Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Edith Wharton - Beneath the Veneer

Having brilliantly tackled biographies of Virginia Woolf and Willa Cather, Oxford University professor Hermione Lee has just published the first-ever biography of American author and taste maker, Edith Wharton.

Lee's book takes an unprecedented look at Wharton, by examining her lifelong connection to Europe and revealing her as an unabashedly modern woman whose acute and insiders study of New York social life became novels like The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence.

Hitherto seen simply as a documentarian of Gilded Age life from within her own gilded cage, Wharton in Lee's book is presented as a rebel, a brave woman striking out at gender oppression and writing about ambition rather social graces, sex more than love, and money instead of wealth. A matter of semantics, but Lee's pulled off the blinders.

The author probes beyond the genteel gloss and discusses Wharton's travels, her homes, her writing, her work in war-torn Europe, her frustration in an unhappy and childless marriage, and a secret love affair. She, like Wharton, reveals the grain beneath the gilding.

Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee
Published by Chatto & Windus, February 2007

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