The Age of Innocence

In 1920, Edith Wharton’s novel The Age of Innocence was published. One hundred years later, Wharton’s very own copy of the book was reunited with the rest of her collection at The Mount.

Wharton’s copy of The Age of Innocence is a first edition, sixth printing, from 1921. As is obvious in many books in the library, Wharton was a meticulous editor, of her own work as well as others. Countless penciled corrections show her deep commitment to exact punctuation, grammar, spelling, and word choice. It is estimated that between the first and sixth printing of The Age of Innocence, Wharton made about 30 corrections.

Her book plate in the front of the book shows that Wharton kept it in her library at Sainte-Claire-du-Château, her home in the south of France. After she died in 1937, part of her library was inherited by her 6-year-old godson, Colin Clark, son of Sir Kenneth Clark. We don’t know if Colin actually owned this volume, we do know, based on a second book plate, that the book ended up in the library of Norman Bassett. Mr. Bassett (1891-1980) was a business man and philanthropist from Wisconsin, a great supporter of library and educational causes, and a noted collector of autographed books.

Eventually, the book traveled from Norman Bassett to the antiquarian bookseller Sarah Baldwin (E. Wharton & Co.) in Oakton, VA. In 2002 Dennis and Andrea Kahn, avid Wharton readers and rare book collectors, bought The Age of Innocence and cherished it for eighteen years.

We are so pleased to receive the Kahns’ generous gift this year, during our centennial celebration of The Age of Innocence, which includes a variety of programs and a new online exhibit titled Writing The Age of Innocence.