Edith Newbold Jones Wharton

Credits / Citations

 

b. New York City, NY, January 23 or 24, 1862 (some sources say 1861)

 

d. St. Brice-sous Forêt, France,  August 11, 1937

 

American novelist, poet and short story writer.  Considered the most celebrated American female author of her times.  More than 50 books to her credit, including travel books, historical novels and criticism.

 

First woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize (1921) for a novel.

 

Edith "Pussy" Wharton was born into a wealthy New York family.  Her father George Frederic Jones, a gentleman of leisure, and mother Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander Jones become summer residents in Newport around 1850.  Edith spent most of her childhood in New York City (winters) and Newport (summers). 

 

The Jones’ long time summer residence, known as Pencraig, was built in early 1860s.  Edith lived here prior to family move to Europe due to economic depression at the end of Civil War. They resided in Europe from November 1866 to June 1872.  Family returned to Newport for summer season of 1872. 

 

Edith’s early Newport days appear to be happy ones, her later days in Newport differ.  As a child she enjoyed riding her pony, playing on the family property that gently sloped to Newport Harbor, and swimming and fishing off the dock. 

 

At the turn of the 20th century, Jones’ property is owned by Sidney Webster. Then spelled Pencraig, now Pen-Craig, the main house no longer exists.  The property has been subdivided into three homes, represented by #99 - #101 - #103 Harrison Avenue. 

 

In the summer of 1880, Edith meets Henry Leyden Stevens (b. 1859) in Newport.  He was the son of Marietta Reed, who had married the wealthy Paran Stevens. Henry was known as a sporting enthusiast.  His family estate was located on what is now Bellevue Shopping Center. 


A romance developed between Edith and Henry with speculation that an engagement would be imminent.  After much society talk, it finally happened two years later and was reported by the Newport Mercury on August 19, 1882: "The engagement of Mr. Harry Stevens, only son of Mrs. Paran Stevens,  to Miss Edith, daughter of the late George F. Jones of New York, is announced." 


By October the engagement was off.  It has been suggested that Henry’s mother, a society matron, was responsible for the abrupt end due to her social concerns and financial interests.  As the story goes, when Henry turned twenty-five years of age or married, his father’s $1.25 million estate would come into his possession.  His mother needed to keep the monies under her control - for her own benefit.  This incident may have haunted Edith for some time, she seemed shaken by it. 


In time, Edith meets and marries a friend of her brother Harry who had visited Pencraig many times.  Married  Edward "Teddy" Wharton on April 29, 1885; divorced in 1913. 

 

During the first three months of marriage, they lived with her mother, either in the main house or a small cottage on the grounds, before moving across the street to the other family-owned house in the late summer of 1885.  From June to February they live in Newport, the remainder of year in Europe.  Henry Stevens died that summer (1885). 

 

After being married, Edith realized the social duties/obligations of Newport bored her.  "Teddy" demonstrated social ineptitude.  One incident that raised social eyebrows - late for a luncheon engagement, he hailed and accepted a ride in butcher cart up Bellevue Avenue. 


She spent much time in her garden at the house known as "Pencraig Cottage" or "Penn Craig Cottage."  The couple lived here until 1893.  This house, eventually the Colonel Hoppin residence "Auton House," still stands. The name has been changed to Quail Tree House, #100 Harrison Avenue. 


In March of 1893, Whartons purchased house for $80,000.  Some have suggested Edith chose a location far enough from her mother, however, still in Newport.  This house is known as "Land’s End."   Edith described it: "the outside of the house was incurably ugly, but we helped it to a certain dignity..."  Almost immediately work commenced.  Ogden Codman, Jr., was brought in to supervise the alteration, interior decoration and landscape design. 


The incorporated ideas of this house were the basis for the book The Decoration of Houses published in 1897.  Written by Wharton in collaboration with Codman, she earned her first royalty check. 


Edith grew tired of Newport and the dampness of the air here.  At the turn of the 20th century, "Land’s End" was sold.  The Whartons moved to Lenox, MA, where their home "The Mount" was built.  Afterwards, Edith visited Newport occasionally. "Land’s End" still stands today at the southeast end of Ledge Road. 

 

Member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, received Gold Medal of the institute. Spends latter years in Europe, good friend of Henry James [q.v.]. Returned to U.S. only once to receive an honorary doctorate from Yale University in 1923 - the first woman to receive that honor. 

 

EDITH WHARTON:  PUBLISHED REFERENCES TO NEWPORT

     Verses.  Newport, R.I., C.E. Hammett, Jr., 1878.  Unsigned, privately  published, it appeared just before Christmas.  A book of her poems and her first published work, Edith was 16 years old. 

