Wharton in the News: The Best Seller Who Hated Best Sellers by Sheila Liming

whartonmain1For all her successes, Edith Wharton made a habit of spurning the conditions of her own fortune. She became the first female novelist to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1921—for The Age of Innocence—only to wind up mocking the prize less than a decade later. In her novel Hudson River Bracketed (1928), she describes the thinly veiled “Pulsifer Prize” as a sham, the product of a “half-confessed background of wire-pulling and influencing.” By the time she was honored again by the Pulitzer committee—this time by proxy, for playwright Zoe Akins’ 1935 adaptation of one of her novellas, The Old Maid—Wharton had distanced herself from the prize and its milieu.

Her relationship with motion pictures was similarly detached, even as she received consistent financial benefit from the industry throughout the final decades of her life. In a 1926 letter to a friend, she comments, “I have always thought ‘The Age’ would make a splendid film”—which it did many years later, in 1993, in the hands of Martin Scorsese. But before that,it was made into a silent film by Warner Brothers in the 1920s, along with many of her other novels. Wharton’s sale of film rights to her 1928 novel The Children fetched her $25,000 (more than $350,000 in today’s dollars). She used the money to help maintain multiple French residences, even as she declined to enter a movie theater during her lifetime. Indeed, she remained totally uninterested in films, even those based on stories she had invented.

Read the rest at Lapham’s Quarterly, https://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/best-seller-who-hated-best-sellers

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