Reporter at the Front and Organizer at the Rear: 1915

  • Alan Price


edith wharton had spent the autumn and the winter of 1914 organizing war charities and raising money for the refugees flooding Paris. She told Mary Berenson, who had been staying with her during the creation of the American Hostels for Refugees and who had asked how the new organization was getting along, that the hostels took “a lot of nursing, & reams of letter writing.”1 The writing was of a kind, however, that did not lend itself to producing fiction. In a New Year’s greeting excusing “put[ting] off even the letters one most wanted to write” she said she wished she could write “when evening came, [if] my brain were not too sodden & my hand too tired to pick up a pen.”2 She confided to Charles Scribner that while she had managed to raise $100,000 during the previous five months, the daily demands of fund raising had left her “absolutely pen-tied.”3 Her literary production had fallen off so sharply that for 1914 she filed taxes on an income of only $900.4


Short Story Automobile Trip Belgian Government American Embassy Flemish Child 
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  1. 5.
    R.W.B. Lewis, Edith Wharton: A Biography (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 378.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Entry for January 7, 1915, by Helen Coolidge in John Gardner Coolidge, A War Diary in Paris, 1914–1917 (Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press, 1931), 23.Google Scholar
  3. 12.
    Edith Wharton, Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belfort (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1915), 41.Google Scholar
  4. 15.
    Quoted in Shari Benstock, No Gifts from Chance: A Biography of Edith Wharton (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1994), 310.Google Scholar
  5. 20.
    André Gide, The Journals of André Gide, vol. 2, translated and annotated by Justin O’Brien (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1951), 103.Google Scholar
  6. 35.
    James E. Sait, “Charles Scribner’s Sons and the Great War,” Princeton University Library Chronicle 48 (Winter 1987): 178.Google Scholar
  7. 40.
    Wharton to Robert Bridges, March 24, 1915, Special Collections, Princeton. Also quoted in Roger Burlingame, Of Making Many Books (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1947), 311.Google Scholar
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    Elisina Tyler to Mildred Bliss, April 27, 1915, Harvard University Archives. Paul Fussell comments on this tendency to see the war in literary terms in The Great War and Modern Memory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), chapter 5.Google Scholar
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    Edith Wharton, A Backward Glance (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1934), 330.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 346.Google Scholar
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    Henry James to Wharton, July 19, 1915, Yale. See also Henry James, Henry James and Edith Wharton, Letters: 1900–1915, ed. Lyall H. Powers (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1990), 345–346.Google Scholar
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    Daniel Berkeley Updike, “Notes on the Press and Its Work,” Updike: American Printer and His Merrymount Press (New York: American Institute of Graphic Arts, 1947), 21.Google Scholar
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    André Suarès, “Song of the Welsh Women,” The Book of the Homeless (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916), 147.Google Scholar
  14. 125.
    Arline Boucher Tehan, Henry Adams in Love: The Pursuit of Elizabeth Sherman Cameron (New York: Universe Books, 1983), 236.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 11.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 243–244.Google Scholar
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    Daisy Chanler, a child of her privileged class, describes such wartime rummage sales and the inappropriate way the poor spent their money: “Great rummage sales were organized by ladies who in times of peace devoted their energies to giving and going to parties. These sales assumed such proportions that the police had to be called in to keep order and establish one-way circulation for the dense and often unruly crowds that came to buy. The sidewalk was jammed for hours before the doors were opened, and then there would be a wild rush for the high-piled clothes counter where fur coats, handsome gowns, and all manner of luxurious garments were offered for a song. The very poor, who for their few dollars could have fitted themselves out with warm and substantial tweeds, would be sorely tempted by some gauzy, glittering creation wholly inappropriate to an East Side tenement.” Chanler, Autumn in the Valley (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1936), 162.Google Scholar

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© Alan Price 1996

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  • Alan Price

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