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Edith Wharton

  • ... I have sometimes thought that a woman's nature is like a great house full of rooms: there is the hall, through which everyone passes in going in and out; the drawing room where one receives formal visits; the sitting room where the members of the family come and go as they list; but beyond that, far beyond, are other rooms the handles of whose doors are never turned; no one knows the way to them, no one knows whither they lead; and in the innermost room, the holy of holies, the soul sits alone and waits for a footstep that never comes.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Fullness of Life" (1891), in Scribner's Magazine ()
  • Life is made up of compromises.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "Souls Belated," The Greater Inclination ()
  • ... Mrs. Tillotson senior dreaded ideas as much as a draught on her back.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "Souls Belated," The Greater Inclination ()
  • ... to be with her was like living in a room with shuttered windows.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Confessional," Crucial Instances ()
  • She had lost her way in a labyrinth of conjecture where her worst dread was that she might put her hand upon the clue.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Angel at the Grave," Crucial Instances ()
  • ... there are spines to which the immobility of worship is not a strain.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Angel at the Grave," Crucial Instances ()
  • ... I begin to see what marriage is for. It's to keep people away from each other. Sometimes I think that two people who love each other can be saved from madness only by the things that come between them — children, duties, visits, bores, relations — the things that protect married people from each other.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "Souls Belated," The Greater Inclination ()
  • If proportion is the good breeding of architecture, symmetry, or the answering of one part to another, may be defined as the sanity of decoration.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • with Ogden Codman, Jr., The Decoration of Houses ()
  • It occurred to him that perhaps she was trying to be funny; he knew that there is nothing more cryptic than the humor of the unhumorous.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Mission of Jane," The Descent of Man ()
  • ... the change ... simply magnified her existing qualities. She was like a dried sponge put in water: she expanded, but she did not change her shape.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Mission of Jane," The Descent of Man ()
  • She had a creditable collection of features, but one had to take an inventory of them to find out that she was good-looking. The fusing grace had been omitted.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Mission of Jane," The Descent of Man ()
  • If he paid for each day's comfort with the small change of his illusions, he grew daily to value the comfort more and set less store upon the coin.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Other Two," The Descent of Man ()
  • The sunshine had the density of gold-leaf: we seemed to be driving through the landscape of a missal.

  • She wanted to get away from herself, and conversation was the only means of escape that she knew.

  • Miss Bart had the gift of following an undercurrent of thought while she appeared to be sailing on the surface of conversation ...

  • Miss Bart was discerning enough to know that the inner vanity is generally in proportion to the outer self-deprecation.

  • Everything about her was at once vigorous and exquisite, at once strong and fine. He had a confused sense that she must have cost a great deal to make, that a great many dull and ugly people must, in some mysterious way, have been sacrificed to produce her.

  • Misfortune had made Lily supple instead of hardening her, and a pliable substance is less easy to break than a stiff one.

  • She had no tolerance for scenes which were not of her own making ...

  • 'Ah,' said Mrs. Peniston, shutting her lips with the snap of a purse closing against a beggar.

  • ... he was like a traveller so grateful for rescue from a dangerous accident that at first he is hardly conscious of his bruises.

  • I believe she keeps on being queenly in her own room, with the door shut.

  • ... time, when it is left to itself and no definite demands are made on it, cannot be trusted to move at any recognized pace. Usually it loiters; but just when one has come to count upon its slowness, it may suddenly break into a wild irrational gallop.

  • Miss Corby's rôle was jocularity: she always entered the conversation with a handspring.

  • ... she was not accustomed to taste the joys of solitude except in company ...

  • ... the only way not to think about money is to have a great deal of it.

  • ... it is almost as stupid to let your clothes betray that you know you are ugly as to have them proclaim that you think you are beautiful.

  • ... half the trouble in life is caused by pretending there isn't any.

  • ... like many unpunctual persons, Mrs. Gormer disliked to be kept waiting.

  • ... it was harder to drown at sunrise than in darkness.

  • ... stop running around 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.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Last Asset," The Hermit and the Wild Woman ()
  • But her personality was a little tarnished: she was in want of social renovation. She had been doing and saying the same things for too long a time.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Last Asset," The Hermit and the Wild Woman ()
  • She had always struck him as the most extravagant of women, yet it turned out that by a miracle of thrift she had for years kept a superfluous husband on the chance that he might some day be useful.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Last Asset," The Hermit and the Wild Woman ()
  • There are two ways of spreading light: to be / The candle or the mirror that reflects it.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "Vesalius in Zante," Artemis to Actaeon ()
  • My little old dog: / A heart-beat at my feet.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "A Lyrical Epigram," Artemis to Actaeon ()
  • The ages are but baubles hung upon / The thread of some strong lives — and one slight wrist / May lift a century above the dust ...

