Edith Wharton was a distinguished novelist, writer, and designer that was well acquainted with other successful literates of her time, including Theodore Roosevelt. She wrote over 40 books in 40 years and, as a female author, broke through many social oppressions in the literary world. Her twelfth novel, The Age of Innocence, won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was adapted to Broadway and film several times.
Written in 1920, The Age of Innocence was originally released in four parts through Pictorial Magazine. The novel tells a story of scandal, as an upper-class lawyer falls for his fiancé’s attractive cousin just months before his wedding day. This work was especially notable at the beginning of the “Roaring 20s,” as it questioned the morals and institutions of 1870’s New York elite society, without outright condemning them. It is said that the novel was made to be an apology for her earlier book, House of Mirth, which brutally, and perhaps unfairly judged those same institutions of the upper class. On the contrary, The Age of Innocence was well received and noted for its attention to detail and realistic portrayal of American upper class society.
One of the most remarkable notes on her success is that Wharton waited until she was 40 years old to publish her first novel. However, she wrote other books on architecture, gardens, interior design, and travel. The first edition book, The Decoration of Houses, a comprehensive look at the history and character of turn-of-the-century interior design, is beautifully illustrated with 56 plates. Considered a seminal and authoritative work on the subject, it moves from historical traditions to the distinctive style of contemporary taste. Its success led to the emergence of professional decorators working in the manner advocated by its authors.
Edith Wharton’s knowledge on design and architecture is not only commemorated in books. The Mount, designed in 1902, was Wharton’s first implementation of the architectural and design principles outlined in The Decoration of Houses. Wharton believed that design ought to be treated as an architectural process, honoring the principles of proportion, harmony, simplicity, and suitability. Today people still visit The Mount estate and gardens as an example of Edith’s life and work.
One of her greatest travel books was A Motor-Flight Through France, in which Wharton writes “The motor-car has restored the romance of travel”…
Freeing us from all the compulsions and contracts of the railway, the bondage to fixed hours and the beaten track, the approach to each town through the area of ugliness and desolation created by the railway itself, it has given us back the wonder, the adventure and the novelty which enlivened the way of our posting grandparents.
The first edition of A Motor-Flight Through France includes her beautifully detailed accounts of her time in France, complete with photos taken all over the country of great cathedrals and breathtaking shots of the countryside.
Other of Edith Wharton’s first edition works available include French Ways and their Meaning, Backward Glances: Reminiscences by Edith Wharton, and a finely bound set of books including, The Valley of Decision, The Fruit of the Tree, The Custom of the Country, Summer, Mother’s Recompence, Twilight Sleep, The Children, Xingu, and Here and Beyond.