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Edith Wharton collection

Call Number: YCAL MSS 42
Scope and Contents

The Edith Wharton Collection at The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, estimated at some 50,000 items, consists of manuscripts, letters, photographs, and miscellaneous personal papers that belonged to Edith Wharton and were part of her estate at her death; letters, manuscript material, photographs and related papers from the Louis Auchincloss, Gaillard Lapsley, Percy Lubbock, Oscar Lichtenberg, and Georges Markow-Totevy collections of Wharton material; and essays, articles, and other material pertaining to Wharton's life and writings. The collection spans the years from Edith Wharton's early life (1876) to recent Wharton scholarship (1980), with the bulk of material covering the years of Wharton's greatest literary productivity, 1910 to 1937.

The Edith Wharton Collection is divided into twelve series: I. Writings, II. Personal Correspondence, III. Professional Correspondence, IV. General Correspondence, V. Personal Papers, VI. Photographs, VII. Gaillard Lapsley Material, VIII. Oscar Lichtenberg Material, IX. Percy Lubbock Material, X. Georges Markow-Totevy Material, XI. Louis Auchincloss Material, and XII. Other Papers. Oversize material is housed at the end of the collection.

Series I, Writings (Boxes 1-22), contains complete and incomplete holograph and typed manuscripts for the majority of Edith Wharton's novels, stories, essays, plays, poems, and translations, from her early to her final works, most of them given to Yale by her estate after her death. Included in the collection are the complete or substantially complete manuscripts of her major novels The House of Mirth, The Valley of Decision, Twilight Sleep, Mother's Recompense, The Children, The Gods Arrive, and her volume of memoirs A Backward Glance, forty-two short stories; twelve essays; and some fifty poems. There are also a substantial number of incomplete manuscripts for novels, stories, poems, plays, and essays, or manuscripts for works that Wharton never finished. Almost all of the manuscripts contain numerous revisions, and many exist in different drafts. The various drafts, in many cases accompanied by outlines, synopses, or notes, provide a revealing glimpse of this major writer's creative process.

The series also contains contemporary reviews of many of her books. French or Italian translations are included for several novels, stories, and essays. In addition, five notebooks containing material for and about her works exist for the years 1900, 1910-1914, and 1918-1928. These notes reveal the genesis and development of several of Wharton's works.

Series II, Personal Correspondence (Boxes 23-30), contains letters to and from Edith Wharton. Included here are letters or notes from numerous literary figures, the most prominent being Joseph Conrad, Walter De La Mare, Clyde Fitch, John Galsworthy, André Gide, Edmund Gosse, Thomas Hardy, William Dean Howells, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, John Masefield, H. G. Wells, and William Butler Yeats. Other noteworthy correspondents include Bernard Berenson, Walter Rensselear Berry, Sir Kenneth Clark, William James, Joseph Joffré, Jean Jusserand, Henry Cabot Lodge, Charles Eliot Norton, Louis Pasteur, John J. Pershing, Herbert Read, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Theodore Roosevelt, John Singer Sargent, and Sir George Trévelyan. Many of these letters concern contributions to Wharton's Book of the Homeless (1916), published to secure aid for European refugees.

The Edith Wharton Collection at Yale is especially rich in letters from Henry James (170 letters). Covering the years 1900 to 1915, the letters give insight into James's personality and his views on a variety of subjects. Several letters give critiques of Wharton's publications and offer advice on her writing. "I egg you on in your study of the American life," he tells her in a letter of October 26, 1900; and in a letter of August 17, 1902, praising her novel The Valley of Decision, he reiterates his advice to stick to the American scene in urging her to "do New York." A letter of October 13, 1908, reveals James's concern over Edith's deteriorating marriage and offers stoic advice ("Out of it something valuable will come. . . ."); subsequent letters before her divorce in 1913 give further commiseration and advice.

An interesting inclusion in the James correspondence is a series of postcards written in rhyme by Edith Wharton (and signed also by Walter Berry) to James during her travels in Italy in 1911. Another item deserving mention is a letter to Wharton from Charles Scribner on April 2, 1913 (with an accompanying letter to Scribner from James), referring to her gift of $8,000 to James from royalties for her Scribner titles under the guise of an advance from Scribner's to James for a promised novel. The "hushed up" contract between Wharton and Scribner's for this concealed financial aid is also present.

