Frequently Asked Questions
This page addresses some of the questions that visitors to the site have asked.
We welcome new information and questions about Edith Wharton. If you have a question you’d like to have posted or a quotation or “Wharton in the News” sighting that you’d like to share, please use the form on the Queries page.
|Who was Edith Wharton, and why is she an important figure in American literature?|
|Abby Werlock’s biographical sketch at this site provides some good answers to this question.|
|Did Edith Wharton once say, “If only we’d stop trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time?”|
|Not quite, but she did express this sentiment in “The Last Asset” (1904): The old gentleman made a contemptuous motion. “Possibilities of what? Of being multifariously miserable? There are lots of ways of being miserable, but there’s only one way of being comfortable, and that is to stop running round after happiness. If you make up your mind not to be happy there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a fairly good time.”|
|What is “the word” at the end of The House of Mirth?|
|See “The Ending of The House of Mirth: What was the Word?” for some possible answers.|
|I’m writing a paper on an Edith Wharton novel (or short story). Where can I find online criticism and journal articles about it? (top)|
|The best criticism on Wharton is published in books and peer-reviewed journals. Many peer-reviewed journals are available online, however, through services such as ProQuest or Project Muse. If you’re a college or university student, or if you live near a college or university, the university library will be your best source for criticism on Wharton. Most libraries will have several of the journals and books listed in the Wharton bibliographies. If not, they can be ordered through Interlibrary Loan.Many libraries will have access to FirstSearch, which includes the MLA Bibliography, and they will also have one or more of the following full-text databases. You can go to your local university library’s home page and see which of these resources are available to you. However, these resources are generally available by subscription; they are free only on-campus or to registered students and faculty.
You can find articles and books on your topic by searching the bibliographies at the Wharton Society site or by using the MLA Bibliography. You will also find some short bibliographies on individual stories in the Queries and Student Queries pages, and you can search this site for other references. For example, one of the pages has a bibliography on “Roman Fever” and “The Other Two.”
|I don’t live near a library, and I’m not a student so I can’t get access to the articles this way. Isn’t there anything else available? (top)|
|Try Google Booksfor a start, which will give you snippets of some scholarly books. Amazon.com sells some individual articles, as does Project Muse, but they are expensive.|
|My library doesn’t have an article you listed. Can you send it to me? OR Can you write up some information about my topic and send it to me? OR Send me all your information about Edith Wharton. I need it ASAP. (top)|
|Sorry–we can’t do that. The Wharton Society site is staffed by volunteers who all work at other jobs (mostly at universities), doesn’t keep articles on Wharton in a central repository, and can’t send materials to individuals. You can find quite a bit of information on the site, especially in the Summaries section; if you can’t find the information, submit a Query or Student Query.You can also your local college or university library for articles on the topic, or see the question above for online possibilities. If you can’t get an article through Interlibrary Loan, try an online search for the journal title and contact the publisher directly. Queries that resemble the third part of this question are not posted and receive no response, for obvious reasons.|
|I’m new to Wharton studies and would like to get a general sense of her life and works. Where should I start? (top)|
|The Recommended Works list should help. We hope to have a specific list of books to help introduce readers to Wharton.You might also want to look at Sarah Bird Wright’s Edith Wharton: A to Z. This is an encyclopedia-style book about Wharton with short essays on topics related to Wharton and her works. Each essay has a brief bibliography, too. Looking at the essays here would help you to see what you’d be most interested in pursuing.|
|How can I get an article from a back issue of The Edith Wharton Review? Are back issues available online? (top)|
|Yes, they are free and online. You can find them here by clicking on the Edith Wharton Review menu item.|
|Can you summarize this Edith Wharton novel for me and tell me its most important themes? (top)|
|You will find some brief summaries and discussion questions that will help you to determine the themes on the Summaries and Discussion Questions for Wharton’s Major Texts section of this site.If there’s a summary on the site, you can find it under Summaries; if there isn’t–sorry, but we aren’t able to respond to individual requests to summarize stories, provide questions, send articles or summarize critics’ responses to works, etc., although your request will be posted so that other readers can respond.|
|I have an old copy of The House of Mirth. Can you tell me what it’s worth? (top)|
