“I like to love, but not to [be] loved back, that is why I like so much gardens.”
– Wharton to a friend during her final days
We’re familiar with Wharton’s tales of passion, but what of her own tale? In celebration of Valentine’s Day, we explored Wharton’s experience with love, in all its different forms, in her own words.
“You will go back to the far-off past of our youth together, as I do tonight…(he was) the kindest of companions till that dreadful blighting illness came upon him.”
Wharton married Edward Wharton on April 29, 1885. The marriage, never a love match to begin with, produced no children (although they loved their dogs dearly!). Teddy’s affairs, embezzlement of Wharton’s funds, and mental illness led to their divorce in 1913. Despite their separation, Wharton’s thoughts turned back to Teddy upon his death and her own.
“The Mount was my first real home… its blessed influence still lives in me.”
Although Wharton only lived at her Lenox estate for ten years and sold it after her marriage deteriorated, The Mount stayed with Wharton for the rest of her life. A home of her own design, she delighted in entertaining intimate group of friends and focusing on her writing career.
“I have drunk of the wine of life at last, I have known the thing best worth knowing, I have been warmed through and through, never to grow quite cold again till the end.”
Wharton began a passionate love affair with journalist Morton Fullerton in 1907 and detailed her experiences in “The Life Apart (L’âme close),” otherwise known as The Love Diary. Despite the eventual heartbreak, Wharton believed that her love experience made her a better writer.
Wharton’s Best Friend
“I cannot picture what the life of the spirit would have been to me without him. He found me when my mind and soul were hungry and thirsty, and he fed them till our last hour together.”
Wharton and Walter Berry, often described as Wharton’s longtime companion, had once considered marrying, but eventually let it pass. Her wish, which was ultimately granted, was to be buried near him, and she remarked upon his death, “All my life goes with him.”
For reference, and further reading:
Erlich, Gloria C. The Sexual Education of Edith Wharton. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.
Marshall, Scott. “What Ever Happened To Teddy Wharton?” VISTA from The Mount, 1987-1988.
Wharton, Edith. A Backward Glance. 1934. New York: Touchstone, 1934.
Wharton, Edith. Ed. Kenneth Price and Phyllis McBride. American Literature 66.4. Duke University Press, 1994.