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An Exile At Home

June 2024
1min read

Edith Wharton, an Extraordinary Life

an illustrated biography by Eleanor Dwight, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 296 pages, $39.95. CODE: ABS-2

When Edith Jones’s family moved back to New York from Europe in 1872, the ten-year-old was struck by the rawness of the city she would later chronicle so memorably. “My first thought was ‘how ugly it is!’ I have never since thought otherwise or felt otherwise than as an exile in America.” She would often dream that the family was returning to the Continent; her distant mother would invite friends over to distract her, but she would excuse herself to another room to make up stories by herself whenever the “pull” of her “pent-up eloquence” was too strong to resist. As Eleanor Dwight shows in her excellent biography, the family of Edith Jones (later Wharton) was no match for her. Their rather conventional world of money and appearances—in which she later set her novels—failed to satisfy her. Her parents staged her coming out a year early in hopes it would bring their daughter’s head out of her books, but she weathered the ceremony with both her dreaminess and willfulness unshaken. This illustrated biography is also a fine social history of the New York enclave of which Wharton was both a member and a peerless critic in The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth , and other celebrated books.

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