46. Edith Wharton. She may finally be getting her due as entering the canon a great American writer, but most people don’t know about how she lead her life. She was born Edith Jones, and to an old New York family so rich and established they are literally the ones referred to in “keeping up with the Jones.” Her life was obviously not one of financial poverty, but emotional.
Her mother decided she was too ugly to make a good match, so they married her off to a much older man who was, literally, insane. He was abusive and she did something almost totally unheard of in her circles: she got a divorce. This expelled her from polite society and what little sympathy she might have had from her old connections was lost when she did something just as unacceptable – she decided to have a profession as a writer.
Eventually, she could not bear the shunning of the US and became an expat living in Paris where she felt she could start again. During her lifetime, she was never considered to be a writer of equal intellectual status to her male contemporaries, such as Henry James, however, she made a good living and lived by herself by her own rules.
The tragedy of her life really was not her expulsion from “society” but that she never was able to find love, and it was what she wanted more than anything. I think she felt she had too many things against her – a professional, tainted by divorce, and just too ugly (as her mother had reminded her many times).
All you need to do is read her books and see both how much she longed for romantic love, and that she cannot bear to see even her characters have what she was denied. She shared a lover with Henry James, actually, Morton Fullerton, and people think of him as Wharton’s great love and she was very devoted, but the feelings weren’t really mutual.
Wharton’s big lucky break in life was that she had a father who loved her, and he valued her intellect and allowed her to, rather secretly, educate herself in his library and develop her mind in ways that were unacceptable for women at the time. I think she was a badass.