Edith Wharton: biography of a writing pioneer

Edith Wharton

Born in New York City in 1862, Edith Wharton 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 regardless of norms from a young age.

Enamored with learning, Edith became fluent in French, German, and Italian while spending many of her childhood years living in Europe. But while she perfected languages, it was writing and storytelling that captured her heart and mind. From early in life, she was inventing stories and writing poetry.

Continuing to work on her craft, at fifteen, Edith completed a thirty thousand word novella. That same year, she sold her first poem. By eighteen, literary magazines published multiple 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 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.

Source: Photograph of Edith Wharton taken by E. F. Cooper, at Newport, Rhode Island, circa 1890. Cabinet photograph. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University / Wikimedia Commons