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The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton

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This book examines the life and career of the American author, Edith Wharton.

192 pages, Hardcover

First published August 9, 2010

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About the author

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

6 books5 followers
Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge received a master's degree in education and library science from the University of Chicago. She has written picture books and non-fiction for children. She lives in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 55 reviews
Profile Image for John Vanderslice.
Author 17 books55 followers
June 15, 2021
This is a superb short introduction to the life of Edith Wharton, its tensions, contradictions, excitements, and failures. Wooldridge does not thoroughly review and comment upon Wharton's full output as a writer, as a standard biography might, but she certainly hits on the highlights. However, she does cover each of the crucial relationships that formed the writer's life, for good her bad, e.g., with her mother, with Ogden Codman, with Walter Berry, with Teddy Wharton, with Morton Fullerton, with Henry James, with Elisina Tyler. And she goes into useful detail about Wharton's service to the French during WW 1. I found that illuminating. What has long fascinated me about Edith Wharton is how she is at once a committed rebel against the social class within which she was raised and a total creature of that class. Wooldridge captures that tension quite well.
Profile Image for Ells.
67 reviews
August 9, 2011
This is an excellent Young Adult biography by Wooldridge. I knew nothing about Edith Wharton, and have only read Ethan Frome. Yet, she is one of those writers I always wanted to explore. "Keeping up with the Joneses" was a phrase that was coined to describe Edith's parents! Who knew! Wooldridge brings to life Edith during her Gilded-Age childhood in New York City and Newport, Rhode Island. I loved the descriptions of the child Edith walking from room to room making up stories when she was too young to read or write. As an adult, she wrote in bed every morning and then carried off the rest of her day entertaining, visiting and always traveling. France held her heart and she gathered around her a group of adoring bachelors, while keeping her husband in tow. Her energy seemed boundless. Edith stayed in her beloved France during WWI and headed several relief organizations. She stayed there the rest of her days.

Edith truly escaped the societal restrictions of The Gilded Age--she "thought" and used those thoughts to become one of the most celebrated authors of her day. The photographs in this book bring Edith and those around her alive. I am now going to try my hand at reading The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth.

A great read!
Profile Image for Jodi.
577 reviews49 followers
July 14, 2011
Sometimes it's nice to read a YA biography of a person if you aren't sure you really care about knowing more details about their life. The shortness of a YA biography ensures that the book will be finished and the pictures make it more interesting of a read. If I had started an adult biography of Wharton, I probably wouldn't have finished it. She is a product of a very selfish self-absorbed group of people and she in turn is a selfish and self-absorbed person. She's more concerned about being surround by intellectual bachelors and having clean hotel rooms than the feelings or needs of others. It's all about what Edith wants and Edith's writing and how others view Edith. However World War I does bring out some good in her. She (albeit grudgingly) does some amazing charity work and serves so many people though complains that good works keep her from living life. Sigh. I have very little respect for Edith and her lifestyle choices save for that brief time during World War I. Still Wooldridge writes an interesting biography and I was able to get through the 150 pages with ease. Honestly by the end though, I was thoroughly sick of Queen Edith.
Profile Image for Beth Baryon.
957 reviews24 followers
May 30, 2012
I a little bit dreaded picking up this biography. Honestly, the cover looked boring. What I found instead was a fascinating page-turner, taking me through the early 1900's Upper Class High Society in Manhattan, of course including yearly tours through Europe. Edith Wharton was totally fascinating and who knew she was actually one of THE Joneses. Probably one of my more favorite biographies. (An extra suggestion - while reading this, take breaks to watch Downton Abbey. Although set in England, it's a great visual example of the times that heightens the imagination while reading.)
Profile Image for Trina.
784 reviews15 followers
December 11, 2011
This is written for YA (that's what those in the know of Young Adult Literature call it) but I found it wonderful and touching. It's a very brief biography, but it focuses on Wharton's escape from the suffocating society world to which she was born, and her remarkable intellectual life. It's a quick read but a wonderful one, and it's a lovely volume, well-illustrated.
Profile Image for Kaci.
836 reviews
June 4, 2015
I haven't read many biographies, so thought I would give this a try. I really liked The Age of Innocence and thought it would be more fun to learn more about Mrs. Wharton. The book was well-written and quoted many of her acquaintences. It was an interesting read.
Profile Image for Anson Cassel Mills.
578 reviews10 followers
June 18, 2019
Although this short, illustrated biography was published by Clarion Books, the children’s imprint of Houghton Mifflin, it is certainly suitable for adults as well—in fact, in some ways, more suitable. Neither Wharton’s uneasy accommodation to her chilly, unsympathetic mother nor Wharton’s affair with journalist Morton Fullerton are ignored, though both these life-changing relationships are treated with more restraint than would probably be the case in a biography written specifically for adults. Almost certainly, too, a biography for adults would have included more scholarly criticism of Wharton’s oeuvre.

