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Edith Wharton Paperback – April 8, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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's Reading Guide to Edith Wharton

Hermione Lee, about whose Virginia Woolf the Amazon.com reviewer wrote, "Biographies don't get much better than this," has turned for her next major subject to Edith Wharton. Wharton's classics, including The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence, and Ethan Frome, are known to many readers, but Lee has prepared exclusively for us a Reading Guide to Edith Wharton that goes beyond those familiar titles to unearth lesser-known gems among her remarkable stories and novels, from the story "After Holbein," "a masterpiece of ghoulish, chilling satire," to The Custom of the Country, her "most ruthless, powerful, and savage novel."

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Kate Reading's dulcet tones, buttery and tuneful, make her sound more like a Wharton character than an audiobook reader. As it turns out, this is a very good thing, for Reading (named a Voice of the Century by AudioFile magazine) is exceptionally gifted when it comes to maintaining a uniform tone and holding on to listeners' attention. She confidently steers listeners through Lee's life of the great American writer and member of East Coast high society, which studies Wharton's personal and professional lives in thorough detail. Reading is subtle, choosing to modulate her voice, carefully restricting it to a pleasant middle register. Listening to her reading is like hearing a long but pleasant anecdote from a well-trained, masterful storyteller.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 912 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (April 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375702873
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375702877
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,484 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I just finished Hermione Lee's biography, which took me roughly a month to finish (I usually don't spend more than a few days on a book.), and its girth occasionally hurt my back. (That's a joke...) I have not read other biographies Lee has written (though I do own "Virginia Woolf", and was impressed with Lee's insight of Woolf on the DVD of "The Hours"), so I can't compare, but I gather the Virginia Woolf biography is very good. I have read other biographies of Edith Wharton; R.W.B. Lewis', and Cynthia Griffin Woolf's excellent "A Feast of Words", and Lee's is an exhaustive reiteration of much that has come before, with some subtle additions and revisions of thought. I have a new vision of Wharton during her "Neurasthenic" period, which struck her early in marriage. She gardened, wrote and traveled extensively, whereas I had the impression she was bed-ridden and slightly invalid. The life force of Edith Wharton appears to have been astonishing and exhausting. Very few of us would pass her formidable "muster", and I understand completely why Henry James labeled her "The Angel of Devastation" (Disappointing discovery that James was virulently anti-suffrage).

The book is at times, dispassionately academic. It has moments, and at its best one has the sense that Lee is weaving, or knitting, a complete picture of who Edith Wharton might actually have been. Yes, there are some things we will never know, but I get the idea. Some chapters moved along briskly, other didn't (for me). The chapter called "Italian Backgrounds" is loaded with minute detail about those kinds of gardens and Wharton's interest in them (as you would guess from the title). I'm not a gardener, however, and found myself losing interest - there is A LOT of description of Italian Gardens. Illustrations would have helped (me).
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Format: Hardcover
At 880 pages, with illustrations,this weighty tome is in my opinion the best biography of Edith Wharton. Hermione Lee who also gave us "Virginia Woolf" [another wonderful biography] is dedicated to research and detail, and manages to thoroughly flesh out her subjects. Given the complex life and character of Edith Wharton, the task of dissecting her life and accomplishments seems like a herculean task that Ms Lee does excellently. We learn of Ms Wharton's accomplishments not only as a great writer, having authored novels that have tackled the delicate issues of human frailty and desires [Custom of the Country, House of Mirth, and Age of Innocence, among others], but also her talents in designing, gardening & her philanthropical pursuits. Ms Wharton was also a prolific traveler, and this biography truly showcases her many talents besides writing. We learn of Ms Wharton's early marriage to a much older man, a union that was not successful and led to a divorce many years later. We also discover Ms Wharton's late blooming as an author [she was almost 40] and her affair with an American journalist and close friendships [mainly with the opposite sex]. The biography also gives us insight into Wharton's inspiration for her writing [drawn heavily from events in her own life], and all in all, it is a laudable effort at giving us tremendous insight into the life of a talented and complicated author.
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Format: Hardcover
This massive, nearly 900 page biography of Edith Wharton will be considered the definitive account of her life. Ms. Lee performed extensive research to flesh out this writer of conventional social graces and of the inner emotional life (see "The Age of Innocence"). Of interested is the thwarted life of Edith Wharton, trapped in a loveless marriage and embarking upon a mid-life affair with a confused American.

A writer of short stories, poems and novels, she wrote of ghost stories, decorating, social satires of New York, and war correspondence from the Great War. Edith Wharton was a woman of many talents who will keep the reader entralled long after the biography ends.
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Format: Hardcover
I have read a small smattering of Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome. I HAVE read Hermione Lee's biographies of Willa Cather and Virginia Woolf. Her previous biographies were so enlightening that I immediately read all of Cather's works (some I reread) and Woolf's works (I had only read two of her works). This biography however, does not make me want to run out and read more Wharton because I got so drowned in her critiques of her writing that I found all these details overwhelming. Lee also includes details of daily living that become burdensome at times for the reader. Wharton was a prolific writer and her own life certainly would have made an interesting novel. When Lee sticks to the details of Wharton's life without delving into every written Wharton word and how each work is autobiographical, or compares to some event of her life, or doesn't compare, the reader will find Lee writes so well that you can't wait to find out what happens next. Unless I have gone brain dead, I don't recall this much discussion from Lee in her previous works on Woolf and Cather. The parallels she drew in those previous works to the authors' lives is what prompted me to read everything they wrote! I felt I understood Cather and Woolf after reading Lee's biographies, but I still don't understand Wharton. Maybe I understand her better than I did, but she still remains a mystery to me overall.

Lee does speculate on some matters, and maybe my problem is more with the subject of Wharton than what Lee wrote. Edith Wharton buried and hid so much of her life that it may never be known what made her tick.

I just wish I didn't have to spend so much time reading this book to find that out, as it's very lengthy, and "drowning" in details.
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