|To find the value of old books, contact your local bookseller or check the prices for comparable rare and used books on ebay.com, amazon.com, abebooks.com, www.bookfinder.com, or other such sites. You can also contact the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America for information about finding the value of a book.|
|Which biography of Edith Wharton is the best?|
|You can find some assessments of the various biographies on the Queries 1999 page.|
|I sent a query to the site yesterday. Did you get it? Why isn’t it posted yet?|
|Posting queries and replies is done by hand (i.e., there’s no automated process whereby these appear on the site), so they may have to wait until I have time to post them. Most are collected and posted once a week, although at busy times such as the end of the semester the wait may be a bit longer. I don’t send an acknowledgment when queries or replies are received, but you can check back to see if your question or response on the site is posted to the site. Some kinds of queries already addressed in the FAQ (“Send me all your information about Edith Wharton immediately”) will not be posted.|
|I would like to quote from an unpublished letter by Edith Wharton. Where can I get permission to do so?|
|Permission to quote from unpublished materials or to quote extensively from published materials must be requested from the Watkins-Loomis Agency:Watkins/Loomis Agency
133 East 35th Street
New York, NY 10016
telephone 1 212 352 0080, fax 1 212 889 0596.http://watkinsloomis.com/wordpress/permissionstranslations/
|I recall reading a quotation in which Edith Wharton compared a woman’s life to a house full of rooms. Where can I find that in her works?|
|This is from “The Fulness of Life” (part II) (December 1893) and is available online in the Early Stories of Edith Wharton, vol. 2. In the story, a woman dies and reflects on her marriage as she talks about her life with the Spirit of Life. The question also appears on the Student Queries 2000 page. Here is the relevant passage from the story: “You have hit upon the exact word; I was fond of him, yes, just as I was fond of my grandmother, and the house that I was born in, and my old nurse. Oh, I was fond of him, and we were counted a very happy couple. But I have sometimes thought that a woman’s nature is like a great house full of rooms: there is the hall, through which everyone passes in going in and out; the drawing- room, where one receives formal visits; the sitting-room, where the members of the family come and go as they list; but beyond that, far beyond, are other rooms, the handles of whose doors perhaps are never turned; no one knows the way to them, no one knows whither they lead; and in the innermost room, the holy of holies, the soul sits alone and waits for a footstep that never comes.””And your husband,” asked the Spirit, after a pause, “never got beyond the family sitting-room?””Never,” she returned, impatiently; “and the worst of it was that he was quite content to remain there. He thought it perfectly beautiful, and sometimes, when he was admiring its commonplace furniture, insignificant as the chairs and tables of a hotel parlor, I felt like crying out to him: ‘Fool, will you never guess that close at hand are rooms full of treasures and wonders, such as the eye of man hath not seen, rooms that no step has crossed, but that might be yours to live in, could you but find the handle of the door?'”|
|Are any of Edith Wharton’s homes still standing, and where can I find them?|
|Several of the homes and places associated with Edith Wharton are still standing; some are privately owned, but others can be toured. Here is a brief list.Western Massachusetts.
The Mount. One of the most famous of Wharton’s homes is The Mount near Lenox, Massachusetts. It is still standing and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Pictures and directions are available from the website at http://www.edithwharton.org.Directions for getting to The Mount are available at http://www.edithwharton.org/contact.html
You can also read about The Mount at The Mount: Edith Wharton and the American Renaissance. Boston. Although Wharton did not live in Boston, Edward (Teddy) Wharton was born there, and the couple stayed with his mother at her house at 127 Beacon Street (Lewis 71) on several occasions. When their marriage began to dissolve, Teddy Wharton rented an apartment in Boston.New York City
One of our members from NYC has said that the New York Public Library has some good information about EW sites in the city. Thanks to Jim Naureckas of New York Songlines for the following information about the buildings today:
The New York Times lists a tour given by the 92nd Street Y: (On Sundays). At 1 p.m. “Edith Wharton’s New York,” with a tour of sites in Madison Square and Gramercy Park. Fees: $25 to $40. Meeting places and reservations: (212) 415-5500.Rhinebeck, New York
Wyndcliffe. Edith Wharton’s aunt, Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones, built a 24-room house called Wyndcliffe in Rhinebeck in 1852. Legend has it that this is the source of the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses.”
Good sources of information, besides the biographies by Shari Benstock, R.W. B. Lewis, Hermione Lee, and Eleanor Dwight, include Theresa Craig’s Edith Wharton: A House Full of Rooms and Sarah Bird Wright’s Edith Wharton from A to Z.
