The Atlantic magazine neatly bookended Edith Wharton’s writing life. It was in the pages of that prestigious journal that, in 1880, her first poems appeared in print. In 1933, four years before her death, that same journal published an article entitled “Confession of a Novelist” in which Wharton looked back over her prolific writing career and tried to describe to her readers the elusive point of inspiration, “that strange moment when the vaguely adumbrated characters whose adventures one is preparing to record are suddenly there, themselves, in the flesh, in possession of one, and in command of one’s voice and hand?”
In the closing years of her life, she had begun to wonder about her work, whether she was nothing more than a writer from the Dark Ages who would pass from the scene and be quickly replaced by the newer literary set. “I feel so sure that [my work] is either nothing, or far more than they know,” she wrote to an old friend, “And I wonder, a little desolately, which?” (The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton, pp. 137-38)
It was true that her later novels and stories failed to find the readership she once commanded. But in this article, the confidence she feels as a writer and her passionate joy in the act of telling a story are undiminished.
It’s an article worth reading…a glimpse into the creative mind of one of the most intelligent writers of the 20th century.
The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton, author of Ethan Frome, The House of Mirth, and other acclaimed novels, was born into a wealthy New York City family during the Gilded Age. In fact, she was a Jones of “keeping up with the Joneses” fame. This anecdote opens Woodridge’s biography of an astonishing life. Beginning in childhood, Edith found ways to escape from society’s and her family’s expectations and follow an unconventional, creative path. Unhappily married and eventually divorced, she surrounded herself with the cultural creatives of her day, mostly male friends. To escape the obligations of New York City high society, she spent much of her life in Paris and was recognized by the French government for her work establishing four charities during World War I. Her literary and personal life, her witty and incisive correspondence, her fondness for automobiles and small dogs–all are detailed in this vibrant account of a woman well ahead of her time. Includes photographs, a bibliography, source notes, and an index.
Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge has written and published 5 non-fiction picture books for children, as well as articles and stories for Highlights for Children and Cricket. Her most recent book entitled Just Fine the Way They Are (Caulkins Creek/Boyd Mills Press) tells the story of how dirt roads turned into our present day interstate system.
“Any dreamy or bookish girl who once loved ‘Harriet the Spy’ should immediately take up this lively new biography…the author brings to life Wharton’s joy, consuming energy and ability to turn adversity into fuel and hunger… I like to picture girls lying on the beach reading this appealing book and receiving its secret message: stop i-chatting and posting on people’s walls — it’s time to write your first novel!” – Katie Roiphe, New York Times Book Review, August 15, 2010