Monday, August 09, 2010

Review: The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton

The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton
Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge
2010; Clarion Books; ISBN 978-0-547-23630-8 (hardcover)

Summary: How many writers have lives more exciting, more dramatic, than their books? Edith Wharton did. The child of influential parents, a pillar of Old New York society, Edith grew up in a world of propriety and luxury. Her love of reading and learning conflicted-it was thought-with doing what was proper. At first, Edith did the "right" things: honored her mother's wishes, married a well-bred young man, and acted as a society wife. But Edith's desire to write pulled her away from what society thought was best. Her mother thought a woman's name should appear in print only three times: when she was born, when she married, and when she died. But Edith's name would appear in print many times during her life, earning her respect, money, and prizes. She lived through a tumultuous, exciting time on her own terms.

Evoking a sense of Wharton's novels-of a woman struggling to be free of the cage of rules-The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton is a compelling biography. Reflecting recent scholarship on Edith and her relationships with the circle of men she drew about her, Wooldridge explores how the guidance and support of these men shaped Edith. Born and raised during the excesses of the Gilded Age, Edith was able to use her intelligence to make a new life for herself once the rules of Old New York were swept away. Throughout the biography, Edith's personality shines through, from the quotes drawn from her own letters and writings to the photos of her beloved dogs and homes. The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton would be an excellent companion to any of Wharton's novels, whether assigned to teens or discovered on their own.

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