Edith Wharton's Renaissance

By Shaw-Eagle, Joanna | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 18, 1998 | Go to article overview

Edith Wharton's Renaissance


Shaw-Eagle, Joanna, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


There's no accounting for swings in taste. Consider Edith Wharton, in 1921 the first American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Enormously popular in her day, her writings had fallen out of fashion when R.W.B. Lewis began researching his biography of her in the 1960s.

Now, there's an Edith Wharton renaissance, of which the exhibition "Edith Wharton's World: Portraits of People and Places" at the National Portrait Gallery is an important expression. Through this showing of some 100 paintings, miniatures, manuscripts and memorabilia, the visitor - for one more week - can see how Wharton arrived at her literary statement: the entrapment of the individual by social mores, especially in fin-de-siecle New York and Europe.

This revival of interest in turn-of-the-century authors who wrote of their times is not limited to Wharton.

Henry James (1843-1916), as well as Wharton (1862-1937) and Jane Austen (1775-1817), have recently been re-examined, especially with popular films and television productions of their works: James with the current movies "Wings of the Dove" and "Washington Square," Austen with the films "Sense and Sensibility," "Emma" and "Persuasion," and Wharton with "Ethan Frome" and "The Age of Innocence." These films didn't break any records at the box office, but they show the continuing interest.

The theme of society's stifling of the individual, especially women, may seem a far cry from the preoccupations of the "me generation," but it's been surprisingly popular. It's a thesis that rings loudly in these films, but not in this too-diffuse exhibition.

For while the exhibit includes handsome John Singer Sargent's portraits of Wharton's contemporaries and friends, a stylish silk gown worn by her, a handwritten poem to her lover Morton Fullerton and photographs of Wharton and her many lavish residences, the bite of her life and message doesn't quite come through.

* * *

The exhibit opens with Edward Harrison May's 1881 portrait of Wharton, "Edith Jones at nineteen." Born Edith Jones, the daughter of socialites George and Lucretia Jones, in New York in 1862, little Edith was raised in both Europe and New York.

Her parents, whose portraits are included in the exhibit, were typical of the society against which she eventually rebelled. With inherited wealth, father George could pursue his love of art and history and mother Lucretia her social climbing. Wharton educated herself in her father's library.

In her memoirs, "A Backward Glance," Wharton recalled how, at age 11, she showed her mother the beginnings of a novel, which started with, " `Oh, how do you do, Mrs. Brown?' said Mrs. Tompkins. `If only I had known you were going to call I should have tidied up the drawing room.' Her mother replied with the icy comment, `Drawing rooms are always tidy.' "

Photographs, portraits, calling cards, sculptures, manuscript notebooks and first publications show her early, upper-class life.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Edith Wharton's Renaissance
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.