Perceptive Quotes by Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton at her desk

Edith Wharton grew up in a wealthy family that didn’t think it was proper for a young woman to want to write.  Though she lacked confidence, her first published works were steps to self-acceptance. Wharton lived a full life, building herself a mansion, living in France, aiding war refugees, and winning a Pulitzer Prize for her novel, The Age of Innocence (1921). Here’s a collection of perceptive quotes by Edith Wharton, who was ever observant about human nature and honest about the challenges of the writing life.


“After all, one knows one’s weak points so well, that it’s rather bewildering to have the critics overlook them and invent others that (one is fairly sure) don’t exist — or exist in a less measure.” (From a letter to Robert Grant, November 19, 1907)


“I was never allowed to read the popular American children’s books of my day because, as my mother said, the children spoke bad English without the author’s knowing it.” (A Backward Glance, 1934)


“There is one friend in the life of each of us who seems not a separate person, however dear and beloved, but an expansion, an interpretation, of one’s self, the very meaning of one’s soul.”


“I have never known a novel that was good enough to be good in spite of its being adapted to the author’s political views.” (From a letter to Upton Sinclair, August 19, 1927)


“Every dawning talent has to go through a phase of imitation and subjection to influences, and the great object of the young writer should be not to fear those influences, but to seek only the greatest, and to assimilate them so they become [her] stock-in-trade.” (From a letter, 1918)


“True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision.” (The Writing of Fiction, 1925)


“There are lots of ways of being miserable, but there’s only one way of being comfortable, and that is to stop running round after happiness. If you make up your mind not to be happy there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a fairly good time.” (The Last Asset, 1904)


Edith Wharton

You might also like: Edith Wharton’s reflections on her writing life


“The only way not to think about money is to have a great deal of it.” (The House of Mirth, 1905)


“No insect hangs its nest on threads as frail as those which will sustain the weight of human vanity.” (The House of Mirth, 1905)


“How much longer are we going to think it necessary to be ‘American’ before  … being cultivated, being enlightened, being humane, and having the same intellectual discipline as other civilized countries?”


“I don’t know if I should care for a man who made life easy; I should want someone who made it interesting.”


“In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.”


“Life is the only real counselor; wisdom unfiltered through personal experience does not become a part of the moral tissue. True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision.” (from The Writing of Fiction, 1925)


“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” (from Vesalius in Zante, 1902)


“Life is always a tightrope or a feather bed. Give me the tightrope.” (from a journal entry, 1926)


“Ah, good conversation – there’s nothing like it, is there? The air of ideas is the only air worth breathing.” (The Age of Innocence, 1920)


“We can’t behave like people in novels, though, can we?” (The Age of Innocence, 1920)


“I don’t know if I should care for a man who made life easy; I should want someone who made it interesting.”


Edith wharton and pekingese

See also: Wharton’s Struggles with Self-Doubt


“My little dog—a heartbeat at my feet.”


“Habit is necessary; it is the habit of having habits, of turning a trail into a rut, that must be incessantly fought against if one is to remain alive.” (A Backward Glance, 1934)


At last I had groped my way through to my vocation, and thereafter I never questioned  that story-telling was my job…I felt like some homeless waif who, after trying for years to take out naturalization papers, and being rejected by every country, has finally acquired a nationality. The Land of Letters was henceforth to be my country and I gloried in my new citizenship. (A Backward Glance, 1934)

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