The Fruit of the Tree (1907) is the surprise point in Edith Wharton's nearly 60-year writing career. It deals with old New York's upper class the way Wharton's readers still expect -- from the inside. Born to privilege, she writes from the same experience she brought to her Pulitzer Prize winner, The Age of Innocence (1920). But here, she coils the story of a troubled marriage around two issues that remain as timely as ever: labor relations and euthanasia. John Amherst, a middle manager at a textile plant, wants better treatment for the workers he supervises. His wife's money makes it possible for him to push through many reforms. But she is too accustomed to frivolous "change and amusement" to support him for long. Circumstances force Amherst's wife and her friend, a nurse, (and the reader) to decide if a case of mercy killing is right. But the greatest surprise is Wharton's understanding of the working poor. The "subtle folds" in a rich woman's dress, she notes, are thanks to "thin shoulders in shapeless gingham," bent to the endless task of sewing.
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Edith Wharton (1862-1937) is best known as a novelist of "Old New York" society. Born to a privileged family in New York City, she spent much of her life living abroad. Among her numerous novels, short stories, and travel writings are The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, and the Pulitzer prize-winning Age of Innocence. She died in France at her villa outside Paris. DONNA CAMPBELL is Assistant Professor of English at Gonzaga University. She is the author of Resisting Regionalism: Gender and Naturalism in American Fiction, 1885-1915. She lives in Spokane, Washington.
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