Edith Wharton will
be reissued in June 2013. Details forthcoming.
A rich new life of a great novelist. The first
biography of Edith Wharton by a British woman writer, it challenges
the accepted view, showing Wharton's lifelong ties to Europe and
displaying her as a tough, erotically brave, startlingly modern
writer and woman.
The name 'Edith Wharton' conjures up 'Gilded Age'
New York, in all its snobbery and ruthlessness - the world of The
Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth. This major new biography
upsets the stereotype. This Edith Wharton is not the genteel, nostalgic
chronicler of a vanished age but a fiercely modern author, writing
of sex, love, money and war - a woman of strong convictions and
conflicting ambitions and desires.
Born in 1862 during the Civil War, Wharton broke
away from her wealthy background and travelled extensively and adventurously
in Europe, eventually settling in Paris. During the First World
War she committed herself heroically to war-work and lived in France,
her 'second country', until her death in 1937. She created fabulous
homes in New England and France, and her life was filled with remarkable
friends, including Henry James, Bernard Berenson, Aldous Huxley
and Kenneth Clark. She ran her professional life with energy, writing
on her travels and on Italian villas and gardens, and publishing
poetry, plays, essays and short stories as well as her powerful
novels. But Wharton had her secrets, including a passionate secret
mid-life love affair. She was unhappily married, childless and divorced,
and knew loneliness and anguish. Her brilliant, disturbing fiction
shows her deep understanding of the longing and struggle in women's
This masterly biography delves into every aspect
of Wharton's extraordinary life-story. It shifts the emphasis towards
Europe and places her more clearly than ever before in her social
context and her history. In particular, it shows in fascinating
detail how she worked and what lies at the heart of her magnificent
and subtle books.
Reviews of Hermione Lee's Edith Wharton
'Grand Dame.' The Economist, 27 January
2007 [Quote: "Hermione Lee has written a fascinating portrait
of a brilliant writer"].
Tóibín, Colm. 'Doyenne of Disappointment.'
The Irish Times, 27 January 2007: 10 [Quote: "[Lee's]
subtle and painstaking ability to illuminate the work with the life,
and to make the life itself so interesting makes this a superb biography"].
Bostridge, Mark. Independent
on Sunday, 28 January 2007 [Quote: "Edith Wharton..could
scarcely have failed to be impressed by its artistic sympathy, its
sonorous depths, and its soaring conception. This is a glorious
Kemp, Peter. 'The
Edge of Innocence'. Sunday Times Books, 28 January 2007:
49 [Quote: "Adding impressive depth and nuance to the
received portrait of Wharton, Lee's biography excels in its discussions
of her writing. There are superbly acute appreciations of works
such as The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence"].
Moore, Caroline. Sunday
Telegraph, 28 January 2007: 43 [Quote: "Excellent...deals
superbly with the many strands of Whartons life...A magnificent
and subtle biography of a magnificent and subtle writer"].
Weekly, 29 January 2007 [Starred
Review; Quote: "Superb new biography...a vivid masterpiece...meticulous
research...Lee exhibits an intuitive empathy with her subject....and
thus animates Wharton as a fully dimensional figure of complex and
contradictory values and impulses...a major achievement"].
Boddy, Kasia. 'A
Lady Who Consumed Worlds'. Daily Telegraph, 4 February
2007 [Quote: "Painstaking and elegant...Her method is
itself very Whartonian...One of this books great pleasures
is Lees discussion of Whartons work"].
Gorra, Michael. 'Edith
Wharton's Passionate Realism'. Times Literary Supplement,
7 February 2007 [Quote: "Lees portraiture at its
best seems Proustian. Time passes, but we glide forward without
Sutherland, John. 'Because
She's Worth It'. Financial Times, 9 February 2007 [Quote:
"Lee reconstructs Whartons physical world (notably
her houses), her intellectual cultural world, and her social world(s)
in fine detail. It is done brilliantly. Anyone embarking on a reading
of Wharton will deny themselves full appreciation if they do not
consult Lee, whose biography is now the necessary accompaniment"]
Showalter, Elaine. 'Untidying
the Drawing-room'. The Guardian, 10 February 2007 [Quote:
"Monumentally conceived and impressively executed...comprehensive
and insightful...Lee is out to understand Wharton, not to vilify
or sanctify her...Neither Wharton nor the reader should have cause
Spurling, Hilary. 'The
Grandest Grande Dame'. The Observer, 11 February 2007
[Quote: "Moving...monumental and exhaustive"].
Anderson, Hephzhibah. Vogue, 2007 [Quote:
"Gracious and judicious...In its contagious love of Whartons
tremendous oeuvre, Lees portrait blossoms into a thing of
beauty in its own right"].
Johnson, Susan. 'Out
of the Shadows'. Sydney Morning Herald, 24 February 2007
[Profile and interview with Hermione Lee with statements by Julian
Bolick, Kate. 'Q&A with Hermione Lee'. Boston
Globe, 1 April 2007: E3.
Simon, Linda. 'A Pillar of Society.' Newsday,
15 April 2007: C27.
Updike, John. 'The
Changeling'. New Yorker 83.8 (16 April 2007): 154-157.
Pritchard, William H. 'Despite her close ties to
Europe, Edith Wharton remained a writer focused on America and Americans'.
