Edith Wharton’s masterpiece brings to life the grandeur and hypocrisy of a gilded age. Set among the very rich in 1870s New York, it tells the story of Newland Archer, a young lawyer engaged to marry virginal socialite May Welland, when he meets her cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, a woman unbound by convention and surrounded by scandal. As all three are drawn into a love triangle filled with sensuality, subtlety, and betrayal, Archer faces a harrowing choice between happiness and the social code that has ruled his life. The resulting tale of thwarted love is filled with irony and surprise, struggle and acceptance. Recipient of the first Pulitzer Prize for fiction ever awarded to a woman, this great novel paints a timeless portrait of “society” still unmatched in American literature—an arbitrary, capricious social elite that professes inviolable standards but readily abandons them for greed and desire.
About the Author
Edith Newbold Jones was born January 24, 1862, into such wealth and privilege that her family inspired the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses." The youngest of three children, Edith spent her early years touring Europe with her parents and, upon the family's return to the United States, 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. Despite similar backgrounds and a shared taste for travel, the marriage was not a success. Many of Wharton's novels chronicle unhappy marriages, in which the demands of love and vocation often conflict with the expectations of society.
Upon the publication of The House of Mirth in 1905, Wharton became an instant celebrity, and the the book was an instant bestseller, with 80,000 copies ordered from Scribner's six weeks after its release. 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, Andre Gide, Sinclair Lewis, Jean Cocteau, and Jack London.
Wharton had a great fondness for dogs, and owned several throughout her life.
"Is it—in this world—vulgar to ask for more? To entreat a little wildness, a dark place or two in the soul?"—Katherine Mansfield
"There is no woman in American literature as fascinating as the doomed Madame Olenska. . . . Traditionally, Henry James has always been placed slightly higher up the slope of Parnassus than Edith Wharton. But now that the prejudice against the female writer is on the wane, they look to be exactly what they are: giants, equals, the tutelary and benign gods of our American literature."—Gore Vidal
"Will writers ever recover that peculiar blend of security and alertness which characterizes Mrs. Wharton and her tradition?"—E. M. Forster