In a number of letters James mentions other writers and their works. A letter of February 27, 1914, discusses Joseph Conrad and his novel Chance and mentions a testimonial to Conrad in which James, at least initially, was not a participant ("I am glad I haven't your popularity in the U.S.--there are such compensations in my obscurity"). His letter of October 20, 1914 recounts a meeting with Henry Adams and his two nieces.

James's later letters frequently discuss his deteriorating health, and letters from late 1914 to his death reveal his reaction to the war in Europe and his sense of patriotism. Passionate letters of September 21 and October 17, 1914, speak at length of "the most unspeakable & immeasurable horror and infamy" of the battle of Reims. Two letters from Wharton dated February 28 and March 11, 1915 (addressed to "Dearest Cher Maître" and "Cherest Maître"), discuss at some length her visits with Walter Berry to the front line and the army hospitals around Verdun. A letter from James on July 26, 1915, mentions his help with Wharton's The Book of the Homeless and the fact that he finds correspondence with H. G. Wells "disagreeable and in fact impossible to me."

Among Edith Wharton's other close friends, those most fully represented in the collection are Bernard Berenson, Walter Berry, Margaret Chanler, Beatrix Jones Farrand, Robert Grant, John Hugh Smith, Mary Cadwalader Jones, Sara ("Sally") Norton, and Howard Sturgis. These letters to and from those closest to Wharton reveal much about her personal life, writings, travels, and thoughts on a variety of subjects and people. Smaller files from persons close to Wharton include those of Mary Berenson, Paul Bourget, Max Farrand, Catherine Gross (Wharton's housekeeper), Gaillard Lapsley, Percy Lubbock, Anna de Noailles, Violet Paget ("Vernon Lee"), and Emelyn Washburn. There is also a small file of letters from her husband Teddy.

Bernard Berenson's letters, covering the periods 1910-1917 and 1928-1937, discuss a variety of topics: his work in art, his travels, literature, opera, World War I, friends and acquaintances. A letter from Rome of May 6, 1910 announces, "I suddenly find that the Renaissance is no longer my North Star. Its sculpture I have long since done with. Now it is the architecture which is vanishing from my vision. I wonder whether I shall ever get to the end of its painting?" He discusses his work on Leonardo da Vinci in a letter of February 6, 1917, and adds, "I have as much to say on a thousand subjects of art, literature, and humanity."

Many of Berenson's letters comment on Wharton's writing. A letter of March 23, 1912, praises her work highly and applauds her realism: "To a hazardous degree you are bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh." Other letters comment at some length on his travels throughout Europe and at times include brief notes on his visits to villas where architecture impressed him, or to art galleries or exhibitions. A letter of May 12, 1915, discusses the war and the sinking of the Lusitania.

The collection contains numerous letters from his life-long friend Walter Berry between 1898 and 1904 (with one additional letter from 1923), though most of Berry's letters to Wharton do not survive. In addition to discussing popular fiction and drama of the day (with comments on Kipling, Barrie, Conrad, James, etc.), Berry frequently comments on Wharton's works. Wharton often sought Berry's advice on her writing; a letter of November 25, 1901 offers his analysis of The Valley of Decision. A letter of January 20, 1901 discusses Coquillin and his letter of September 6, 1904 enthusiastically discusses the St. Louis Exposition.

Several other correspondents deserve brief mention here. Wharton's numerous letters to her close friend Margaret "Daisy" Chanler (1902-1933) are intimately chatty and discuss her reading, travels, daily routines, visitors, etc. A series of letters to Chanler in 1929-1930 discusses a proposed lengthy European trip the two planned but never fulfilled. An undated letter from Louis Bromfield describes his trip to India and a jungle safari on elephants. A brief letter from Max Beerbohm on August 25, 1915, includes his pencil sketch of a meeting between Lord Curzon and M. Cammaerts.

An intriguing letter from the Reverend Morgan Dix (December 1, 1905) surveys The House of Mirth and several of her stories from a religious viewpoint. A letter from Wharton to dramatist Clyde Fitch on April 14, 1907, discusses a play by Henry James and a French translation of The House of Mirth. A lengthy letter from Fitch dated August 9 (1909?) discusses his own work and comments on several plays he has seen performed.

A number of letters from Wharton are scattered throughout the correspondence, especially letters to Margaret Chanler and Beatrix and Walter Farrand. A letter to Beatrix Farrand on August 18, 1936, offers advice to Farrand on editing the memoirs of her mother, Wharton's sister-in-law and close friend, Mary Cadwalader Jones. A copy of her letter to Edmund Gosse on June 16, 1916, concerns her opposition to the publication of Henry James's letters by his niece Peggy James. Gosse's response is revealed in his letter of August 6.

