Edith Wharton - Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World - Ann Shen

Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World - Ann Shen (2016)

Edith Wharton

Author and interior designer Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was born into such an established, old-money New York family that legend has it the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” originally referred to the family of her father, George Frederic Jones. Educated privately by governesses and having toured through Europe for most of her young life, Wharton resisted the traditional female roles of the time: wife and mother. She had a tenuous relationship with a controlling mother—her mom forbade her to read novels until she was married, so Edith would sneak books from her father’s library. Wharton started writing poetry and fiction, including a novella, at the age of eleven. Her first published work appeared when she was fifteen, but it was printed under the name of her father’s friend because her family believed that ladies’ names should appear in newspapers only for birth, marriage, and death announcements.

Wharton married at twenty-three and moved to a country house in the Berkshires named The Mount. There she eschewed the traditional duties of a Victorian wife, instead designing the interior and the landscaping of the grounds, and then publishing her first book, The Decoration of Houses, at the age of thirty-five. With it, Wharton invented the genre of interior design books. She didn’t publish her first literary novel until age forty; she went on to produce fifteen more novels, seven novellas, and eighty-five short stories in addition to books of poetry, design, travel, and literary and cultural critique. Her works, known for their dramatic irony, were nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature three times, and at the age of fifty-eight Wharton became the first woman ever to win the Pulitzer Prize, for her novel The Age of Innocence. Later in her life, Wharton moved to Paris and became an ardent supporter of the French cause during World War I, earning her a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, the country’s highest award.

First woman to win a Pulitzer Prize