As for the “brave escape” of the title, I suppose Wooldridge intended to imply that Wharton escaped the uselessness of the idle rich by becoming a writer. A more realistic way of viewing Wharton is to note that great wealth and the superior education it accommodated allowed her to become a writer, and that that same great wealth sustained her through her writing career. Wharton never lost the support of the upper class, a judgement corroborated by her selection as the first women to win a Pulitzer for literature. Wharton did not so much make a “brave escape” as become an acute observer of fin de siècle high society transforming itself.
Profile Image for Valeri Drach.
373 reviews3 followers
December 11, 2018
This biography of Edith Wharton is a great companion piece to her novels. The author does an excellent job with her correspondence, journals and writings about her from her friends and critics. Hers was a wonderful life filled with male friends who wanted to educate, banter with and in one case make love t. Henry James was her great friend and young writers like F Scott Fitzgerald worshipped her. A great read about old New York and the rich world of Edith Wharton, the woman who won the first Pulitzer Prize. The author shows the gifts of her life but also the struggle of a woman who didn’t want to be dominated by a frivolous society!
Profile Image for Monica.
571 reviews4 followers
April 20, 2019
Clear and concise, I really appreciate the sketch of Wharton's life, and it has inspired me to dig into a couple of the longer Bio's that I own about Wharton. The author is local to Richmond, Indiana. I appreciate the way that she's collected images, stories and historical research into this biography. A lovely addition to my year of reading Wharton.
March 7, 2017
Edith Wharton was probably the most intelligent woman of her time. In her biography, The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton by Connie Nordhielm Woolridge, Edith is raised mostly on a six-year tour of Europe with her older brothers and parents as a child. As she grows older and more mature, she becomes more and more interested in literature. In effect, she reads as many books as her parents will allow, becoming smarter and smarter as the years go by. When she and her family move back to their home in New York, Edith becomes even more intelligent. This worries her mother to death, because it isn’t proper for a young lady to be intelligent. Then, Edith’s mother drags her into New York’s Society. Finally, (many years later) Edith fulfills her dream to be a novelist. As Edith’s life unfolds, this biography is told in beautiful, rich language.
Another good quality about this book is its theme. While telling the story of Edith Wharton’s life, the author hints at one main theme: how Edith escapes the clutches of New York Society and the “proper” woman. However, I only recommend this roughly 150-page book for readers with an adult-level vocabulary who understands classic literature. Edith Wharton had an interesting life full of adventure.
Profile Image for The Rusty Key.
96 reviews25 followers
November 26, 2010
Reviewed by: Rusty Key Guest Contributor Kate Mulley

Recommended for: Ages 11 and up. Some frank discussions of affairs and the nature of marriage, but otherwise quite tame and restrained. The feminist in me would say this is gender neutral, the realist in me says that girls will probably prefer it to boys. (hah, you could read that as girls will like this book more than they will like boys). Give this to any budding writer.

One word: Delicious.

The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton captures the essence of Edith Wharton, one of the greatest authors in the cannon of English Literature, and the era during which she lived, making it lively and accessible for young readers of the 21st century. Hopefully it will inspire its readers to go on and write their first novels, be it at the age of 15 or 25 or 35. Wooldridge’s Wharton is an inspiring, formidable woman and a brave escapee from the constraints of her society’s expectations.

