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A Backward GlanceRead about another book on the list.
by Edith Wharton (1934)
Until recent decades the woman with the pen was, by definition, an escape artist. Edith Wharton made one of the more daring getaways, bolting not duty and drudgery but an enameled aristocracy. Unable to reconcile the intelligent and the fashionable, she shrugged off society, family, geography and, ultimately, even a husband. That took time; Wharton felt that she acquired a personality of her own only in 1899, when her first collection of short stories landed in bookstores. She was 37. "A Backward Glance" is her (highly selective) memoir of that euphoric, improbable adventure. Wharton is brilliant on childhood ("The little girl who eventually became me, but as yet was neither me nor anybody else in particular"), friendship, Henry James, the deadly dinner party and, most of all, the closed, complacent world she had fled, one that ranked literature as "something between a black art and a form of manual labor."