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Born Edith Newbold Jones, to a wealthy New York family, Edith combined her insights into the privileged classes with her natural wit to write novels and short fiction which are notable for their humor and incisiveness.
In 1885, aged 23, she married Edward (Teddy) Robbins Wharton, who was twelve years her senior. They were divorced in 1913. For several at the end of her tumultous, unhappy marriage, she had an affair with William Morton Fullerton (1865-1952), an American-born bisexual man-about-town who worked as a journalist for the Times and juggled romances with Lord Ronald Gower, the Ranee of Sarawak, and Camille Chabbert, aka Ixo, an opera singer who was reported to be a mistress of the King of Portugal.
Between 1900 and 1938, Wharton wrote many novels, starting in 1905 with the publication of the House of Mirth, a story that attacked the aristocratic society of which she was a most prominent member. An admirer of European culture and architecture, Edith Wharton crossed the Atlantic 66 times during her life.
She was living on the very fashionable rue de Varenne in Paris, France when World War I began, and, using her many high level connections within the French government, she was allowed to travel extensively by motorcar to the front lines. In Paris, she worked for the Red Cross and with refugees, for which she was awarded the French Légion d'honneur (Legion of Honor). Following the War, she returned to the United States only one more time in her life.
Her best known work, The Age of Innocence, won her a Pulitzer Prize and was written in 1920. She spoke flawless French and many of her books were published in both French and English.
Wharton was friend and confidant of many gifted intellectuals of her time: Theodore Roosevelt, F Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway were all guests of hers at one time or another. She was also good friends with Henry James and Jean Cocteau.
In 2001, two of her books, House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence, were named to the list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century by the editorial board of the American Modern Library.