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "A Torchbearer," Artemis to Actaeon ()
  • The longed-for ships / Come empty home or founder on the deep, / And eyes first lose their tears and then their sleep.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "Non Dolet!" Artemis to Actaeon ()
  • ... they seemed to come suddenly upon happiness as if they had surprised a butterfly in the winter woods ...

  • People struggled on for years with 'troubles,' but they almost always succumbed to 'complications.'

  • ... a walk through the Paris streets was always like the unrolling of a vast tapestry from which countless stored fragrances were shaken out.

  • ... most wrong-doing works, on the whole, less mischief than its useless confession ...

  • She took up the thread of her mild chat and carried it on at the same pace as her knitting. Her conversation resembled the large loose-stranded web between her fingers: now and then she dropped a stitch, and went on regardless of the gap in the pattern.

  • Silence may be as variously shaded as speech ...

  • I feel as if I could trust my happiness to carry me; as if it had grown out of me like wings.

  • Life's just a perpetual piecing together of broken bits.

  • ... naturalness is not always consonant with taste.

  • Her incessant movements were not the result of shyness: she thought it the correct thing to be animated in society, and noise and restlessness were her only notion of vivacity.

  • ... with Mrs. Fairford conversation seemed to be a concert and not a solo. She kept drawing in the others, giving each a turn, beating time for them with her smile, and somehow harmonizing and linking together what they said.

  • ... their prejudices reminded him of sign-posts warning off trespassers who have long since ceased to intrude.

  • People left him to his sorrow as a man is left to an incurable habit, an unfortunate tie: they ignored it, or looked over its head if they happened to catch a glimpse of it at his elbow.

  • ... some things are best mended by a break.

  • Mrs. Ballinger is one of the ladies who pursue Culture in bands, as though it were dangerous to meet alone.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • title story, Xingu ()
  • ... traditions that have lost their meaning are the hardest of all to destroy.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "Autre Temps ..., " Xingu ()
  • Her child was like a load that held her down, and yet like a hand that pulled her to her feet.

  • Ah, the poverty, the miserable poverty, of any love that lies outside of marriage, of any love that is not a living together, a sharing of all!

    • Edith Wharton,
    • 1912, quoted in Cynthia Griffin Wolff's 1979 introduction to Summer ()
  • An unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences.

  • In the rotation of crops there was a recognized season for wild oats; but they were not to be sown more than once.

  • It was the old New York way of taking life 'without effusion of blood': the way of people who dreaded scandal more than disease, who placed decency above courage, and who considered that nothing was more ill-bred than 'scenes,' except the behavior of those who gave rise to them.

  • The worst of doing one's duty was that it apparently unfitted one for doing anything else.

  • To me the only death is monotony. I always say to Ellen: Beware of monotony; it's the mother of all the deadly sins.

  • The making of the substance called character was a process about as slow and arduous as the building of the Pyramids; and the thing itself, like those awful edifices, was mainly useful to lodge one's descendants in, after they too were dust.

  • ... there are lots of ways of answering a letter — and writing doesn't happen to be mine.

  • ... his mind had been receptive up to a certain age, and then had snapped shut on what it possessed, like a replete crustacean never reached by another high tide. People, I had by this time found, all stopped living at one time or another, however many years longer they continued to be alive ...

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Spark," Old New York ()
  • Society soon grows used to any state of things which is imposed upon it without explanation.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Spark," Old New York ()
  • Life has a way of overgrowing its achievements as well as its ruins.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Spark," Old New York ()
  • ... she had learned that a woman of her age, however conspicuous her past, and whatever her present claims to notice, is fated to pass unremarked in a society where youth so undisputedly rules.

  • Since the Americans have ceased to have dyspepsia, they have lost the only thing that gave them any expression.

  • Mothers and daughters are part of each other's consciousness, in different degrees and in a different way, but still with the mutual sense of something which has always been there. A real mother is just a habit of thought to her children.

  • Dialogue in fiction should be reserved for the culminating moments and regarded as the spray into which the great wave of narrative breaks in curving towards the watcher on the shore.

  • Another unsettling element in modern art is that common symptom of immaturity, the dread of doing what has been done before ...

  • True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision.

  • In any really good subject one has only to probe deep enough to come to tears ...

  • In all the arts abundance seems to be one of the surest signs of vocation.

  • The result of every one's being in such a hurry to get everywhere was that nobody could get anywhere.

  • Everybody who does anything at all does too much.

  • Blessed are the pure in heart for they have so many more things to talk about.

  • He was a man who grew fat on resentment as others did on happiness.

  • Happiness is a work of art. Handle with care.

  • Ah, perhaps it was true — perhaps she did not know how to bear happiness. It took her by the inmost fibers, burned through her like a fever, was going to give her no rest, no peace, no time to steady and tame it in her dancing soul.

  • ... the Atlantic's too big for me. A creek's got more of the sea in it, for people who want to turn it into poetry.

  • Damn words; they're just the pots and pans of life, the pails and scrubbing-brushes. I wish I didn't have to think in words ...

