Books

The Reckoning

Edith Wharton

'If marriage was the slow life-long acquittal of a debt contracted in ignorance, then marriage was a crime against human nature.'

Two moving stories of love, loss, desire and divorce, from one of the great chroniclers of nineteenth-century New York life.

Introducing Little Black Classics: 80 books for Penguin's 80th birthday. Little Black Classics celebrate the huge range and diversity of Penguin Classics, with books from around the world and across many centuries. They take us from a balloon ride over Victorian London to a garden of blossom in Japan, from Tierra del Fuego to 16th-century California and the Russian steppe. Here are stories lyrical and savage; poems epic and intimate; essays satirical and inspirational; and ideas that have shaped the lives of millions.

Edith Wharton (1862-1937). Wharton's works available in Penguin Classics are Ethan Frome, The Age of Innocence, The Custom of the Country and The House of Mirth.

Ethan Frome

Edith Wharton

The Penguin English Library Edition of Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

'He seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface'

Ethan Frome works his unproductive farm and struggles to maintain a bearable existence with his difficult, suspicious and hypochondriac wife, Zeena. But when Zeena's vivacious cousin enters their household as a 'hired girl', Ethan finds himself obsessed with her and with the possibilities for happiness she comes to represent. In one of American fiction's finest and most intense narratives, Edith Wharton moves this ill-starred trio towards their tragic destinies.

The Penguin English Library - 100 editions of the best fiction in English, from the eighteenth century and the very first novels to the beginning of the First World War.

Three Novels of New York (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

Edith Wharton

Three beloved novels by Edith Wharton, in a couture-inspired Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition designed by a fashion illustrator for Alexander McQueen. This edition celebrates the 150th anniversary of Edith Wharton's birth in 2012.

The House of Mirth: Nineteen year old Lily Bart is in need of a rich husband to safeguard her place in the social elite. Unwilling to marry without both love and money, Lily becomes vulnerable to gossip. Wharton charts the course of Lily's life, providing a wider picture of a society in transition; a changing New York where old manners, morals and family attitudes are being replaced by the view that an individual is an expendable commodity.

The Custom of the Country: Mr and Mrs Spragg are hoping to forge an entrée into society and arrange a suitably ambitious match for their only daughter. Wharton's story of Undine Spragg affords us a detailed glimpse of the interior décor of upper-class America and its nouveau riche. Through a heroine who is as vain and spoiled as she is fascinating, Wharton conveys a vision of social behaviour that is both informed and disenchanted.

The Age of Innocence: When the Countess Ellen Olenska flees Europe and her brutish husband, her rebellious independence stirs the educated sensitivity of Newland Archer, already engaged to the Countess's cousin May Welland. As the drama unfolds, Edith Wharton's sharp ironic wit and Jamesian mastery of form create a disturbingly accurate picture of men and women caught in a society that denies humanity while desperately defending "civilisation".

The House of Mirth

Edith Wharton

The Penguin English Library Edition of The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

'It was characteristic of her that she always roused speculation, that her simplest acts seemed the result of far-reaching intentions'

A searing, shocking tale of women as consumer items in a man's world, The House of Mirth sees Lily Bart, beautiful and charming, living among the wealthy families of New York but reluctant to finally commit herself to a husband. In her search for freedom and the happiness she feels she deserves, Lily is ultimately ruined by scandal.
Edith Wharton's shattering novel created controversy on its publication in 1905 with its scathing portrayal of the world's wealthy and the prison that marriage can become.

The Penguin English Library - 100 editions of the best fiction in English, from the eighteenth century and the very first novels to the beginning of the First World War.

The House of Mirth

Edith Wharton

Lily Bart has no fortune, but she possesses everything else she needs to make an excellent marriage: beauty, intelligence, a love of luxury and an elegant skill in negotiating the hidden traps and false friends of New York's high society. But time and again Lily cannot bring herself to make the final decisive move: to abandon her sense of self and a chance of love for the final soulless leap into a mercenary union. Her time is running out, and degradation awaits. Edith Wharton's masterful novel is a tragedy of money, morality and missed opportunity.