Raised a member of the Jones family (the inspiration for the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses”), during the Gilded Age, Wharton was born into a world of privilege and propriety. For six impressionable years in her youth, her family traveled around Europe living in Rome, Paris, Germany and Florence. Upon her return to New York at the age of ten, she was completely enamored with Europe and fluent in four languages. Her early intellectual curiosity made her an oddity in New York Society, but honed her skills as a writer and observer of other people. She began making up stories at a very young age and started writing her first “novel” at the age of eleven. Young girls were not expected to be creative, and especially weren’t expected to be writers. Good society didn’t approve of writers. But at the age of fifteen, with encouragement from her childhood best friend, she wrote her first novel, titled “Fast and Loose.” From there she moved to poetry because it was considered more appropriate for young girls and a book of her poetry was privately published when she was sixteen. And through some family connections her poems made their way to the desk of the editor of the Atlantic Monthly and five of her poems were anonymously published in 1880 (because women’s names weren’t supposed to be in print unless they were born, married or had died). She then spent nine years caught up in the whirl of coming out in Society and finding a husband and determining how to be a wife, but doing very little writing. It’s no surprise then, that Wharton’s adolescence and early twenties read like one of her novels, summers in Rhode Island, balls hosted by Lady Astor and many handsome suitors. Once married (but not to the “love of her life”), she travels to Paris often, befriends Henry James and raises the equivalent of millions of dollars for Parisian war relief during the First World War. One gets the sense that Wharton could have done anything she put her mind to.

I came quite late to my love for Edith Wharton, but if I had read this book ten years ago, I’m sure I would have read her complete works before I turned 18. As it happened I had a very awkward encounter with Wharton’s Summer in 10th grade and didn’t revisit her books until I read and loved her unfinished novel The Bucaneers while living in London and utterly devoured The House of Mirth this summer. Only now that I’ve read Wooldridge’s biography do I understand how much I missed out on by dismissing Wharton as boring and “too feminine.” The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton is infused with an energy and excitement that makes Wharton’s life sound fascinating, enviable and lived to the fullest.

For more reviews from The Rusty Key, visit us at www.therustykey.com
Profile Image for Jennifer Wardrip.
Author 5 books488 followers
November 7, 2010
Reviewed by Jennifer Rummel for TeensReadToo.com

Edith Wharton lived a privileged life. She was born into the Jones family - a wealthy family who were prominent members of New York society. From an early age, her mother knew Edith was different. Edith was shy, she admired the truth, she liked to make up stories, and she loved reading.

She spent her formative years touring Europe, which left a deep impression. Upon her return, she made her debut. In one summer she met two men. She developed a deep relationship with one, but he left at the end of the summer. The other man she befriended and then married. She fell out of favor with society, but that didn't stop her.

Edith wrote in the mornings. In the beginning, she had three poems printed in respected publications. One of the publishers was interested in more of her writing. After her short story appeared, she began work on several others that would be published into one volume. However, the idea of her stories in print threw her into a panic, and she began to work on non-fiction projects.

She traveled throughout Europe and met many bachelors who would become her dearest friends. Several of these men were writers. She would share her ideas and her writings with them. After publishing her first novel, one of these men, Henry James, wrote with advice for her next book.

Edith took his advice to heart and wrote a serialized tale published in a magazine that would later become THE HOUSE OF MIRTH. Her success was huge. She kept writing, which paid for her house to be built, her trips to Europe, and her lifestyle. Until she died, Edith wrote and behaved in the fashion she desired.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge writes a fascinating and engaging non-fiction book describing an amazing woman who dared to step outside the bounds of society and live life on her own terms.
Profile Image for Cathe Fein Olson.
Author 4 books19 followers
July 10, 2010
I enjoyed reading this biography about an author I didn't know much about. According to the book, Wharton defied convention to become "the most accomplished and admired American writer of her day." Before reading this biography, I had only heard of a couple of Warton's titles and hadn't realized just how much she had written--and this book has definitely inspired me to check out some of her lessor known works.

