The only surviving copy of The Age of Innocence known to have belonged to Edith Wharton herself has been donated to the Mount, Wharton’s former home and now a museum dedicated to her. Donated by book collector Dennis Kahn, the edition is a 1921 sixth printing of her most successful novel. It bears her signature and a bookplate from Sainte-Claire-du-Château in Hyères, a restored convent on the French Riviera where Wharton wrote The Age of Innocence between September 1919 and March 1920.
Wharton gave away books, including signed volumes for charities to sell, and her heirs scattered others. More than 1,000 nonfiction volumes that she owned were destroyed during a World War II bombing while stored in London. Another portion of her library, preserved at a castle in Kent, England, was cataloged and assembled by the British bookseller George Ramsden and acquired by the Mount in 2005.
Mr. Kahn’s gift bears the bookplate of a Wisconsin businessman and philanthropist, Norman D. Bassett, who died in 1980 at 89; Mr. Bassett had collected autographed books since he met Mark Twain as a teenager. Nynke Dorhout, the Mount’s librarian, said, “We are still researching the Bassett connection” to flesh out the provenance.
Published in 1920, The Age of Innocence was Wharton’s 12th novel. By then she was already an acclaimed author, but this was her greatest success to date. It was a popular and critical smash, garnering her the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1921. She was the first woman to receive the award, beating Sinclaire Lewis in a twist reversal of the committee’s decision.
This year is the centennial of its publication and the Mount, the home Edith Wharton designed and had built in 1902 in Lenox, Massachusetts, is planning numerous events to celebrate the occasion. The donation of the only known surviving English-language edition of her masterpiece to have belonged to the author will usher in the centennial year with an official unveiling on January 24th, Edith Wharton’s 158th birthday.
Only tenuously connected to the above but I’m taking the opportunity anyway: at the Mount are buried Wharton’s beloved long-haired Chihuahas Mimi and Miza. They were laid to rest on a hillside visible from the library and sitting room. I bring this up solely as a pretext to post this picture of Edith Wharton, stylish as hell in her mutton chop-sleeve seersucker suit, with Mimi and Miza on her lap looking witheringly into the camera, eyes so narrow they put the Frye “not sure if” meme to shame. The picture was taken in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1889-90.
Just for comparison’s sake, and because I can never get enough of Mimi and Miza’s baleful expressions, here they are three years earlier (1886) with Edith’s embezzling, unfaithful, mentally ill husband Edward and his terrier Jules.
Miza and Mimi are said to haunt the Mount. I can’t imagine a more chilling pair of ghosts.