Ethan Frome, Summer, Bunner Sisters

Edith Wharton

These brilliantly wrought, tragic novellas explore the repressed emotions and destructive passions of working-cass people far removed from the social milieu usually inhabited by Edith Wharton's characters.
Ethan Frome is one of Wharton's most famous works; it is a tightly constructed and almost unbearably heartbreaking story of forbidden love in a snowbound New England village. Summer, also set in rural New England, is often considered a companion to Ethan Frome - Wharton herself called it 'the hot Ethan' - in its portrayal of a young woman's sexual and social awakening. Bunner Sisters takes place in the narrow, dusty streets of late-nineteenth-century New York, where the constrained but peaceful lives of two spinster shopkeepers are shattered when they meet a man who becomes the unworthy focus of all their pent-up hopes.
All three of these novellas feature realistic and haunting characters as vivid as any Wharton ever conjured, and together they provide a superb introduction to the shorter fiction of one of America's greatest writers.

The Age of Innocence

Edith Wharton (and others)

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY LIONEL SHRIVER

Newland Archer and May Welland are the perfect couple. He is a wealthy young lawyer and she is a lovely and sweet-natured girl. All seems set for success until the arrival of May's unconventional cousin Ellen Olenska, who returns from Europe without her husband and proceeds to shake up polite New York society. To Newland, she is a breath of fresh air and a free spirit, but the bond that develops between them throws his values into confusion and threatens his relationship with May.

The Vintage Classics edition of The Age of Innocence is published to tie-in with the publication of the Vintage paperback of Hermione Lee's celebrated biography of Edith Wharton

The Age of Innocence

Edith Wharton

The return of the beautiful Countess Olenska into the rigidly conventional society of New York sends reverberations throughout the upper reaches of society.

Newland Archer, an eligible young man of the establishment is about to announce his engagement to May Welland, a pretty ingénue, when May's cousin, Countess Olenska, is introduced into their circle. The Countess brings with her an aura of European sophistication and a hint of scandal, having left her husband and claimed her independence.

Her sorrowful eyes, her tragic worldliness and her air of unapproachability attract the sensitive Newland and, almost against their will, a passionate bond develops between them. But Archer's life has no place for passion and, with society on the side of May and all she stands for, he finds himself drawn into a bitter conflict between love and duty.

The Custom of the Country

Edith Wharton (and others)

Edith Wharton's novels of manners seem to grow in stature as time passes. Here she draws a beautiful social climber, Undine Sprague, who is a monster of selfishness and honestly doesn't know it. Although the worlds she wants to conquer have vanished, Undine herself is amazingly recognizable. She marries well above herself twice and both times fails to recognize her husbands' strengths of character or the weakness of her own, and it is they, not she, who pay the price.

Ethan Frome

Edith Wharton (and others)

Set against the frozen waste of a harsh New England winter, Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome is a tale of despair, forbidden emotions, and sexual tensions, published with an introduction and notes by Elizabeth Ammons in Penguin Classics.

Ethan Frome works his unproductive farm and struggles to maintain a bearable existence with his difficult, suspicious, and hypochondriac wife, Zeenie. But when Zeenie's vivacious cousin enters their household as a 'hired girl', Ethan finds himself obsessed with her and with the possibilities for happiness she comes to represent. In one of American fiction's finest and most intense narratives, Edith Wharton moves this ill-starred trio toward their tragic destinies. Different in both tone and theme from Wharton's other works, Ethan Frome has become perhaps her most enduring and most widely read novel.

Edith Wharton (1862-1937), born Edith Newbold Jones, was a member of a distinguished New York family said to be the basis for the idiom 'keeping up with the Joneses'. During her life she published more than forty volumes, including novels, stories, verse, essays, travel books and memoirs; for years she published poetry and short stories in magazines, but the book that made Wharton famous was The House of Mirth (1905), which established her both as a writer of distinction and popular appeal. In 1920, Wharton became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature with her novel The Age of Innocence.

