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Extended Audio Sample Edith Wharton, by Hermione Lee Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (444 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Hermione Lee Narrator: Kate Reading Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Abridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: April 2007 ISBN: 9780739354100
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The definitive biography of one of America’s greatest writers, from the author of the acclaimed masterpiece Virginia Woolf.

Born in 1862, Edith Wharton escaped the suffocating fate of the well-born female, traveled adventurously in Europe and eventually settled in France. After tentative beginnings, she developed a forceful literary professionalism and thrived in a luminous. Wharton’s life was fed by nonliterary enthusiasms as well: her fabled houses and gardens, her heroic relief efforts during the Great War, the culture of the Old World, which she never tired of absorbing. Yet intimacy eluded her. 

With profound empathy and insight, Lee brilliantly interweaves Wharton’s life with the evolution of her writing, the full scope of which shows her to be far more daring than her stereotype as lapidarian chronicler of the Gilded Age. In its revelation of both the woman and the writer, Edith Wharton is a landmark biography.

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Quotes & Awards

  • Lively . . . Insightful . . . Thorough and intelligent . . .This meticulous, generous biography is likely to suffice for a long time . . . One can at last grasp the full range of Wharton’s writing and the full power of her energy. Diane Johnson, Washington Post Book World
  • A splendid biography, extremely rich in social and historical detail, a telling picture of the many years Wharton’s life spanned . . . Biography is usually the revenge of little people on big people . . .but Lee is subtle and big-hearted enough to understand her subject . . .  Lee never reduces Wharton’s books to veiled autobiography, just as she is never reluctant to interpret them in the light of Wharton’s life . . . A sophisticated, finely written portrait . . . Edith Wharton would have been horrified by the ‘indiscretions’ in this biography, but it is the balanced, richly detailed, and researched portrait she deserves. Edmund White, The New York Review of Books
  • A rich tapestry. There is so much here . . . Edith Wharton shimmers with details about a vanished world, and Lee . . . brings it to vivid life. Jacqueline Blais, USA Today
  • A remarkable feat . . . Nobody has done Edith Wharton such careful justice as Lee. Claire Messud, New York Times Book Review
  • Magnificent . . . Unsurpassable in scope and surely in sensitivity . . . Filled to bursting with the friends, travels, projects and writings that engaged Wharton’s attention and energies. Linda Simon, Newsday
  • Groundbreaking . . . A sophisticated, persuasive, powerfully intelligent masterwork. Lisa Shea, Elle
  • Enables readers to feel they have known Mrs. W. all their lives. Barbara Amiel, Wall Street Journal
  • Stunning . . . Rich . . . Wonderfully humanizing. Megan O’Grady, Vogue
  • Rich . . . Fine . . . Much more than a literary study. Bruce Allen, The Washington Times
  • Elegant . . . not only the best book on its subject, but one of the finest literary biographies to appear in recent years. Greg Johnson, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • A fascinating portrait of a brilliant writer. The Economist
  • Absorbing . . . An exemplary biography . . . Sure to be the standard work on Wharton for years to come. Kirkus
  • A major achievement . . . In no other biography is there a more perceptive analysis of how Wharton’s life was reflected in her work. Publishers Weekly
  • Tremendous . . . Enlightening . . . Rises to landmark status . . . The formidable Mrs. Wharton is given great humanity here. Booklist
  • The fullest biography of Wharton to date . . . Superb in using the fiction as a way to read the life, defining their relation in a way that is at once seamless but never simplified . . . Lee’s portraiture at its best seems Proustian. Michael Gorra, Times Literary Supplement (London)
  • Monumentally conceived and impressively executed . . . Lee is out to understand Wharton, not to vilify or sanctify her . . .  She is a discriminating and generous critic who offers full, fresh and incisive discussions of all the novels and scores of the short stories. Elaine Showalter, The Guardian (London)
  • Epic and definitive . . . Lee is a confident and vivid critic. Jane Shilling, The Times (London)
  • This is a glorious biography . . . The time is ripe for a new biography of Edith Wharton of this intimacy and on this scale . . . Lee the biographer pursues her subject down every winding corridor, into every hidden passage and dark corner . . . Her critical exploration of Edith Wharton’s work is dazzlingly assured . . . A feat of exhaustive research, and finely tuned to Wharton’s creative achievement at the same time . . . [Wharton] could scarcely have failed to be impressed by . . . its artistic sympathy, its sonorous depths, and its soaring conception. Mark Bostridge, The Independent on Sunday (London)
  • Excellent . . . Particularly masterful in her discussion of Wharton’s fiction . . . A magnificent and subtle biography of a magnificent and subtle writer. Caroline Moore, Sunday Telegraph (London)
  • Lee’s subtle and painstaking ability to illuminate the work with the life, and to make the life itself so interesting makes this a superb biography. Colm Tóibín, The Irish Times
  • One of the 2007 New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books for Nonfiction
  • Winner of the 2008 Ambassador Book Award for Biography

