I recently had the chance to sit in on a lecture at the beautiful New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street about the great American writer Edith Wharton. I have read a lot about Edith Wharton in the past so I was interested to attend the lecture which was giving by Robert Armitage, of the library's research division, and lasted one hour and forty five minutes.
Edith Wharton's career is an iconic American story because she, as artists do, completely invented herself. Edith Jones was born into the rigid upper class of Edwardian New York when women were expected and allowed to do nothing beyond marry and raise a family. Edith grew up in a mansion at 14 West 23rd Street, which is about exactly where our friend La Peckham lives now in a loft in a building that Robert Mapplethorpe once lived in. Edith was determined to be a writer but society and her mother discouraged her. "Her literary ambitions were ignored and scorned," noted Armitage. He told a story about how in one of Edith's early stories, a character wanted to tidy up a drawing room for a guest. Her mother read this and icily noted, "Drawing rooms are always tidy."
But Edith was undeterred in her drive to capture in words the Edwardian world of manners and style.
Edith Wharton in furs -
She became friends with many of the artists and writers of the day. Here she is with her friend Henry James on the left at her house in Lenox, Massachusetts, called The Mount, which is now a destination for visitors.
Edith married Edward "Teddy" Wharton, but is was an unhappy match.
Edith of course persevered with her work and became one of the most highly regarded authors in American literature. Her novel Ethan Frome is required reading in many schools (we read it in New Hartford in seventh grade) and she won the Pulitzer Prize, the first woman to do so, in 1921. Armitage noted that Edith Wharton published 48 volumes in her career, which he said was two books a year. That's a lot of writing. With talent and determination she overcame her obstacles and pursued her art which is an inspiration in any age.