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Edith Wharton's legacy and impact is still unfolding to this day.
"While Wharton concentrated largely on upper-crust Manhattanites, there is a larger theme in her best work: acceptance—who’s allowed in, who isn’t, and who decides," Jason Diamond wrote in Town & Country last year. "Today Wharton’s influence is most apparent when you turn on your television." Nowhere is that clearer that with the brand-new adaptation of her last, unfinished novel The Buccaneers currently airing on Apple TV+ (complete with Taylor Swift in the soundtrack).
With The Buccaneers, new audiences may be introduced into the world of Edith Wharton. Using The Mount, the museum at Edith Wharton's home, as a reference, here's how to read to all of Wharton's novels and novellas, in order. (As a note: since many of Wharton's works were published over a century ago, they have entered the public domain—meaning there are numerous versions of them out there. Where possible, we have tried to link to the most trustworthy option—but you can always check with your local library!)
Originally published 1900
Wharton's first published novella was The Touchstone, set in old New York, like many of her stories. It follows Stephen Glennard, who is suddenly impoverished and can't marry his beautiful fiancée, so he resorts to selling private letters.
The Valley of Decision
Originally published 1902
Wharton's debut novel, the Valley of Decision, follows Odo Valsecca, a young man in northern Italy in the late 1700s. As the Cambridge Companion to Edith Wharton notes, it "is one of her most important and distinguished novels, yet it has received relatively little (and mostly superficial) attention, in spite of its initial popularity."
Originally published 1903
Sanctuary is the story of Kate Orme, who married a wealthy, albeit amoral man named Denis. After they have a child, Dick, Denis dies suddenly and Kate becomes a single mother, worried that her son inherited his father's faults.
The House of Mirth
Originally published 1905
Wharton's great novel of manners tells the tale of the beautiful Lily Bart and her slow social descent from the upper echelons of New York society.
Madame De Treymes
Originally published 1907
This novella follows Fanny de Malrive a New Yorker living in France but longing to get out of her unhappy marriage and return to America. Fanny hopes to divorce her husband and marry her childhood friend, John Durham, but Durham soon gets wrapped up with Fanny's sister-in-law, the titular Madame De Treymes.
The Fruit of the Tree
Originally published 1907
Wharton's third novel, The Fruit of the Tree, is a change from her previous two novels—instead of focusing on New York high society, she turns her attention to the conflict between capital and labor at a textile mill.
Originally published 1911
The titular Ethan Frome is a poor farmer living in New England with his wife, Zeena. When they hire Zeena's cousin, Mattie, he finds himself falling for her.
Originally published 1912
Wharton's The Reef is centered on a romance between George, an American diplomat, who reignites a relationship with his former love, Anna, who is now widowed.
The Custom of the Country
Originally published 1913
The Custom of the Country, Penguin Classics explains "is a scathing yet personal examination of the exploits and follies of the modern upper class." It follows Undine Spragg, "a heroine who is as vain, spoiled, and selfish as she is irresistibly fascinating."
Originally published 1917
Summer, like Ethan Fromme, is set in a small New England town. It follows Charity, a local librarian whose dull life is changed when a young visiting architect, Lucius, comes to town.
Originally published 1918
This novel takes its name from the Marne River in France, where many World War I battles were fought. The story follows American teenager Troy Belknap, who enlists, but his heroic goals are soon tampered with the harsh realities of war.
The Age of Innocence
Originally published 1920
Wharton's eighth novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, making her the first woman to win the prestigious award. Set in the Gilded Age, The Age of Innocence is about New York society and the impending marriage of an upper-class couple.
The Glimpses of the Moon
Originally published 1922
Wharton's follow-up to the Age of Innocence follows "romantic misadventures of Nick Lansing and Susy Branch, a couple with the right connections but not much in the way of funds," per the publisher.
A Son at the Front
Originally published 1923
Wharton, still grappling the legacies of World War I, penned A Son at the Front which details the experience of the Great War for an America painter, John Campton, and his son, George.
The Old Maid: The 'Fifties
Originally published 1924
The Old Maid follows Tina, a young woman torn between her birth mother, Charlotte, and her adopted mother, Charlotte's sister Delia. The relationship between three women is thrown out of whack until Tina's wedding day.
Old New York
Originally published 1924
The novellas in Old New York are set in—you guessed it!—old New York, and are "vintage Wharton, dealing boldly with such themes as infidelity, illegitimacy, jealousy, the class system, and the condition of women in society." (One of the stories is The Old Maid, above.)
The Mother's Recompense
Originally published 1925
Described as a "feminist Oedipus," The Mother's Recompense follows Kate, driven out of New York for abandoning her husband and daughter. Yet her daughter, Anne, asks her return for her wedding—to a former lover of Kate's. (Gasp!)
Originally published 1927
If you can tell by this cover, Twilight Sleep is set in the Jazz Age, a satire centering on a dysfunctional, upper crust family in New York—trying to escape reality through sex, drugs, money, and whatever "twilight sleep" works for them.
Originally published 1928
The seven Wheater children—siblings and stepsiblings—feature in this novel, and the story follows their misadventures with a solitary 46-year old bachelor named Martin.
Hudson River Bracketed
Originally published 1929
Vance, a young man, arrives in New York from Illinois, and falls for Halo, "a literary young woman from a distinguished family who shares with him a love of language." Yet they both end up married to other people... the story continues in The Gods Arrive, a sequel to Hudson River Bracketed.
The Gods Arrive
Originally published 1932
Picking up from the end of Hudson River Bracketed, Vance and Halo have finally gotten together. The question becomes: Can they make their relationship work?
Originally published 1938 (unfinished)
Last but certainly not least: The Buccaneers, set in the 1870s, follows a group of wealthy American women to marry titled, but impoverished London society men.
A Backward Glance: An Autobiography
Not a novel or a novella, but perhaps worth including on this list to end is Edith Wharton's autobiography, published in 1934, that reflects on her life and career.
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