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jason | 2/7/2014

    " I knew nothing about Edith Wharton. This biography is engrossing! What a fascinating woman! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Maia | 1/20/2014

    " One of the best bios on Wharton--more to follow. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Corinne E. Blackmer | 12/21/2013

    " This book was well written and impeccably researched. However, it is far too long and contains too many details that are not necessary and which do not illuminate the subject of Edith Wharton--her work and life. I experienced the book as a kind of seed catalogue and, while reading it, it occurred to me, in a politically incorrect nationalist fashion, that we would likely do better if an educated American, as opposed to a British woman with a decided penchant for writing biographies of our national icons (and Virginia Woolf, for which she gained her fame). This critical biography lacks national touch and does not quite do proper justice to one of our greatest writers--which is not to say that she does not praise Wharton, for she does. I found the sections on Wharton's two greatest masterpieces--The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence--helpful and insightful, but not nearly as much as I had hoped to find them. Further, their insights did not differ much from criticism by American scholars I had read elsewhere, and who wrote long before this volume was published. I also found some details about money and estates interesting, and useful in my own research, but that is not saying much. My sense is that this book has garnered so much applause because it chanced to come along at the right time and with the right subject. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Marion | 12/5/2013

    " This was a two and a half month read for me. Very detail oriented about many periods of her life. Many letters were not kept and Lee did an admirable job recreating events from available materials. This week I visited The Mount in Lenox, MA - could picture Wharton on the veranda, walking on the grounds, watching a thunderstorm take over the sky. I hope someday to have large rooms to decorate but I have some ideas for smaller spaces. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jennifer | 10/25/2013

    " Really interesting, but oh so long. This is not normally a deterrent for me, but in this case, I ended up taking a long break in the middle of the book, before finally powering through the end. Lee's details are marvelous, and the analysis of Wharton's works are a terrific addition to the story of Wharton's life. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 C.M. Mayo | 10/17/2013

    " At last, Wharton has the bio she deserves. A grand, plummy pleasure to read, all 850+ pages. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Margaret | 9/26/2013

    " I'd read a Wharton bio before, so I was familiar with the basic outline of her life. I was intrigued, though, with her writing practices and how she was writing innovative fiction right up to her death. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Laura Lee | 9/24/2013

    " A little hard to read but excellent. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 letterbyletter | 3/3/2013

    " Time to admit defeat at page 330 (of 700+ pages). Lee's meticulous detailing of Wharton's various and wide-ranging interests, including Italian gardens and American interior design, is intriguing, but it's not quite the introduction I was looking for. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Adele Griffin | 2/4/2013

    " Excellent, accessible and gave a picture of this author that made sense. As good as the Virginia Woolf bio. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Ann | 11/27/2012

    " This is an exhaustive and scholarly biography of Edith Wharton, whom I had been interested in learning much more about. At times it was difficult plugging through the 700+ pages, but I'm glad I did and now plan to read Age of Innocence (for which she won the Pulitzer) and Old New York. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Karen | 10/25/2012

    " This is a great book for Edith Wharton fans. Since she was a very private person, there is not much concrete material on her personal life. There is speculation but it is presented as such. What I really like about the book is the detailed analysis of her work. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Sarah | 6/22/2012

    " Lee is one of the best biographers I have ever read, and she always chooses my favorite subjects. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Leslie | 6/10/2012

    " I haven't finished this, but I might not be able to. Two-thirds through, and all the chapters are starting to read the same. It's almost as if the author had too much research and wanted to put in every last thought of hers. I was going to try her biography of Woolf, but I doubt I will, now. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Thom Dunn | 5/7/2011

    " A literary biography for people who 1) never thought they would read a literary biography, 2) think Edith Wharton was an uninteresting person, 2) didn't particularly care for the film , The Age of Innocence. Chapter on her work during WWI in France worth the price of the book. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Mandy Peoples | 4/6/2011

    " I got tired around page 100 of how much the book talked about other people and compared them all to characters in her novels. It's a good book just a little too academic scholarship for me. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 C.M. | 2/28/2011

    " At last, Wharton has the bio she deserves. A grand, plummy pleasure to read, all 850+ pages.

    "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Maia | 10/8/2010

    " One of the best bios on Wharton--more to follow. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Linda | 4/1/2010

    " This was a wonderful book on the life of Edith Wharton. I learned so much about her and the time period she lived in. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Thom | 9/29/2009

    " A literary biography for people who 1) never thought they would read a literary biography, 2) think Edith Wharton was an uninteresting person, 2) didn't particularly care for the film , The Age of Innocence. Chapter on her work during WWI in France worth the price of the book. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 letterbyletter | 3/11/2009

    " Time to admit defeat at page 330 (of 700+ pages). Lee's meticulous detailing of Wharton's various and wide-ranging interests, including Italian gardens and American interior design, is intriguing, but it's not quite the introduction I was looking for. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Adele | 3/4/2009

    " Excellent, accessible and gave a picture of this author that made sense. As good as the Virginia Woolf bio. "

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