Born into a stifling upper-class social world, the little girl who became the famous author Edith Wharton was fascinated by stories from very early on. She wasn't poor, but she had much to overcome, especially a society hostile to women using their creativity in certain ways.
The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton: A Biography was a Junior Library Guild selection by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge. Aimed at young people, the photo-filled book taught me quite a bit. It's a strikingly elegant introduction to a celebrated woman writer from a time that seems very long ago.
When the urge to make up a story came, she [Edith] had to obey. If the urge came while she was playing with a nice child who had been invited to visit for the day, she would bolt from the room, find her mother, and announce, 'Momma, you must go and entertain that little girl for me. I've got to make up.'
Edith's first attempt at a novel at age 11 began like this:
"Oh, how do you do, Mrs. Brown?" said Mrs. Tompkins.
"If only I had known you were going to call I should have tidied up the drawing-room."
Permitting her mother to read her opening lines, Edith was "rewarded" with this comment: "Drawing-rooms are always tidy."
Discouraged, Edith switched from novel-writing to poetry for a while.
Much later, even during her frequent traveling and entertaining, writes Wooldridge, "Edith continued to reach for her lapboard and pen each morning.... She kept notebooks full of ideas for characters and plots." She corrected her work constantly, sometimes having her typist retype the same page 10 times.
The effort paid off: Edith Wharton is known for many novels, novellas, short stories, nonfiction books, essays and books of poetry. Many of her works have been adapted for films, including The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence, and Ethan Frome.
Copyright (c) by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie's Heel