If you enjoyed Ethan Frome, you might like Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, also available in Penguin Classics.

The Reef

Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton's subtle variation on the theme of the eternal triangle features Anna Leath, a rich American widow living in France; her daughter's delightful governess, Sophy Viner; and the first love of Anna's youth, George Darrow, who has come back into her life. Hoping to be reunited with George, Anna finds the path of love does not run smooth. THE REEF first appeared in 1912 when Edith Wharton was just fifty and at the height of her powers as a writer. It is a beautifully written, highly characteristic and eminently readable novel by a writer whose popularity is increasing by the year.

The Age of Innocence

Edith Wharton (and others)

The return of the beautiful Countess Olenska into the rigidly conventional society of New York sends reverberations throughout the upper reaches of society.

Newland Archer, an eligible young man of the establishment is about to announce his engagement to May Welland, a pretty ingénue, when May's cousin, Countess Olenska, is introduced into their circle. The Countess brings with her an aura of European sophistication and a hint of scandal, having left her husband and claimed her independence.

Her sorrowful eyes, her tragic worldliness and her air of unapproachability attract the sensitive Newland and, almost against their will, a passionate bond develops between them. But Archer's life has no place for passion and, with society on the side of May and all she stands for, he finds himself drawn into a bitter conflict between love and duty.

The Custom Of The Country

Edith Wharton

THE CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY is probably Edith Wharton's most savage satire on the manners of late nineteenth-century America. It is the story of the exquisitely beautiful but brutally ambitious Undine Spragg who marries her way into the high aristocracy of Europe, abandoning several husbands along the way. This novel, which has scences of comedy and even farce, is a commentary on both certain aspects of feminisim and certain aspects of capitalism in Edith Wharton's time. The novel makes a fitting companion to THE AGE OF INNOCENCE and THE HOUSE OF MIRTH and shows Wharton to be one of the greatest American novelists.

The House of Mirth

Edith Wharton (and others)

A black comedy of manners about vast wealth and a woman who can define herself only through the perceptions of others.

The beautiful Lily Bart lives among the nouveaux riches of New York City – people whose millions were made in railroads, shipping, land speculation and banking. In this morally and aesthetically bankrupt world, Lily, age twenty-nine, seeks a husband who can satisfy her cravings for endless admiration and all the trappings of wealth. But her quest comes to a scandalous end when she is accused of being the mistress of a wealthy man. Exiled from her familiar world of artificial conventions, Lily finds life impossible.

Summer

Edith Wharton (and others)

A tale of forbidden sexual passion and thwarted dreams played out against the lush, summer backdrop of the Massachusetts Berkshires Edith Wharton called Summer her 'hot Ethan'. In their rural settings and their poor, uneducated protagonists, Summer (1916) and Ethan Frome represent a sharp departure from Wharton's familiar depictions of the urban upper class. Charity Royall lives unhappily with her hard-drinking adoptive father in an isolated village, until a visiting architect awakens her sexual passion and the hope for escape. Exploring Charity's relation to her father and her lover, Wharton delves into dark cultural territory: repressed sexuality, small-town prejudice, and, in subtle hints, incest.

The Age Of Innocence

Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton's novel reworks the eternal triangle of two women and a man in a strikingly original manner. When about to marry the beautiful and conventional May Welland, Newland Archer falls in love with her very unconventional cousin, the Countess Olenska. The consequent drama, set in New York during the 1870s, reveals terrifying chasms under the polished surface of upper-class society as the increasingly fraught Archer struggles with conflicting obligations and desires. The first woman to do so, Edith Wharton won the Pulitzer Prize for this dark comedy of manners which was immediately recognized as one of her greatest achievements.

Biography

Edith Newbold Jones (Edith Wharton) (1862-1937) was born in New York City during the American Civil War. She enjoyed a diverse and very successful career as interior and garden designer, short story writer and celebrated novelist, and was the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Wharton found inspiration for Ethan Frome's tragic denouement in an actual event in Lenox, Massachusetts, one of the victims of which she met personally.

The House of Mirth is also published in the Penguin English Library.