Category Archives: Wharton in the News

Newly Translated and Previously Unpublished Edith Wharton Lecture at the Times Literary Supplement


Newly published lecture “France and Its Allies at War: The Witnesses Speak” translated by Virginia Ricard, Wharton scholar and an editor of Wharton’s translations in The Complete Works of Edith Wharton (Oxford University Press).

Read an interview with Virginia Ricard about this piece next week at the Complete Works of Edith Wharton site:

On February 8, 1918, in a series called “France and Its Allies at War: The Witnesses Speak”, Edith Wharton gave a lecture in French to an audience of about 400. Why had the United States entered the war with such enthusiasm? How could Americans, who were only interested in money-making, be ready to fight? The lecture, which appears here for the first time in English and in edited form, was an attempt to answer these questions. It reveals Wharton’s interest in the early American settlers’ lasting contribution to democracy, and displays her wide – and generally unsuspected – knowledge of American history.

Virginia Ricard

There is a profound difference, a funda­mental difference, between the French and the Americans: a difference of language, far greater than that which exists between races of Latin origin, whose languages draw on a common linguistic fund. When an Italian or a Spaniard needs to translate his ideas into your language, he finds an equivalent, or even a synonym, far more easily than we do. For the person of purely Anglo-Saxon origin, there is, apart from the difficulty of pronunciation, that of finding exact equivalents in French for her American thoughts. If I call your attention to this obstacle, it is not merely to beg your indulgence. Rather, it is because I was invited to speak to you of my country and one of the most delicate questions concerning the relations between our two peoples is precisely the problem caused by the difference between our languages. If the United States and France were near neighbours, this obstacle would be less troublesome, but we are obliged to converse through the intermediary of the press and government statements. Each time I see the translation of a speech or an official American Government statement in a French newspaper I fear a misunderstanding.

(Read the rest at the Times Literary Supplement).



Wharton in the News: Play “Shadow of a Doubt” in Washington, D. C.

This is definitely not Edith Wharton’s only play, but here’s the information for the Shadow of a Doubt staged reading in Washington on November 13.

“The Shadow of a Doubt.” Edith Wharton’s only play gets a free staged reading as part of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s “Re:Discovery” series. Nov. 13 at the Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th St. NW. Free. Call 202-547-1122 or visit


iBerkshires: Unpublished Edith Wharton Play Discovered by Scholars

Unpublished Edith Wharton Play Discovered by Scholars

LENOX, Mass. — Two scholars have made a new archival discovery: a previously unknown, original, full-length play by Edith Wharton called “The Shadow of a Doubt.”

The location of the discovery at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin was unexpected. Wharton scholars have been traveling to the Ransom Center for more than three decades to research Wharton’s papers. The source of their interest, however, was the author’s correspondence to her lover, Morton Fullerton. What scholars missed was hidden, in plain sight, in the center’s Playscripts and Promptbooks Collection (Performing Arts): two typescript copies of “The Shadow of a Doubt” by Edith Wharton.

The Edith Wharton Review, published by Penn State University Press, have published this finding, by Laura Rattray, a reader in American literature at the University of Glasgow, and Mary Chinery, a professor of English at Georgian Court University in New Jersey, in a journal article titled “The Shadow of a Doubt: A Play in Three Acts by Edith Wharton.” The article includes the play in its entirety.

The play, set in England, includes Wharton’s signature social realism and use of dramatic irony and wit to satirize social privilege and affluence. The play does take a decidedly dark and controversial turn into a world of extortion, mistrust, deception, and the revelation of an act claimed alternately as euthanasia and as murder.

Rattray and Chinery have been able to establish that “The Shadow of a Doubt” was not only completed, but in production by early 1901 with theatrical impresario Charles Frohman, and with Elsie de Wolfe in the leading role. For reasons not yet known, the production was abandoned.

More at

NY Times: Unknown Edith Wharton Play Surfaces

Unknown Edith Wharton Play Surfaces

In 2009, a cache of letters from the young Edith Wharton to her governess caused a stir when they turned up at auction. Now, an archive in Texas has yielded another startling Wharton discovery: an entirely unknown play.

“The Shadow of a Doubt,” Wharton’s only known finished play and the first full work by her to surface in 25 years, was set to be staged in New York in early 1901, before the production was abandoned for unknown reasons and forgotten. It survived in two typescripts held at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, where it was discovered by Laura Rattray of the University of Glasgow and Mary Chinery of Georgian Court University in New Jersey. Ms. Rattray and Ms. Chinery unveiled their discovery in the recent issue of The Edith Wharton Review.

The three-act play, about a nurse who marries a wealthy man, went unmentioned in Wharton’s 1934 memoir, “A Backward Glance,” as well as in the major biographies of her. The two researchers tracked it down after noticing a cryptic reference to its title in a 1901 letter.

“Well before the publication of her first novel, we can now ascertain that Wharton was establishing herself as a playwright, deeply engaged in both the creative and business aspects of the theater,” Ms. Rattray said in a news release.

(Read the rest at

Smithsonian: Scholars Rediscover Forgotten Edith Wharton Play

“The Shadow of a Doubt” had been overshadowed by over 100 years of history


Before Edith Wharton was a novelist, she tried her hand at playwriting. But whatever happened to her little-known play, “The Shadow of a Doubt”? It almost disappeared without leaving a shadow at all—the play spent over a century hiding in plain sight. Now, The New Yorker’s Rebecca Mead reports, it’s finally been published thanks to two Wharton scholars.

