American author Edith Wharton is distinguished for her stories and ironic novels about early-twentieth-century, upper-class Americans and Europeans. Although Ethan Frome, a stark New England tragedy, is probably her best-known work, she earned recognition and popularity for her "society novels," in which she analyzed the changing scene of fashionable American life in contrast to that of Old Europe.
Wharton's literary talent was epitomized in her novel The Age of Innocence, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize, and which was made into a film in 1993. Other major works of hers include The House of Mirth, The Reef, and The Custom of the Country. She published more than forty volumes, including novels, short stories, poems, essays, travel books, and memoirs.
Born Edith Newbold Jones into a wealthy and socially prominent New York family in 1862, she was educated privately by European governesses both in the United States and abroad. In 1885, Edith reluctantly married Edward Wharton, a Boston banker, who was twelve years her senior. The marriage ended in divorce twenty-eight years later.
Wharton spent long periods of time in Europe and settled in France from 1910 until her death. Her familiarity with continental languages and European settings influenced many of her works. She became a literary hostess to young writers, including Henry James, at her Paris apartment and her garden home in the south of France. During World War I, she was a war correspondent, ran a workroom for unemployed but skilled woman workers, and took charge of 600 Belgian child refugees who had to leave their orphanage at the time of the German advance.
Wharton was also active in fund-raising activities and participated in the production of an illustrated anthology of war writings by prominent authors and artists of the period. The French government awarded her the Cross of the Legion of Honor in 1915. Wharton died in 1937.