     "The Twilight of the God," a short play in her The Greater Inclination.  New York: Scribner, 1899.  The setting is Newport. 

     The Age of Innocence.  New York, London, Appleton: 1920.  Her most famous novel, some consider it Wharton's her best work.  Awarded Pulitzer Prize in 1921.

      A Backward Glance.  New York, London, Appleton: Century, 1934. 

     Her autobiography. 

 

Member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, received Gold Medal of the institute. Spends latter years in Europe, good friend of Henry James [q.v.]. Returned to U.S. only once to receive an honorary doctorate from Yale University in 1923 - the first woman to receive that honor.  

 

Bibliography

"Death of George F. Jones," Newport Mercury, 18 March 1882. 

 

"The Summer Season," Newport Mercury, 19 August 1882. 

 

"Late Edith Wharton Well-Known Here," Newport Daily News, 13 August 1937. 

 

Corcoran, Marlena G. "Edith Wharton and Her Newport Years," Providence Journal, 3 September 1992. 

 

Auchincloss, Louis.  Edith Wharton: A Woman in Her Time.  New York: Viking Press, 1971. 

 

Auchincloss, Louis.  "Wharton, Edith Newbold Jones" in  Notable American Women 1607-1950.  Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press-Harvard University Press, 1971. 3:570-573.

 

Bell, Millicent. Edith Wharton & Henry James: The Story of Their Friendship. New York: George Braziller, 1965. 

 

Benstock, Shari. No Gifts From Chance: A Biography of Edith Wharton. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1994. 

 

Champlin, Richard L. "Colonel Hoppin’s Newport," Newport History: Bulletin of the Newport Historical Society. Newport: Newport Historical Society. vol. 59 part 1 no. 201 (Winter 1986): 32. 

 

Dwight, Eleanor. Edith Wharton: An Extraordinary Life. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1994. 

 

Davis, Lavinia. A Bibliography of the Writings of Edith Wharton. Portland, ME: Southworth Press, 1933. 

 

Erlich, Gloria C. The Sexual Education of Edith Wharton. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992. 

 

Goodman, Susan.  Edith Wharton’s Women: Friends & Rivals. Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1990. 

 

"Henry James, Edith Wharton and Newport."  An Address Delivered by Leo Edel at the Exhibition Opening held at Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Newport, Rhode Island,  July and August 1966. 

 

Hopkins, G.M.  Atlas of the City of Newport, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, 1883. Plate 22. 

 

Hopkins, G.M.  City Atlas of Newport, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, 1876. Plate V. 

 

Jordy, William H., and Monkhouse, Christopher P.  Buildings on Paper: Rhode Island Architectural Drawings 1825-1945. Brown University, Rhode Island Historical Society, Rhode Island School of Design: 1981. 50,51. 

 

Kellogg, Grace. The Two Lives of Edith Wharton. New York: Appleton-Century, 1965. 

 

Lewis, R.W.B.  Edith Wharton: A Biography.  New York: Harper & Row, 1975. 

 

La France, Curtis. "Literate Travelers: Edith Wharton and Henry James on Tour in France," Newport History: Bulletin of the Newport Historical Society. Newport: Newport Historical Society. vol. 61 part 3 no. 211 (Summer 1988): 76-94. 

 

Marshall, Scott. The Mount Home of Edith Wharton: A Historic Structure Report. Lenox, MA: Edith Wharton Restoration, Inc., 1997. 

 

Metcalf, Pauline C., ed.  Ogden Codman and the Decoration of Houses. Boston: David R. Godine, 1988. 

 

National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, vol. 14 New York: James T. White & Company, 1910, 80,81.

 

Newport City Directory 1856/57 - 1901. 

 

Phelps, Harriet Jackson. Newport in Flower. Newport: Preservation Society of Newport County, 1979. 71,138. 

 

Springer, Marlene.  "Edith Newbold Jones Wharton" in American Women Writers. vol. 4. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1982, 368-374. 

 

Trosky, Susan M., ed.  Contemporary Authors. vol. 132 Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1991, 447-452. 

 

Wharton, Edith. A Backward Glance. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1933. 

 

Wharton, Edith and Ogden Codman, Jr.  The Decoration of Houses. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1897.  

 

 

Credits:

Researcher/Writer: Brian Stinson

Project Editors: Lynda Bronaugh, Jennifer K. Caswell, Christian-Albrecht Gollub, Brian Stinson

Funded by the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities

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