Edith Wharton: biography of a writing pioneer

“It was part of her discernment to be aware that life is the only real counselor, that wisdom unfiltered through personal experience does not become a part of the moral tissues.”

Edith Wharton, circa 1895
Edith Wharton, circa 1895

Edith Wharton Biography

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 with disregard for social norms from a young age.

Growing up, Edith was enamored with learning. 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 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.

Edith Wharton, circa 1885
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 / Wikimedia Commons / Sanctuary, (1903) part II, ch. IV – Wikiquote / Wikipedia / Second Edith Wharton photograph – taken circa 1885 – National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, S/NPG.78.142