“The Shadow of a Doubt” has a sad history. The play, which was produced in 1901 (before Wharton had even published her first novel), was never given a theatrical run.

Perhaps understandably, Wharton didn’t even mention it in her own autobiography.​ But she didn’t toss the play, either—it remained in her personal papers, Mead reports. After her death, those documents ended up at multiple research libraries around the United States. One of those libraries is the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin—which saved two typescripts of the play in a larger collection of scripts and promptbooks of authors like Lillian Hellman and Jean Cocteau.

Now, the first typescript has been published by Laura Rattray and Mary Chinery in the Edith Wharton Review. The scholars tracked it down after finding an obscure reference the play in a newspaper. The play, write Rattray and Chinery, is the only original, full-length Wharton play that exists.

The story follows a nurse named Kate Derwent whose marriage runs into trouble when her husband learns that she helped his injured first wife die. The consequences of Derwent’s actions not only threaten her social standing—they threaten a once loving relationship when her husband refused to believe that she acted out of pity instead of malice. The play’s dramatic ending is pure Wharton, whose heroine chooses defiant loneliness rather than the love of an unworthy man.

Wharton wrote about euthanasia again in her 1907 novel The Fruit of the Tree, in which a similar ethical dilemma serves as a major plot point. As Mead notes, the play shows that Wharton grappled with questions of assisted suicide and romantic autonomy long before her first novels were written.

Read more:

The Guardian: Unseen Edith Wharton play found hidden in Texas archive

Unseen Edith Wharton play found hidden in Texas archive

Two scholars unearth 1901 work called The Shadow of a Doubt, written before author found fame with The Age of Innocence

Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton was establishing herself as a playwright before becoming a novelist. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Long before achieving literary fame with The Age of Innocence, the novelist Edith Wharton wrote a number of plays that never made it to the stage.

Two scholars have discovered one of them, a previously unknown work dating back to 1901, among a bunch of papers in an archive in Austin, Texas.

About 80 years after Wharton’s death, researchers have found a play titled The Shadow of a Doubt in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. Dr Laura Rattray and Prof Mary Chinery, from Glasgow University and Georgian Court University respectively, found two typescript copies of the play and have also established that it was in production by early 1901 with theatre producer Charles Frohman and Elsie de Wolfe in the leading role.

“The archives in the United States and Europe with huge holdings on this most transatlantic of authors have been extensively researched,” Rattray said. “After all this time, nobody thought there were long, full scale, completed, original, professional works by Wharton still out there that we didn’t know about. But evidently there are. In 2017, Edith Wharton continues to surprise.”

Title page of Edith Wharton’s typescript draft of The Shadow of a Doubt, 1901.
Title page of Edith Wharton’s typescript draft of The Shadow of a Doubt, 1901. Photograph: Courtesy Harry Ransom Center

Set in England, The Shadow of a Doubt centres on the character Kate Derwent, a former nurse married to a gentleman.

Opening on a scene of social privilege and affluence studded with sharp one-liners, the play takes a dark and controversial turn into a world of extortion, mistrust, deception and assisted dying.

Glasgow University said the discovery had generated excitement among scholars. Before Chinery came across an old news item about the 1901 production and its eventual postponement, Wharton scholars past and present had no knowledge of the play.

Character list for Edith Wharton’s typescript draft
Character list for Edith Wharton’s typescript draft

It is not referenced in major Wharton biographies, and other plays are all unfinished manuscripts and typescripts held in the archives at Yale University.

Rattray said: “The late 19th and early years of the 20th century cover a pivotal, formative period of Wharton’s career, about which scholars still have less information than they would like.

“Well before the publication of her first novel, we can now ascertain that Wharton was establishing herself as a playwright, deeply engaged in both the creative and business aspects of the theatre – playwriting more important to her at this time than establishing herself as a novelist.

“Yet the discovery of The Shadow of a Doubt also develops new thinking and proves of profound influence on our understanding of Wharton’s work as a novelist.”

More at

New Edith Wharton play discovered by Laura Rattray and Mary Chinery


In February of 1901, Walter Berry, a lawyer and member of élite society in New York, expressed a regret in a letter written to his close friend Edith Wharton. “How I do wish I could run on to see the first rehearsal of the Shadow,” he wrote.

At the time, Wharton, who was thirty-nine years old, was not yet a novelist, having only published shorter fiction and poetry, as well as co-authoring, with Ogden Codman, “The Decoration of Houses,” an 1897 book about interior design. But she was a budding playwright, and, as two scholars have just deduced in an important bit of detective work, Berry’s glancing reference was to one of her works: “The Shadow of a Doubt,” a three-act play that was in production in 1901. It was to star Elsie de Wolfe as Wharton’s heroine, Kate Derwent, a former nurse married to John Derwent, a gentleman above her social station. Kate’s role in assisting the suicide of her husband’s former wife, Agnes, whom she tended to after an injury, is revealed in the course of the drama.

The production was cancelled, however, and the work slipped into obscurity. It is not mentioned by any of Wharton’s biographers, nor does Wharton mention it in her own memoir, “A Backward Glance,” in which, perhaps understandably, she skates over her brief and not especially successful career as a writer for the stage. (In the first years of the century, she had written a handful of plays, but “The Shadow of a Doubt” would have been her first professional production, had it materialized. Later, she collaborated on an adaptation of “The House of Mirth,” which proved less successful than hoped.)