Though the book is intended for a middle/high school audience, it was definitely interesting enough for an adult to read. The beginning of the book, which talks about her childhood, seemed almost geared for an upper elementary audience--it is written rather childlike. As the book progresses to her adult life, the writing becomes more sophisticated and the story more complex. My only criticism is that the middle of the book dragged a bit (for me) when the book focused more on Wharton's relationships with her many bachelor friends and travels. I hadn't even realized Wharton was writing during these period until suddenly it's mentioned that Wharton was on her 20th book or something.

Anyway, that small detail does not keep me from recommending this well-written book about an interesting woman and author. This would be a great addition to a high school or junior college library.
Profile Image for Missy.
315 reviews7 followers
September 3, 2020
Edith Wharton was not very constrained by the societal mores of the gilded age. Perhaps it helped that she was very nearly above those setting the standards. You know the phrase "Keeping up with Joneses"? Edith Newbold Jones Wharton was one of those Joneses. This fast-moving biography follows Edith Wharton from her days as a little girl making up stories as she wandered from room to room in one of her family homes through her marriage to and travels with Teddy Wharton up to the end of her life at one of her homes in France. And what a life she led! In addition to publishing more than 20 novels, volumes of poetry and short stories, and non-fiction titles, Wharton worked tirelessly in France to support the poor and displaced during WWI, ultimately earning the highest honor bestowed by the French government. Wharton struggled, too; mostly with her relationships with her husband and other men. Author Connie Nordheim Wooldridge tells all the tales, even some that Wharton left out of her own memoir; all is done with the decorum and spice of a novel written by Mrs Wharton herself. I enjoyed taking a look into the life of upperest of classes and the literati of the late 18th/early 19th century.
Profile Image for Sharon.
Author 38 books379 followers
July 30, 2010
"The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton" is a well-researched and entertaining biography that would be suitable for young adults and up.

Using letters, diaries and photographs, Wooldridge tells the life story of author Edith Wharton ("Ethan Frome," "The Age of Innocence") without hiding the human frailties of her subject. Wharton's affairs, less-than-desirable marriage, etc., are discussed without too much prurient detail.

Wharton came from the same type of high society families she mocks in much of her writing, and "The Brave Escape" talks about her desire to break free of the strictures placed on her by the mores and expectations of her era. At the same time, she was very conventional in some of her thinking, and the conflict between those aspects of her personality is illustrated well by this book.

Some of the most interesting parts of the book discuss Wharton's charity work in Paris during World War I. I was unaware of her extensive work to help unemployed seamstresses and refugees during the period.

(Review based on uncorrected advance proof.)
Profile Image for Alicia.
6,212 reviews124 followers
October 27, 2013
I know Ethan Frome, I've heard of but not read The Age of Innocence, but now I want to read it, after Wooldridge's account of Wharton's life. What an amazing, odd, and enchanted life she led. She wanted to shirk the society she was growing up in (certainly because she was well-read and enjoyed intellectual conversations) and this escape basically brought her to love Europe and to move repeatedly until building, the Mount, in Massachusetts. She was married almost 28 years but it was a somewhat disingenuous and her other relationships with men seemed to be more important and worthwhile.

The entire book is a great snapshot of the time, not only about the Jones' (keeping up with the Jones' came from her family) but about relationships, traveling abroad, money (both the newly rich and old) and the war. It's amazing to learn about her philanthropy, writing style and how much she profited on her writing.

