A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers. Part II.

This post is written by Rachel Unkovic, an aid worker, artist and oral historian. This is the second post in a serial, you can read the first post here.


Photograph of Edith Wharton, taken by E. F. Cooper, at Newport, Rhode Island. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University. Source: Wikimedia Commons

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers.

Part II

16.) Edith published The House of Mirth in 1905. Picture it: 1890s New York City. Lily Bart, 29 years old and beautiful, becomes embroiled in romantic scandal. She spirals into a tailspin, descending from New York City elite to the margins of society, where she dies, impoverished, in a delirium of drugs, suicidal, clutching an imaginary child to her breast—drowned by beauty and cruelty.


17.) The House of Mirth has been called “a vicious indictment of a morally corrupt upper class”. It was the world that Edith had been born into. Her rage flashed and scorched.


18.) The House of Mirth was very successful.


19.) Edith divorced her husband in 1913. She left for Europe to wash him off her skin.


20.) June 1914. World War I erupted. As other Americans fled, Edith stayed in Paris. She joined up, first as a funder, later as an organizer, with a group of aid workers. In August, they opened up a house where war-affected women could access food, work and cash.


21.) Towards Christmas, as refugees poured into the Paris, Edith and her friends arranged shelter—meals—clothing—and set up a bespoke employment agency.


22.) Edith made five trips to the front by car, driving through bombed-out villages, seeing broken bodies, going to the trenches and volunteering in the frontline field hospitals. Edith got used to artillery fire.


23.) Edith arranged concerts that provided work for refugee musicians. With the tens-of-thousands of dollars she raised, her organization hired refugee doctors and nurses to staff a tuberculosis hospital.


24.) On 14 July 1919, Edith stood beside her friends on a balcony on the Champs-Elysées and watched the victory parade.


25.) Edith finished writing The Age of Innocence in 1920. Picture it: 1870s New York City. Post-Civil War, pre-World War I. Countess Ellen Olenska, 30 years old and beautiful, has returned from Europe after scandalously separating herself from her abusive, repulsive, rich-as-fuck husband. In New York City, as is easy to do, she becomes embroiled in more romantic scandal. Ellen spirals—but just a little—and then she picks herself up, brushes herself off, and heads back to Europe, where she sets up a kickass single life in a Parisian apartment and entertains her artist friends.


26.) Some critics have labeled the book an “apology” for The House of Mirth.


To be continued…


One thought on “A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers. Part II.

  1. Pingback: A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers. Part III. | Missing in the Mission

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