Series III, Professional Correspondence (Boxes 31-39), consists primarily of letters to and from publishers, magazine editors, professional organizations, booksellers, and individuals writing to Wharton principally about her literary work (translations, interpretations, dramatizations, permissions for quoting or reprinting, etc.). Most revealing, perhaps, are the extensive files from her publishers and agents: Charles Scribner's Sons (1905-1937), Curtis Brown, Ltd. (1919-1928), Macmillan and Co. (1905-1930), and D. Appleton and Co. (1916-1937). The correspondence in these files tells much about her concerns with contracts and royalties, revisions, printers' errors, etc.

Taken as a whole, the professional correspondence reveals Edith Wharton's shrewdness as a businesswoman. Correspondence with her various publishers documents the sales patterns of her works and her concerns with both sales and textual accuracy. Letters to and from magazine editors indicate the nature and problems of magazine fiction writing in the first several decades of this century. Letters to foreign publishers or literary agents suggest the frequent problems of translations or financial remuneration.

Mrs. Wharton's favorite editor was Rutger Jewett of D. Appleton and Co.; and their correspondence is a blend of business and friendship, often revealing much about her approach to her writing. Correspondence with literary agents--Curtis Brown, Eric Pinker, etc.--reveals a writer's working relationship with such literary middlemen. Her correspondence in 1934-1935 with Alice Kauser, Zoë Akins Rumbold, and the American Play Company relates to the dramatization of The Old Maid, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1935. Also included in letter general files are numerous fan letters praising Wharton's writing or requesting her autograph or advice.

Series IV, General Correspondence (Boxes 40-49), covers the years 1916-1937 (with one letter from 1901) and contains a wide variety of correspondence generally of a non-literary business nature, arranged chronologically. Numerous letters to furniture and antique dealers and garden supply houses relate to the decoration and landscaping of her several homes in France. Correspondence about the purchase and maintenance of her automobiles reveals her concern for comfort and safety in the several cars in which she took great delight and pride.

Included in this series are letters relating to Wharton's work with various war charities, especially The Children of Flanders and American Hostels for Refugees: letters of explanation or publicity, requests for funds or various permissions, statements of activities, etc. These form the bulk of the correspondence for the war years 1916-1918, but there are also related letters throughout the 1920s. Some of the more personal letters on charity work also give a glimpse of life in France during the war and express her feelings about the devastation of war.

Series V, Personal Papers (Boxes 50-52), contains much of material relating to the publication of Edith Wharton's works: contracts, royalty statements and account books, and publication lists. The contracts and royalty statements cover the years 1900-1936 for her major publishers--Scribner's, Macmillan, and D. Appleton--and indicate her earning power in her peak years.

Personal Papers also contains Wharton's diaries for the years 1920 and 1924-1934, though the entries are brief and very sporadic. For 1920, most of the entries are memoranda of business transactions or household accounts, but several are comments on the progress of her writings. The diary for 1924-1934, although containing only some twenty-five entries, is more substantive. Among other topics, she discusses solitude, religion, the death of friends, her illnesses, and her fear of animals, and includes several borrowed quotations and personal aphorisms ("Life is always either a tight-rope or a feather-bed. Give me the tight-rope."). Also included are two poems, one titled "Lullaby for a Tired Heart" (February 8, 1932), the other untitled on the death of Walter Berry (October 12, 1927). The diary has few entries, but Wharton clearly intended it as a major comment on her life and work, for the inside cover bears the inscription," If ever I have a biographer, it is in these notes that he will find the gist of me."

Also in Personal Papers are biographical sketches and obituaries for Edith Wharton, several newspaper articles on interviews with Wharton, house plans for her chateau Ste. Claire, garden plans and flower lists for Ste. Claire and Pavillon Colombe, financial accounts for her voyage on the yacht "Osprey" (1926), and letters from various doctors relating to Edward Wharton's health from 1909 to 1911. Included also are fourteen folders of information related to Wharton's various war charities (minutes, reports, financial statements, membership lists, correspondence, etc.) and announcements and documentation of her numerous awards and decorations during World War I and her honorary degree from Yale in 1923.

Series VI, Photographs (Boxes 53-56), contains many original photos of Edith Wharton from childhood to old age, her friends and acquaintances (especially Walter Berry, Robert Norton, Bernard Berenson, and Gaillard Lapsley), interior and exterior views of her numerous homes in the United States and France, and scenes relating to her charities in World War I. Also included is an original charcoal sketch of Henry James by the famous artist John Singer Sargent (See Oversize, Box 67, folder 1836).

