By Hermione Lee
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780375400049, 880pp.)
Publication Date: April 10, 2007
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The definitive biography of one of America’s greatest writers, from the author of the acclaimed masterpiece Virginia Woolf.
Delving into heretofore untapped sources, Hermione Lee does away with the image of the snobbish bluestocking and gives us a new Edith Wharton—tough, startlingly modern, as brilliant and complex as her fiction.
Born in 1862, Wharton escaped the suffocating fate of the well-born female, traveled adventurously in Europe and eventually settled in France. After tentative beginnings, she developed a forceful literary professionalism and thrived in a luminous society that included Bernard Berenson, Aldous Huxley and most famously Henry James, who here emerges more as peer than as master. Wharton’s life was fed by nonliterary enthusiasms as well: her fabled houses and gardens, her heroic relief efforts during the Great War, the culture of the Old World, which she never tired of absorbing. Yet intimacy eluded her: unhappily married and childless, her one brush with passion came and went in midlife, an affair vividly, intimately recounted here.
With profound empathy and insight, Lee brilliantly interweaves Wharton’s life with the evolution of her writing, the full scope of which shows her far to be more daring than her stereotype as lapidarian chronicler of the Gilded Age. In its revelation of both the woman and the writer, Edith Wharton is a landmark biography.
Hermione Lee is the first woman Goldsmiths’ Professor of English Literature at Oxford University. Her books include a major biography of Virginia Woolf; studies of Elizabeth Bowen, Willa Cather and Philip Roth; and a collection of essays on life-writing, Virginia Woolf’s Nose. Also a well-known critic, Lee served as the Chair of Judges for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, 2006. She lives in Oxford and Yorkshire.