In 1921 Edith Wharton sold the film rights to her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “THE AGE OF
INNOCENCE”, for $15,000. Seventy-two years later, Martin Scorsese has filmed Edith Wharton’s novel at a reputed cost of $30 million.
In 1920 Edith Wharton was paid $18,000 by the New York monthly “PICTORIAL REVIEW”, a popular journal of the day, for the rights to publish her next serial. She was at this time an established literary figure, a writer of travelogues, novels, novellas and short stories (particularly ghost stories) - even pornography and a manual on interior design The first instalment of what was to become “THE AGE OF
INNOCENCE” was published in the “PICTORIAL REVIEW” in July 1920 in between advertisements for soapflakes and lavatory cleaners.
What evidence can you detect in the novel that it was written as a serial story?
In writing “THE AGE OF INNOCENCE” Edith Wharton was following the advice given to her in
1902 by her friend, the novelist Henry James: “DO NEW YORK!” Though by 1920 Edith Wharton was a successful novelist she wrote “THE AGE OF INNOCENCE” rapidly, for money, since despite her own wealth she had developed tastes that exceeded her income.
There has been a great deal of interest in the works of Edith Wharton recently. Liam Neeson has starred in a film of “ETHAN FROME”, “THE CHILDREN”, starring Ben Kingsley, has been released on video, and various Wharton based projects are underway; “THE GLIMPSES OF THE MOON” at Warner
Bros, Wharton’s unfinished novel (recently completed by critic and biographer Marion Mainwaring) is being produced by 20th Century Fox and Michelle Pfeiffer is reported to be interested in ‘THE CUSTOM
OF THE COUNTRY” with TriStar. As one literary agent observed: “Anything by Wharton is gold right now". However, this is not the first time that Hollywood has discovered Edith Wharton. A six-reeler was made of ‘THE HOUSE OF MIRTH”, and a successful version of “THE GLIMPSES OF THE MOON” was shown in the 1920’s. Though Edith Wharton commented on stage adaptations of her work she never commented on the film versions of her novels and it is likely that she was an extremely infrequent visitor to the cinema.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Though she did not publish her first novel until she was forty, Edith Wharton had been a compulsive storyteller for most of her life, both revelling in the “ecstasy of making up” yet disturbed by the excessive demands of creativity: “The call came regularly and imperiously and I ... would struggle against it conscientiously.” She used to entertain her family by inventing stories which she pretended to read from books, sometimes, alas, upside-down. Her early stories were simple romances in which women’s dreams and ambitions were fulfilled by marriage. However, this apparently complacent view of marriage as the culmination of a woman’s aspiration is off-set by the savage reviews that the young Edith Wharton wrote to accompany her literary outpourings.
Even when she was an established writer, Edith Wharton tended to be rather furtive about her writing.
She referred to her work as “my secret garden”, rarely discussed her writings and wrote secretly in bed every morning, dropping pages onto the bedroom floor for her secretary to retrieve and then type. She would rise at noon in order to carry out the “public” duties expected of her as a perfect hostess. However, publicity photographs show Edith Wharton fully dressed and seated at a writing desk; like many of her characters, Wharton was unable to shed the notion that appearance was everything so she played up the correct image of a serious writer cherished by the general public.
SCORSESE AND WHARTON
At first “THE AGE OF INNOCENCE” may seem an unusual choice for Martin Scorsese to film.
Scorsese is clear about his suitability for filming a book that might have been seen as a more likely venture for the Merchant-Ivory team. Scorsese compares the Merchant-Ivory method of working to the
“old studio system, where