Series VII, the Gaillard Lapsley bequest (Boxes 57-60), contains correspondence to Lapsley from Edith Wharton and a number of her friends for the years 1895-1939. Most of the correspondence relates directly to Wharton, and many letters provide lengthy recollections. Most prominent in this collection are the letters from Wharton's friend and biographer Percy Lubbock (Boxes 57-59, folders 1684-1702) and over 330 letters and cards from Wharton herself to her close friend Lapsley from 1904 to her death in 1937. These letters are extremely valuable in detailing Wharton's writing, daily life, and travels for these years. Lapsley soon became a confidant of Edith Wharton, and her letters to him reveal much about her marriage and divorce and her feelings toward many friends and acquaintances. Letters between 1914 and 1918 report the war news in Europe, her thoughts on the war, her charity work and related matters. Later letters often discuss her travels and her frequent ailments.

In her letters to Lapsley, Wharton frequently comments on Henry James. Among the more revealing letters are those of September 21, 1908; July 6, 1911; September 4, 1911; September 20, 1912; November 11, 1912; February 21, 1914; November 8, 1914; and October 14, 1915. Letters between February 13 and May 27, 1913 relate to Wharton's efforts to help raise $5,000 for James's seventieth birthday, a gift which ironically provoked James's ire and caused Wharton much distress. Included with the letter of March 23 is a copy of the subscription letter sent to potential contributors among his friends and a list of the eventual subscribers. A letter of November 4, 1915 to Wharton from Theodora Bosanquet, James's secretary, comments on his health and activities. A letter of December 17, 1915 reveals Wharton's reaction to James's impending death ("All my 'blue distances' will be shut out forever when he goes"), and a letter of March 6, 1916 discusses James's passing. A revealing letter is a copy of Wharton's letter to James's niece Margaret in June, 1916, about the publication of James's letters.

As an indication of Wharton's frank comments on friends and other writers, she says of André Gide in a letter of October 18, 1918: "He is a mass of quivering 'susceptibilities,' & invents grievances when he can't find them ready made. Luckily he is so charming that one ends by not noticing."

Series VIII, the Oscar Lichtenberg bequests (Box 61), contains letters from about twelve correspondents, along with the page proofs of Wharton's short story "Autres Temps."

Included in the correspondence are twenty-one letters from Wharton to Richard Watson Gilder, the editor of the Century magazine. In this correspondence Wharton discusses, among other things, her exploration of Italian villas and gardens and her subsequent articles on them for Century (1902-1903), as well as later submissions to the magazine. In a letter of July 25, 1908 she defends her story "Life" against charges of lack of realism.

Letters to Robert Underwood Johnson, another Century editor, from 1900 to 1911 also discuss short story submissions to the magazine and show Wharton's stern defense of her form and punctuation. (See especially a lengthy letter of May 17, 1911.)

Series IX, Percy Lubbock material (Box 62), contains holograph and typed reminiscences about Edith Wharton from a number of her friends which Lubbock gathered for his Portrait of Edith Wharton (1946). Included are very informative and often touching reminiscences (varying from one to almost fifty pages) by Bernard Berenson, Emil Blanche, Margaret Chanler, Sir Kenneth Clark, Robert Norton, Sara Norton, John Hugh Smith, Gaillard Lapsley, and others who were close to Wharton.

Series X, the Georges Markow-Totevy bequest (Box 63), consists of material on Edith Wharton gathered by Markow-Totevy for an intended study of her life and work. The collection contains letters (originals and copies) to Wharton from Bernard Berenson, Henry James, Paul Bourget, and Vernon Lee, among others; and also letters from a number of Wharton's friends (Margaret Chanler, Jean Cocteau, and Elisina Tyler, etc.) to Markow-Totevy. Also included are extracts from Wharton's journals in the 1930s, notes from interviews with several of her acquaintances (Sir Eric Maclagan, Vicomte Charles de Noailles, John Hugh Smith, Jules de la Forêt-Divonne, and Jeanne Fridèrich, her secretary for several years), copies of several of her stories and poems, and several photographs (mostly negatives) of her homes.

