The House of Mirth

Wharton, Edith Newbold Jones

Edith Newbold Jones Wharton, 1862–1937, American novelist, b. New York City, noted for her subtle, ironic, and superbly crafted fictional studies of New York society at the turn of the 20th cent. The daughter of a socially elect family, she was educated privately in New York and in Europe. In 1885 she married Edward Wharton, a Boston banker; after the first few years of marriage Edward Wharton became mentally ill, and the burden of caring for him fell upon his wife. Finally, in 1913, after she had settled permanently in France, Edith Wharton terminated the marriage by divorce.

Her early stories and tales were collected in The Greater Inclination (1899), Crucial Instances (1901), and The Descent of Man (1904); somewhat narrow in scope, they nevertheless show the unity of mood and the lucid, polished prose style of her more mature works. Much of her writing bears a resemblance to the fiction of Henry James, who was her close friend. However, the similarities are superficial, and in her best and most characteristic novels—The House of Mirth (1905) and The Age of Innocence (1920; Pulitzer Prize)—she asserts herself as a distinctive artist. Recreating the atmosphere of the unadventurous, ceremonious upper-class society of New York, she depicts in these and other works the cruelty of social convention, the changing fashions in morality, and the conflicts that arise between money values and moral values.

In the novella Ethan Frome (1911)—one of her best-known, most successful, and least characteristic works—Wharton evokes the tragic fate of three people against the stark background of rural New England. Among her many other novels are The Valley of Decision (1902), a historical novel of 18th-century Italy; The Custom of the Country (1913); Hudson River Bracketed (1929) and its sequel, The Gods Arrive (1932); and an unfinished work, The Buccaneers (1938). Collections of her short stories include Xingu and Other Stories (1916), Certain People (1930), and Ghosts (1937). Wharton also wrote travel books (e.g., Italian Backgrounds, 1905), books on interior design and architecture (e.g., The Decoration of Houses, 1897; Italian Villas and Their Gardens, 1904), literary criticism, and poetry. In 1915 she was awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor by the French government for her services during World War I.

Bibliography

See her collected stories (2 vol., 2001); her autobiography, A Backward Glance (1934, repr. 1998); her letters, ed. by R. W. B. Lewis (1988); biographies by L. Auchincloss (1971), R. W. B. Lewis (1975, repr. 1985), S. Benstock (1994), E. Dwight (1994), and H. Lee (2007); studies by M. B. McDowell (1976, repr. 1991), C. G. Wolff (1977, repr. 1995), E. Ammons (1980), G. Walton (rev. ed. 1982), G. S. Rahi (1983), D. Holbrook (1991), B. A. White (1991), K. A. Fedorko (1995), C. J. Singley (1995), J. Dyman (1996), J. Beer (1997), S. B. Wright (1997), A. R. Tintner (1999), and H. Hoeller (2000).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The House of Mirth
Edith Wharton; Martha Banta.
Oxford University Press, 1999
Student Companion to Edith Wharton
Melissa Mcfarland Pennell.
Greenwood Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "The House of Mirth (1905)"
Edith Wharton's Letters from the Underworld: Fictions of Women and Writing
Candace Waid.
University of North Carolina Press, 1991
Librarian’s tip: Chap. One "Women and Letters (The House of Mirth)"
Interiors and the Interior Life in Edith Wharton's 'The House of Mirth.'
Clubbe, John.
Studies in the Novel, Vol. 28, No. 4, Winter 1996
Lamarckism and the Construction of Transcendence in the House of Mirth
Kim, Sharon.
Studies in the Novel, Vol. 38, No. 2, Summer 2006
'The House of Mirth' and Edith Wharton's "Beyond!"
Gabler-Hover, Janet; Plate, Kathleen.
Philological Quarterly, Vol. 72, No. 3, Summer 1993
The Therapeutic Narrative: Fictional Relationships and the Process of Psychological Change
Barbara Almond; Richard Almond.
Praeger Publishers, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "The House of Mirth (Edith Wharton): Tragedy - The Failure of a Relationship to Transform"
Aesthetics and Gender in American Literature: Portraits of the Woman Artist
Deborah Barker.
Bucknell University Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of The House of Mirth begins on p. 142
The Naturalism of Edith Wharton's 'House of Mirth.'
Pizer, Donald.
Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 41, No. 2, Summer 1995
"Queer Myself for Good and All": The House of Mirth and the Fictions of Lily's Whiteness
Harrison-Kahan, Lori.
Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, Vol. 21, No. 1, January 2004
Female Doubling: The Other Lily Bart in Edith Wharton's 'The House of Mirth.'
Sapora, Carol Baker.
Papers on Language & Literature, Vol. 29, No. 4, Fall 1993
Search for more books and articles on The House of Mirth