town life chronicler: tragedies caused by the narrowing of individual aspirations <=> S. O. Jewett, M. W. Freeman, & others

- a woman’s experience relater: women’s longings to break the bonds of society <=> K. Chopin

- a critic and satirist <=> M. Twain

The Hermit and the Wild Woman and Other Stories (1908) and Tales of Men and Ghosts (1910):

- collections of short stories

The House of Mirth (1905):

- a novel concerned with economic determinism

- a morally pure woman’s confrontation with corrupted morals and sexuality results in her death

Ethan Fromme (1911):

- a local colour naturalist tragic novel, in the New England rural setting

- a decline of Ethan’s marriage, his love triangle with his wife and her cousin, and his ending up in a mental and physical prison

The Custom of the Country (1913):

- a novel in the city setting

- replaces small town life by scenes of elegant society and tragedy by satire

- the eponymous custom = a divorce, used for her upward mobility by Undine Spragg <=> a higher equivalent of T. Dreiser’s Carrie Meeber in Sister Carrie

Summer (1917):

- a novel in the New England rural setting

- harshly bitter lives of small town people

The Age of Innocence (1920):

- a novel in the NY City setting

- the relationship of one man and 2 women and the absence of sexual freedom

> won her the Pulitzer Price


(Photo: Francis W. Halsey. 1919. Source: Wikimedia Commons).

  • Author

    Born Edith Newbold Jones. Married Edith Wharton. (1862 - 1937). American.
  • Work

    Novelist. Short story writer. Author of The Age of Innocence (1920).
  • Genres

    Naturalism. Psychological realism. Local colour.


Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.

Bercovitch, Sacvan, ed. The Cambridge History of American  Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Cunliffe, Marcus. The Literature of the United States. London: Penguin, 1991.

Lauter, Paul, ed. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Lexington: D. C. Heath, 1994.

McQuade, Donald, gen.ed. The Harper American Literature. New York: Harper & Collins, 1996.

Ruland, Richard, Malcolm Bradbury. Od  puritanismu k postmodernismu. Praha: Mladá fronta, 1997.

Vančura, Zdeněk, ed. Slovník spisovatelů: Spojené státy americké. Praha: Odeon, 1979.


"The only way not to think about money is to have a great deal of it".

From The House of Mirth (1905).


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