Edith Wharton: American Author

Steve Newman Writer
3 min readJul 30, 2019

“A prolific and successful writer…”

Edith Wharton. Image: Famous Authors

Edith Wharton (1862–1937) appears fully formed on page 700 of The Norton Anthology of American Literature (Vol:2), which is a vast anthology of some of the best American writers since the 17th century to the present day, or in the case of my hefty paperback, 1979.

Of Edith Wharton the editors describe her thus:

“ Edith Wharton’s patrician background, troubled marriage, and international social life are all of interest; above all else, however, she was a prolific and successful writer. She began to write as a very young woman, published some fifty varied volumes in her lifetime, and left a number of unpublished manuscripts and voluminous correspondence at her death.”

Wharton won the Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence in 1920, and was the first female writer to be awarded the Gold Medal for the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1930.

As the editors suggest she came from a wealthy and powerful background, consequently her writing is very self-assured, dense and powerful, and very different from Henry James’ for instance — a writer she admired although he was often dismissive of her — and is full of great expressionistic pen work as the following extract from Bunner Sisters displays:

“ These three houses fairly exemplified the general character of the street, which, as it stretched eastward, rapidly fell from shabbiness to squalor, with an increasing frequency of projecting sign-boards, and of swinging doors that softly shut or opened at the touch of red-nosed men and pale little girls with broken jugs. The middle of the street was full of irregular depressions, well adapted to retain the long swirls of dust and straw and twisted paper that the wind drove up and down its sad untended length; and toward the end of the day, when traffic had been active, the fissured pavement formed a mosaic of coloured hand-bills, lids of tomato-cans, old shoes, cigar-stumps and banana skins, cemented together by a layer of mud, or veiled in a powdering of dust, as the state of the weather determined.”

The above could easily be from the script of a Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin film from the early ’20s that often used such streets, plus there can be little doubt that Scott Fitzgerald must…

Steve Newman Writer

Playwright and Freelance Writer…