Overall, another excellent biography for YA!
Profile Image for Amy Bailey.
668 reviews12 followers
May 3, 2011
This wasn't spectacular by any stretch of the imagination. I defintely admire Edith Wharton. As a child, her mother was concerned to have a daughter with a brain and ambition that extended beyond snagging a husband. Edith's brave escape is that she told everyone to go fly and kite and did as she pleased. However, that's not too hard to do when you have the opportunity to live off of your inheritance and never have to work a day in your life. Wharton still married the man she was expected to marry and still flitted around with the high society people. She just dared to be slightly interesting and didn't worry if her writing didn't shed a good light on the rest of them. For that reason, she was a bit outcast, but I never did get a great look at just exactly why I should see her as being incredibly brave. I've read more interesting biographies.
Profile Image for Donna.
549 reviews5 followers
January 4, 2011
Wharton had the courage to pursue a career as a writer at a time when it was not respectable for a woman to write. By winning a Pulitzer for The Age of Innocence, she made the writing profession a respectable one for women to pursue.

I found Wooldridge's writing to be clear and engaging. The many photographs of Wharton and her beloved bachelor friends and dogs are interesting, and well-captioned.

The book is well-researched, drawing from university archives, Wharton's body of work, and other biographies.

I think the highest praise I can give The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton is that I'm actually interested, for the first time in my life, in reading Wharton's writing!
Profile Image for Jan.
1,020 reviews2 followers
January 17, 2011
As I am a huge Edith Wharton fan, I was intrigued by this new biography for teens. I found it to be a fascinating read. Wharton’s life was one of struggle to be independent of the constraints of society, yet she also took for granted her position in that same society. Her rebellion was not so much against wealth and privilege, but against the narrow confines of what was expected of a “society lady.” The writing is straightforward, unembellished narrative, with the author allowing the fascinating details and anecdotes from Wharton’s life to take center stage. Wonderful photos augment the text.
516 reviews
June 11, 2014
My book group just read The House of Mirth, and I was intrigued to learn more about Edith Wharton....who really was an extraordinary woman. Just now I read a few of the Goodreads reviews of this biography, and discovered that it's a YA book. No wonder I found it an easy and informative read. My 5 star rating probably has less to do with the writing, and more to do with the story of Wharton's remarkable life.
Profile Image for Martha.
484 reviews2 followers
February 4, 2016
An interesting, if somewhat dry, examination of Wharton's life, which required a "brave escape from the expectations of the society into which she'd been born" simply because Edith was intelligent, a gift that could severely limit a woman's prospects in Wharton's day. The accessible text will appeal to fans of Wharton's novels or students investigating the writer, lifestyles of the Gilded Age, or the role of women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Profile Image for Jackie.
42 reviews
October 13, 2016
Her life is very interesting and I learned a lot about her as well as society in the Gilded Age and World War 1. However, there was little written on her female relationships versus her male relationships. I also felt it was too contrite to write about the slew of deaths in her life only after announcing Walter Berry's and writing a good amount about his death. It's never even mentioned when her mother passes. It needs a bit more flesh to give her experiences their due.
Profile Image for Jess.
2,477 reviews69 followers
August 4, 2011
An excellent biography of the writer - long enough to feel like you got the full picture, but not a door-stopper like so many biographies written for adults. I'm a fan of Wharton's novels but didn't know much about her personal life - the details were fascinating and the writing style well-suited to the content. Did you know she was a Jones - the "keeping up with the Joneses" Jones family?
Profile Image for Julie.
1,326 reviews15 followers
July 21, 2012
This is a great introduction to the life of Edith Wharton with an intended audience of mature teen reader (12 -15). The author does a good job of framing Wharton's work against the backdrop of her life and the times she lived in. As an adult reader, this has convinced me to tackle the new Wharton biography.
Profile Image for Jennifer Phillips.
Author 9 books21 followers
November 13, 2010
As a writer, I am ashamed about how little I knew of Edith Wharton until reading this new biography. She was a woman ahead of her time and unafraid to be herself. Very inspirational. The historical images are a great addition. I've since downloaded a couple of Wharton's books in ebook format to read so I can become more familiar with her work.
Profile Image for Cathy Day.
Author 9 books120 followers
December 19, 2010
This book casts Edith Wharton as the heroine in the story of her own life. It's intended for young adults, and, like Katie Roiphe, I think it's especially appropriate for girls who love to read and write. But I would also recommend it for adults as well looking for a very thorough yet abbreviated biographical introduction to this important writer.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 55 reviews

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