  • ... she had once thought of happiness as something bright-winged, untameable, with radiant alien eyes. Now the wings were folded and the strange guest lay asleep in her heart. She was no more afraid of it than a young mother is of her child; only perpetually conscious of it, watching it with wakeful eyes, as the mother watches while her child sleeps.

  • When a man says he doesn't understand a woman it's because he won't take the trouble.

  • The spring of enthusiasm that used to give a momentary importance to the least event seemed to have run dry in her.

  • At last it was over, and the theater rang and rang with the grateful applause of the released ...

  • I'd almost say it's the worries that make married folks sacred to each other ...

  • Maybe we haven't made enough of pain — been too afraid of it. Don't be afraid of it.

  • Free love, she found, was not the simple experiment she had imagined.

  • Oh, the critic who asks for a reprieve has already formed his opinion.

  • ... he could now think about her calmly, recognizing that her course was run and that she would not have wished to outlive herself.

  • The real marriage of true minds is for any two people to possess a sense of humor or irony pitched in exactly the same key, so that their joint glances at any subject cross like interarching searchlights.

  • Years ago I said to myself: 'There's no such thing as old age; there is only sorrow.' I have learned with the passing of time that this, though true, is not the whole truth. The other producer of old age is habit: the deathly process of doing the same thing in the same way at the same hour day after day, first from carelessness, then from inclination, at last from cowardice or inertia ...

  • 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.

  • I suppose 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.

  • Life is the saddest thing there is, next to death ...

  • Inkstands and tea-cups are never as full as when one upsets them ...

  • ... caprice is as ruinous as routine.

  • Leisure, itself the creation of wealth, is incessantly engaged in transmuting wealth into beauty by secreting the surplus energy which flowers in great architecture, great painting and great literature. Only in the atmosphere thus engendered floats that impalpable dust of ideas which is the real culture. A colony of ants or bees will never create a Parthenon.

  • ... even in houses commonly held to be 'booky' one finds, nine times out of ten, not a library but a book-dump.

  • It must be less wicked to love the wrong person than not to love anybody at all.

  • I don't believe in God, but I do believe in His saints ...

    • Edith Wharton,
    • in Percy Lubbock, Portrait of Edith Wharton ()
  • The American landscape has no foreground and the American mind has no background.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • 1905, in Richard Warrington Baldwin Lewis, Edith Wharton: A Biography ()
  • I'm afraid I'm an incorrigible life-lover, life-wonderer, and adventurer.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • 1936, in Richard Warrington Baldwin Lewis, Edith Wharton: A Biography ()
  • I have drunk of the wine of life at last, I have known the thing best worth knowing, I have been warmed through and through, never to grow quite cold again till the end.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • 1908, in Gloria C. Erlich, The Sexual Education of Edith Wharton ()
  • One cares so little for the style in which one's praises are written.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Twilight of the God," Collected Stories 1891-1910 ()
  • What was the staunchest code of ethics but a trunk with a series of false bottoms? Now and then one had the illusion of getting down to absolute right or wrong, but it was only a false bottom — a removable hypothesis — with another false bottom underneath. There was no getting beyond the relative.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Twilight of the God," Collected Stories 1891-1910 ()
  • Genius is of small use to a woman who does not know how to do her hair.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Touchstone," Collected Stories 1891-1910 ()
  • ... in the dissolution of sentimental partnerships it is seldom that both associates are able to withdraw their funds at the same time ...

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Touchstone," Collected Stories 1891-1910 ()
  • Only the fact that we are unaware how well our nearest know us enables us to live with them.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The Touchstone," Collected Stories 1891-1910 ()
  • ... life is the only real counsellor ... wisdom unfiltered through personal experience does not become a part of the moral tissues.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "Sanctuary," Collected Stories 1891-1910 ()
  • Our blindest impulses become evidence of perspicacity when they fall in with the course of events.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • "The House of the Dead Hand," Collected Stories 1891-1910 ()
  • [On falling in loved with a house:] I feel as if I were going to get married — to the right man at last!

    • Edith Wharton,
    • 1927, in Hermione Lee, Edith Wharton ()
  • Life is either always a tight-rope or a feather-bed. Give me the tight-rope.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • diary entry (1926), in Laura Rattray, ed., The Unpublished Writings of Edith Wharton, vol. 1 ()
  • ... whatever the uses of a room, they are seriously interfered with if it be not preserved as a world by itself.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • with Ogden Codman, Jr., The Decoration of Houses ()
  • One of the first obligations of art is to make all useful things beautiful.

    • Edith Wharton,
    • with Ogden Codman, Jr., The Decoration of Houses ()
  • In spite of illness, in spite even of the arch-enemy 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.

  • Ah, good conversation — there’s nothing like it, is there? The air of ideas is the only air worth breathing.

Edith Wharton, U.S. novelist, critic

(1862 - 1937)

Full name: Edith Newbold Jones Wharton