Boston Globe, 22 April 2007: E6.
Lecture on Edith Wharton
(New York Society Library, 27 March 2012)
Edith Wharton. The Mother's Recompense.
Edith Wharton's Library: A Catalogue.
Compiled by George Ramsden. Settrington: Stone Trough Books, 1999.
Writings on Wharton
'A Great House Full of Rooms'. Lives for Sale:
Biographers' Tales. Ed. Mark Bostridge. London: Continuum,
2004. pp. 31-37.
American in Paris.' Guardian Review, 20 January 2007
[On Wharton's admiration for 'French civilisation' and her shame
at US foreign policy].
'Wooing the Master'. Times Literary Supplement
4547 (25-31 May 1990): 547-548.
'The Unknown Edith Wharton'. New York Review
of Books 48.15 (4 October 2001): 19 [Rev. of Edith Wharton:
Collected Stories, 1891-1910 and Edith Wharton: Collected
Stories, 1911-1937, selected and with notes by Maureen Howard.
Published by the Library of America].
'Passionate Pilgrim'. New York Review of Books
51.17 (4 November 2004): 42-43 [Rev. of The Cruise of the Vanadis,
by Edith Wharton].
'Work in Progress'. BBC Radio 3, January
2002 [Five short programmes on Wharton].
'The Proper Vehicle of Passion' [with Julian
Barnes]. BBC Radio 4 [Two-part journey in the footsteps
fo Edith Wharton and Henry James. Episode One: 'A Cathedral Surrounded
by a Blur'. 29 April 2004. Episode Two: 'Pigging It'. 6 May 2004].
Edith Wharton was selected
as one of the Washington Post and The Economist's
10 best books of 2007.
Edith Wharton was selected
as one of the NYTBR and Publishers' Weekly 100 best
books of 2007.
Lively ... Insightful ... Thorough and
intelligent ...This meticulous, generous biography is likely to
suffice for a long time ... One can at last grasp the full range
of Whartons writing and the full power of her energy.
Diane Johnson, Washington Post Book World
A splendid biography, extremely rich in
social and historical detail, a telling picture of the many years
Whartons life spanned ... Biography is usually the revenge
of little people on big people ...but Lee is subtle and big-hearted
enough to understand her subject ... Lee never reduces Whartons
books to veiled autobiography, just as she is never reluctant
to interpret them in the light of Whartons life ... A
sophisticated, finely written portrait ... Edith Wharton would
have been horrified by the indiscretions in this biography,
but it is the balanced, richly detailed, and researched portrait
Edmund White, The New York Review of Books
A rich tapestry. There is so much here
... Edith Wharton shimmers with details about a vanished world,
and Lee ... brings it to vivid life.
Jacqueline Blais, USA Today
A remarkable feat ... Nobody has done
Edith Wharton such careful justice as Lee.
Claire Messud, New York Times Book Review
Magnificent ... Unsurpassable in scope
and surely in sensitivity ... Filled to bursting with the friends,
travels, projects and writings that engaged Whartons attention
Linda Simon, Newsday
Groundbreaking ... A sophisticated, persuasive,
powerfully intelligent masterwork.
Lisa Shea, Elle
Enables readers to feel they have known
Mrs. W. all their lives.
Barbara Amiel, Wall Street Journal
Rich ... Fine ... Much more than a
Bruce Allen, The Washington Times
Elegant ... not only the best book on
its subject, but one of the finest literary biographies to appear
in recent years.
Greg Johnson, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A fascinating portrait of a brilliant writer.
Absorbing ... An exemplary biography
... Sure to be the standard work on Wharton for years to come.
A major achievement ... In no other biography
is there a more perceptive analysis of how Whartons life
was reflected in her work.
Tremendous ... Enlightening ... Rises
to landmark status ... The formidable Mrs. Wharton is given
great humanity here.
The fullest biography of Wharton to date
... Superb in using the fiction as a way to read the life, defining
their relation in a way that is at once seamless but never simplified
... Lees portraiture at its best seems Proustian.
Michael Gorra, Times Literary Supplement (London)
Monumentally conceived and impressively
executed ... Lee is out to understand Wharton, not to vilify
or sanctify her ... She is a discriminating and generous critic
who offers full, fresh and incisive discussions of all the novels
and scores of the short stories.
Elaine Showalter, The Guardian (London)
Epic and definitive ... Lee is a confident
and vivid critic.
Jane Shilling, The Times (London)
This is a glorious biography ... The
time is ripe for a new biography of Edith Wharton of this intimacy
and on this scale ... Lee the biographer pursues her subject
down every winding corridor, into every hidden passage and dark
corner ... Her critical exploration of Edith Whartons
work is dazzlingly assured ... A feat of exhaustive research,
and finely tuned to Whartons creative achievement at the
same time ... [Wharton] could scarcely have failed to be impressed
by ... its artistic sympathy, its sonorous depths, and its soaring
Mark Bostridge, The Independent on Sunday (London)
Excellent ... Particularly masterful
in her discussion of Whartons fiction ... A magnificent
and subtle biography of a magnificent and subtle writer.
Caroline Moore, Sunday Telegraph (London)
Lees subtle and painstaking ability
to illuminate the work with the life, and to make the life itself
so interesting makes this a superb biography.
Colm Tóibín, The Irish Times