As one of the most accomplished American writers in the early decades of the twentieth century, Edith Wharton achieved critical recognition and popular acclaim. The Student Companion to Edith Wharton provides an introduction to Wharton's fiction for readers who may know her best as the author of Ethan Frome, inviting them to consider the broader range of her work. Beginning with Wharton's life and career, the discussion places her within the context of her times, focusing on how Wharton was shaped by and reacted to the culture around her. The chapters on Wharton's fiction address short stories, novellas, and novels. The comments on the short stories focus on some of the best known and most frequently anthologized of Wharton's tales. The chapter on novellas looks closely at two works written during different periods of Wharton's career, Madame de Treymes (1907) and The Old Maid (1924). The chapters on the novels treat The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, Summer, and The Age of Innocence.
Each chapter provides background material to assist the student and the general reader in understanding and interpreting Wharton's work. The biographical chapter provides an overview of Wharton's life, from her childhood in New York City to her final years in France. The chapter on her career traces Wharton's development as an author, her contributions to travel writing as well as to the short story and the novel, and her influence on contemporary and later writers. In examining the fiction itself, the chapters that follow feature close readings of texts that include