Series XI, the Louis Auchincloss gift (Boxes 64-65), consists of six large spiral binders (entitled "The Letters of Edith Wharton") containing letters from and about Wharton and material related to her life and writings, chronologically arranged. The letters span the years 1881 to 1938 and discuss many aspects of Wharton's life and work. Wharton's own letters, most of which are to Mildred Bliss or Walter and Eunice Maynard, date between 1891 and 1937. Two early letters (1891) give condolences to Mrs. William Wetmore on the death of her sister and Wharton's friend Louise Wetmore (Box 64, folder 1790). Although the Wharton letters generally say little about her writing, a letter of May 24, 1900 to Eunice Maynard discusses her first book, The Decoration of Houses (1897). A letter of May 24, 1906 discusses Wharton's automobile travels in England and France and mentions the success of The House of Mirth (Box 64, folder 1791). Another letter to Eunice Maynard on June 12, 1913 discusses her divorce of that year; and a letter to Mildred Bliss on April 5, 1913 concerns the disastrous intended monetary gift to Henry James on his seventieth birthday. Several letters from 1915 to 1918 (Box 64, folder 1792) discuss the war, her charity work, and The Book of the Homeless, while several lengthy letters to her cousin Thomas Rhinelander in October, 1918 show her distress over the tragic death of his son in an air fight over France.

Volume III of "The Letters of Edith Wharton" (Box 64, folder 1792) contains a two-page description from an unidentified source of Wharton's last home, the chateau Ste. Claire, at Hyères, France. Scattered throughout the six volumes are photos of Wharton, her friends, and her homes Ste. Claire and Pavillon Colombe. Also in Volume III is a list of the provisions of Wharton's various trusts from her parents' wills (1882, 1901). Letters of May 4, June 28, and December 16, 1923, and May 29, 1924 relate to her honorary Yale degree. A lengthy letter to Mary Cadwalader Jones on February 21, 1921 concerns the dramatization of The Age of Innocence, while a letter to Margaret "Daisy" Chanler on June 9, 1925 reveals her interpretation of the "key" to her novel A Mother's Recompense and discusses the early critical reception of this work. Several letters in late 1927 to Mildred Bliss discuss Wharton's relationship with Walter Berry and the effect of his death on her. A copy of a letter to Bliss on February 10, 1928 states her intention to sell her properties and use the proceeds to endow a sanitarium in France.

Volume V (Box 65, folder 1794) contains a 1928 Christmas card with a short poem to the Lawrence Grant Whites. An interesting letter to White of March 29, 1932 speaks of Wharton's quarrel with "resurrected words." "Since good usage has ceased to be recognized as the determining factor in American speech, or writing, words are revived, or composed afresh, in a spirit of tiresome pedantry. . . ." The same letter applauds Aldous Huxley's Brave New World as "the biggest English satire since Gulliver" and speaks favorably of Huxley as a neighbor. Another letter to White on April 13, 1936 comments on the stage version of Ethan Frome.

In Volume VI (Box 65, folder 1795), letters to Gaillard Lapsley from Elisina Tyler, Beatrix Farrand, and Robert Norton (all August, 1937) recall Edith Wharton's final days before her death; and other letters from Norton, Bernard Berenson, and Charles Seymour to Lapsley are concerned with Wharton's will. A rather lengthy letter from Charles Du Bos to Percy Lubbock on August 6, 1938 comments on the distance at which Wharton held herself from even her closest friends. A letter from Lubbock to Lapsley on December 22, 1938 outlines his plans for his proposed Portrait of Edith Wharton.

The final item in Volume VI is a genealogical chart of the Jones family ("Chart of John Jones III").

Series XII, Other Papers (Box 66), contains copies of a number of articles about Edith Wharton and her world, reviews of several book-length studies, a copy of Henry James's will, obituary notices of Walter Berry and Walter Gay, an untitled holograph poem by Minnie Bourget, and items relating to the printing of an Edith Wharton Commemorative Stamp in 1980.

Oversize material (Box 67) contains items from the Personal Papers and Photographs series.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Edith Wharton Collection is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Literary rights, including coyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was formed from gifts from the Edith Wharton Estate (1938-1939), Gaillard Lapsley (1938-1946), Oscar Lichtenberg (1959-1965), Percy Lubbock (1954), Georges Markow-Totevy (1980), Louis Auchincloss (?), and an anonymous donor (2018), with smaller bequests from numerous other donors (especially John Hugh Smith and Margaret Chanler) and with purchases with Beinecke funds.

1868-1981 (inclusive)
38.75 Linear Feet ((69 boxes) +14 broadside, 4 art)
Related Names
Wharton, Edith, 1862-1937
Language of Materials