|Did Wharton once write,”There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it”? If so, where does it appear in her writings?|
|Yes, Edith Wharton wrote this. It appears in “Vesalius in Zante,” one of the poems from her collection Artemis to Actaeon (1909).|
|I published an article two months ago, and you don’t have it on the site. Why isn’t the site up to date with adding articles and books?|
|If you want your book or article to appear, send the information to the site. The new publications pages are updated periodically based on the MLA Bibliography. There is no paid staff to hunt down members’ publications and update the site based on searches.|
|Have any Edith Wharton works been made into movies? Are they readily available? Can you help me get a copy of one that I can’t find on VHS or DVD?|
|You can find a list of these (and availability) on the Edith Wharton Filmography page. If it’s not listed as available there, it isn’t available.Unfortunately, some adaptations, such as those seen on PBS in the early 1980s, can only be seen on television or by visiting an archive such as the Museum of Television and Radio (New York and Los Angeles). We do not have copies or access to copies of unavailable movies, and thus we can’t send them to individuals. You can try writing to PBS or requesting the movie through Amazon.com, which reports the level of interest in future DVD releases of these titles to the relevant companies.We get many questions about the 1934 version of The Age of Innocence starring Irene Dunne and John Boles. It is now available at the Warner Archive Collection or through amazon.com or bn.com.|
|Are there any film clips or sound recordings of Edith Wharton?|
|As far as we know, there aren’t any sound recordings of Edith Wharton or any film made of her during her lifetime. Please contact the site if you know of any.|
|Why don’t you have a copy of “Roman Fever” or some of Wharton’s later works posted at your site?|
|“Roman Fever” is still under copyright because it was first published in 1934. Only works published in or prior to 1923 are generally considered to be in the public domain according to U.S. copyright law, so Wharton’s works published after 1923 aren’t available here. Copies are available on the web, but they might not be legally posted unless permission has been obtained from the Watkins-Loomis Agency or the server exists in a country with different copyright laws.UPDATE: A copy is available at About.com; since this is a commercial site, I assume that permission has been obtained to post it. Here’s the link: http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/ewharton/bl-ewhar-roman.htm|
|Which of Wharton’s works were her personal favorites?|
|According to R. W. B. Lewis, Wharton’s favorites included Hudson River Bracketed (“I am sure it is my best book”), The Gods Arrive, The Custom of the Country, Summer, and The Children (490). Thanks to Hildegard Hoeller for this information.|
|How do I cite a page from your site in my Works Cited page?|
|This depends on the style your instructor prefers (MLA, Chicago, Turabian). Try the Purdue OWL at https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/. Please note that although your Works Cited page should use hanging indents (i.e., indent the second line five spaces more than the first line), this can’t be done easily on a web page. Also, the web address URL may be on a separate line since the space here is limited, but it should not be (or does not have to be) on a separate line in your document. Adjust your formatting accordingly.None of the examples at MLA or the other sites listed exactly addresses the materials at this site, so here are some possibilities.1. For quoting from replies on the Queries and Student Queries pages.
Author Lastname, Author Firstname. “Reply to Question.” Online posting. Date of reply. The Edith Wharton Society. Date you accessed the page. <http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/wharton/squeries02.htm [or whatever the web address is]>.
Hugel, V . “Reply to ‘French Draft of Ethan Frome.'” Online posting. 29 Dec. 2004. The Edith Wharton Society. 20 Nov. 2005. <http://www.edithwhartonsociety.org/queries04.htm>.
Kinman, Alice. “Re: House of Mirth Ending.” Online posting. 24 Mar. 2000. The Edith Wharton Society. 20 Nov. 2005. <http://www.edithwhartonsociety.org/hmending.html>.
2. For quoting information provided on a specific page. (Note: Sources of information are given on individual pages. If the information is from another source, you should look up the original source.)
This is adapted from the personal site example on the MLA site, although it can’t fit the model exactly.
Author lastname, author firstname. “Page title.” Date of the page [this is found at the bottom of every page; MLA form requires only the date of the most recent update]. The Edith Wharton Society. Date you accessed the page. <http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/wharton/pagename.htm>.
Werlock, Abby. “Biographical Information about Edith Wharton.” 22 May 2005. The Edith Wharton Society. 20 November 2005. <http://www.edithwhartonsociety.org/bio.htm>.
Campbell, Donna. “Edith Wharton at 18.” Edith Wharton: A Life in Pictures and Text. 31 May 2005. The Edith Wharton Society. 20 November 2005. <http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/wharton/photo1.htm>.
Rich, Charlotte. “Ethan Frome.” Summaries and Discussion Questions for Wharton’s Major Texts. The Edith Wharton Society. 20 November 2005. < http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/wharton/disc/id7.htm>.
3. Depending on your instructor’s preferences, you might also cite this page as part of a scholarly project. Again, the example below follows the MLA example, this time for a scholarly project. Using the information above, your Works Cited entry would look like this:
Werlock, Abby. “Biographical Information about Edith Wharton.” The Edith Wharton Society. Ed. Donna Campbell. 22 May 2005. Washington State University. 20 November 2005. <http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/wharton/bio.htm>
Campbell, Donna. “Edith Wharton at 18.” Edith Wharton: A Life in Pictures and Text. The Edith Wharton Society. Ed. Donna Campbell. 31 May 2005. Washington State University. 20 November 2005. <http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/wharton/photo1.htm>.
Rich, Charlotte. “Ethan Frome.” Summaries and Discussion Questions for Wharton’s Major Texts. The Edith Wharton Society. Ed. Donna Campbell. Washington State University. 20 November 2005. <http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/wharton/disc/id7.htm>.
I need to address someone in the society about assisted suicide. I have a 103 year old client very versed in Edith Wharton. SHe says at the end of HOuse of Myrth the heroine takes a pill and dies. She wants me to send a letter to someone that would respond to her pleas for help with assisted suicde.Please let me know whom I may contact to just discuss her desire..
Dear Ms. Massin, I’m not sure whether this will help your client or not, but at the end of The House of Mirth, it’s left indefinite as to whether Lily Bart takes an overdose of chloral hydrate drops deliberately or unintentionally. Here is an article that discusses the ending based on a letter by Wharton :http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/21/books/21wharton.html — Donna Campbell
Can anyone tell me specifically how Edith Wharton was related to the Van Rensselaer Family? She is almost always referred to as a “cousin,” but was it through her paternal or maternal line?
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