April 29, 2011

Marriage of Edith Wharton

On April 29, 1885, Edith Jones married Edward "Teddy" Wharton. She was 23 years old. After traveling together for a time, they settled in Lenox, Massachusetts at a home they named The Mount (pictured below). The extravagant mansion was designed based on principles discussed in The Decoration of Houses — the first book published with the byline Edith Wharton (co-authored with Ogden Codman).

The twelve years between her marriage and her book, according to biographer Hermione Lee, "is more obscure to us than her later years as a famous novelist." During those years, she met Henry James in Paris; though he initially ignored her, they later became good friends. The Whartons' marriage was apparently strained and Mrs. Wharton wrote tales reflecting the tensions of her married life. She was frequently unhealthy and suffered from exhaustion, while her husband became erratic and depressed. After proving her husband an adulterer, she divorced him in 1913. She fought, however, to keep using the name Edith Wharton.

Today, The Mount is a house museum open to the public. From the conclusion to The Decoration of Houses:

Modern civilization has been called a varnished barbarism: a definition that might well be applied to the superficial graces of much modern decoration. Only a return to architectural principles can raise the decoration of houses to the level of the past...

There is no absolute perfection, there is no communicable ideal; but much that is empiric, much that is confused and extravagant, will give way before the application of principles based on common sense and regulated by the laws of harmony and proportion.

*For more information, see Edith Wharton (2008) by Hermione Lee.

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