Edith Wharton was a woman of extreme contrasts; brought up to be a leisured aristocrat, she was also dedicated to her career as a writer. She wrote novels of manners about the old New York society from which she came, but her attitude was consistently critical. Her irony and her satiric touches, as well as her insight into human character, continue to appeal to readers today. As a child, Wharton found refuge from the demands of her mother's social world in her father's library and in making up stories. Her marriage at age 23 to Edward ("Teddy") Wharton seemed to confirm her place in the conventional role of wealthy society woman, but she became increasingly dissatisfied with the "mundanities" of her marriage and turned to writing, which drew her into an intellectual community and strengthened her sense of self. After publishing two collections of short stories, The Greater Inclination (1899) and Crucial Instances (1901), she wrote her first novel, The Valley of Decision (1902), a long, historical romance set in eighteenth-century Italy. Her next work, the immensely popular The House of Mirth (1905), was a scathing criticism of her own "frivolous" New York society and its capacity to destroy her heroine, the beautiful Lily Bart. As Wharton became more established as a successful writer, Teddy's mental health declined and their marriage deteriorated. In 1907 she left America altogether and settled in Paris, where she wrote some of her most memorable stories of harsh New England rural life---Ethan Frome (1911) and Summer (1917)---as well as The Reef (1912), which is set in France. All describe characters forced to make moral choices in which the rights of individuals are pitted against their responsibilities to others. She also completed her most biting satire, The Custom of the Country (1913), the story of Undine Spragg's climb, marriage by marriage, from a midwestern town to New York to a French chateau. During World War I, Wharton dedicated herself to the war effort and was honored by the French government for her work with Belgian refugees. After the war, the world Wharton had known was gone. Even her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Age of Innocence (1920), a story set in old New York, could not recapture the former time. Although the new age welcomed her---Wharton was both a critical and popular success, honored by Yale University and elected to The National Institute of Arts and Letters---her later novels show her struggling to come to terms with a new era. In The Writing of Fiction (1925), Wharton acknowledged her debt to her friend Henry James, whose writings share with hers the descriptions of fine distinctions within a social class and the individual's burdens of making proper moral decisions. R.W.B. Lewis's biography of Wharton, published in 1975, along with a wealth of new biographical material, inspired an extensive reevaluation of Wharton. Feminist readings and reactions to them have focused renewed attention on her as a woman and as an artist. Although many of her books have recently been reprinted, there is still no complete collected edition of her work.Writer and feminist activist Marilyn French was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 21, 1929. She studied philosophy and English literature at Hofstra College, earning a bachelor's degree in 1951 and a master's in 1964. Before earning her doctorate from Harvard University, she taught English at Hofstra from 1964 to 1968. She was an assistant professor of English at the College of the Holy Cross from 1972 to 1976. She wrote numerous books throughout her lifetime including The Women's Room (1977), The War against Women (1992), and Season in Hell: A Memoir (1998). She died of heart failure on May 2, 2009 at the age of 79.
Dorothy Allison, 1949 - Writer Dorothy Allison was born in 1949 in Greenville, South Carolina to a fourteen-year-old unwed mother. She grew up with an abusive and violent father figure. Allison was the first in her family to graduate from high school. She received a National Merit Scholarship and earned a bachelor's degree from Florida Presbyterian College and a master's from New York's School of Social Research. In 1988, "Trash," a book of short stories was published. Allison followed with "The Women Who Hate Me: Poetry, 1980-1990," which gained her respect in the gay and lesbian community. "Trash" was awarded two Lambda Literary awards: Best Small Press and Best Lesbian Book. "Bastard Out of Carolina" gave her mainstream success and was a National Book Award finalist. The novel tells a tale of poverty, incest, abuse and survival and is centered around the Boatwright family of Greenville County, South Carolina. Allison has also published a collection of essays titled "Skin: Talking About Sex, Class and Literature," which won critical acclaim. "Two or Three Things I Know For Sure" (1995) is a short memoir in which she used text and family photographs. "Cavedweller" is an epic novel that chronicles the lives of four strong women in the difficult terrain of small town Georgia. In addition to writing her books, Allison is a contributor to publications such as The New York Times, Harpers and Allure.