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.
Born November 18, 1939, in Ottawa, Canada, Margaret Atwood spent her early years in the northern Quebec wilderness. Settling in Toronto in 1946, she continued to spend summers in the northern woods. This experience provided much of the thematic material for her verse. She began her writing career as a poet, short story writer, cartoonist, and reviewer for her high school paper. She received a B.A. from Victoria College, University of Toronto in 1961 and an M.A. from Radcliff College in 1962. Atwood's first book of verse, Double Persephone, was published in 1961 and was awarded the E. J. Pratt Medal. She has published numerous books of poetry, novels, story collections, critical work, juvenile work, and radio and teleplays. Her works include The Journals of Susanna Moodie (1970), Power Politics (1971), Cat's Eye (1986), The Robber Bride (1993), Morning in the Buried House (1995), and Alias Grace (1996). Many of her works focus on women's issues. Atwood is also the author of the MaddAdam trilogy which includes Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, MaddAdam. She has won numerous awards for her poetry and fiction including the Prince of Asturias award for Literature, the Booker Prize, the Governor General's Award in 1966 for The Circle Game and in 1986 for The Handmaid's Tale, which also won the very first Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987.