Edith Wharton: biography of a writing pioneer

The story of Edith Wharton: A woman ahead of her time, a writer who defied societal norms to etch her name in literary history.

Black and white portrait of Edith Wharton in period attire. She is seated, looking directly at the camera, with a serious expression. Wharton wears a light-colored dress with puffed sleeves and a high collar, accessorized with a dark hat featuring large ribbons. She holds two small dogs in her lap, both gazing towards the camera.
Edith Wharton, circa 1895

Edith Wharton Biography

Born in New York City in 1862, Edith grew up in the comforts of a family of wealth and prestige but as part of a high society of strict rules that encumbered women. The rules she promptly ignored, as Edith pursued her interests with disregard for social norms from a young age.

Growing up, Edith’s passion for learning shined brightly. She studied with tutors and read books from her father’s library and her father’s friends’ libraries. And while living in Europe for many of her childhood years, Edith became fluent in French, German, and Italian. But while she perfected languages, it was writing and storytelling that captured her heart and mind. From early in life, she invented stories and wrote poetry.

Continuing to work on her craft, Edith completed a thirty thousand-word novella at fifteen. That same year, she sold her first poem. By eighteen, literary magazines published multiple of her poems, though all under a pseudonym, as writing was not an acceptable profession for a woman of her class.

Writing would become Edith’s life work. She became a pioneering American novelist, carving her niche in the male-dominated literary world of the 19th century. She published forty-eight books and at least eighty-five short stories. And in 1921, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature for her book, The Age of Innocence, becoming the first woman to receive the award.

Edith passed away after a stroke in 1937.

A vintage black and white photograph of Edith Wharton, taken around 1885, dressed in an elaborate gown with lace and ruffle details. She is adorned with a fur stole around her shoulders and is wearing a necklace. Her hair is styled in an updo typical of the era. She is looking down and reading a small booklet or piece of paper that she holds in her hands.
Edith Wharton, circa 1885


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“Edith Wharton: biography of a writing pioneer” Sources:

Photograph of Edith taken by E. F. Cooper, at Newport, Rhode Island, circa 1890. Cabinet photograph. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University / “Edith Newbold Jones Wharton (cropped 02).” Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia Foundation, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Edith_Newbold_Jones_Wharton_(cropped_02).jpg / Sanctuary, (1903) part II, ch. IV – “Edith Wharton.” Wikiquote, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Edith_Wharton / “Edith Wharton.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edith_Wharton / Second Edith photograph – taken circa 1885 – National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, S/NPG.78.142