Edith Wharton, born on January 24, 1862, in New York City, NY, wrote about the corrupt society of New York’s elite, which she had been a part of throughout her life. Her parents were very prominent on the social scene. George Jones of “keeping up with the Joneses” and Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander introduced Wharton and her two brothers to the harsh, judgmental society of the New York elite. From her birth, gossip was spread about who Wharton’s real father was. It was believed that her mother cheated on her father with the family’s English tutor, who was Wharton’s real dad. The truth has not been proven, but Wharton believed the rumors. After the Civil War, her parents moved the family to Europe because it was safer there than it was in the states at the time. Throughout her childhood, Wharton’s family travelled between Europe and various places in the American Northeast. By age 18, Wharton had begun to publish poems in magazines and had become very prominent in society, like her parents. She fell in love with a man, Walter Berry; however, she became engaged to an older, wealthier Bostonian, Edward Wharton. In 1885, they were married. Wharton began by writing design books, like The Decoration of Houses, published in 1897. In 1902, her estate, The Mount, was finished in Lenox, MA, where The House of Mirth was written. Edith and her husband travelled back and forth between their estate in Lenox, MA, and Europe. Edward Wharton’s mental state was diminishing around 1908, the same time when Wharton began to have an affair with Morton Fullerton, whom she found to be an intellectual partner in contrast with her husband. They were divorced in 1913, two years after Wharton moved to Europe permanently. In 1920, The Age of Innocence was published, which is thought of as her best book and earned Wharton the Pulitzer prize in 1921; the first time it had ever been awarded to a woman. Throughout her years, she socialized with the most elite of the time, including Theodore Roosevelt and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Her long-time love, Walter Berry, never fully left her life until he died in 1927. When Wharton died of a stroke on August 11, 1937, she was buried next to Berry in the American Cemetery in Versailles, France.
Springer, Marlene. “Edith Newbold Jones Wharton.” American Women Writers. Vol. 4. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1982. Print. “Wharton, Edith (Newbold Jones) (1862-1937). “Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature. George B. Perkins, and Philip Leininger. Vol. 1. New York: Harper Collins, 1991. 1119. Literature Resource Center. 29 Jan. 2013.
A. Thesis: In The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth, Wharton illustrates society’s harsh influence on individuals through the characters Newland and Lily as they face a decision to stick to what society wants or to follow their hearts to ultimate happiness. Through these characters’ decisions, Wharton reveals the negative consequences of conforming to society rather than following one’s heart and passion.
B. Newland’s choice between innocence and passion
C. Lily’s struggle to live the life society wants for her
II. Newland Archer
A. His life and attitude before he meets Ellen; the life he thinks he wants with May
B. The shift in thought he has after meeting Ellen; the choice arises between society’s influence and his passion
C. Newland’s decision and the aftermath of his decision
D. How the title relates to the innocence of May versus the passion of Ellen
III. Lily Bart
A. Her desire to fit in to society’s mold and lack of personal decision making while still wanting independence
B. The decision she faces to conform to money or marry Selden
C. Aftermath of her decision and Selden moving on after her
D. Her demise and inability to live her dreams after she chooses to
E. How the title relates to Lily’s foolishness while trying to fit in to