Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Edith Wharton March 31, 2011

As we wrap up National Women’s History Month, I’d just like to say a HUGE thank you to Kathleen. She sparked the idea for this series and has provide no fewer than TEN profiles this month (including one that we ran out of time to run!) So the only fitting way to close this month is to hand it over to Kathleen, and say, “Thank you. You are my Chero!”

By Kathleen Guthrie

Edith Wharton wrote 22 novels, at least 85 short stories, 9 nonfiction books, and 3 collections of poetry. As a highly regarded garden and interior designer, she was considered a tastemaker in the early 20th century. She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and she was childfree.

A remarkable generation of female authors preceded the 1862 birth of Edith Newbold Jones, but they faced tremendous prejudice. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen* was first published with the anonymous byline “By a Lady.” The Brontë sisters used masculine pseudonyms to publish their poems and novels (Charlotte*, Emily*, and Anne* as Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell). Mary Anne Evans* wrote as George Eliot so that her work would be taken seriously, not brushed aside as frivolous romances, all that contemporary society assumed women could write.

Edith arrived at the right time to make her mark as an insightful, witty, and respected critic of her times, and she wrote under her own name.

Edith came from a privileged background. The term “Keeping up with the Joneses” was apparently coined about her father’s well-to-do family, and she relied on her keen observations of New York’s upper-middle class for much of her work. While traveling extensively between her home in Massachusetts and Europe (she spent the last decade of her life in France), she produced a remarkable volume of work. She found early success as a designer with the publication of her first book, which she co-authored, 1897’s The Decoration of Houses. But it was as a novelist that she established her name in literary history, with classic titles including The House of Mirth (1905), Ethan Frome (1911), and the Pulitzer Prize­-winner, The Age of Innocence (1920).

I can’t imagine she would have had the time or creative energy to be so prolific, so successful, if her days had been filled with the duties of a mother. Instead of offspring, she produced enduring works of art. Instead of encouraging children to use their skills and talents to contribute to the world, she put pen to paper and created a legacy all her own.

She wasn’t the only woman to give birth to books instead of babies. All of the women authors noted above with asterisks were also childfree.

Kathleen Guthrie is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s finding inspiration in the stories of many of our “cheroes” (heroes who are childfree) as we celebrate National Women’s History Month.


3 Responses to “Edith Wharton”

  1. Colleen Says:

    Wow! I didn’t realize all of those authors were childfree! Thanks for a great month. I really enjoyed all of these profiles

  2. TheBarreness Says:

    I have learned so much this month, thank you thank you

  3. Lu Says:

    Thanks for featuring Edith – one of my favorite, favorite writers along with Jane Austen, another chero. Interesting that Edith and Jane have been some of my favorite authors since I was in high school and that I am an infertile, too

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