[I]n the first place, New York was a metropolis, and perfectly aware that in metropolises it was not “the thing” to arrive early at the opera; and what was or was “not the thing” played a part as important in Newland Archer’s New York as the inscrutable totem terrors that had ruled destinies of his forefathers thousands of years ago.
—The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
The Age of Innocence (1920) won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for literature, making Wharton the first woman to win the award. The three fiction judges—literary critic Stuart Pratt Sherman, literature professor Robert Morss Lovett, and novelist Hamlin Garland—voted to give the prize to Sinclair Lewis for his satire Main Street, but Columbia University’s advisory board, led by conservative university president Nicholas Murray Butler, overturned their decision and awarded the prize to The Age of Innocence. She was also nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1927, 1928 and 1930.
Wharton was friend and confidante to many gifted intellectuals of her time: Henry James, Sinclair Lewis, Jean Cocteau and André Gide were all her guests at one time or another. Theodore Roosevelt, Bernard Berenson, and Kenneth Clark were valued friends as well. Particularly notable was her meeting with F. Scott Fitzgerald, described by the editors of her letters as “one of the better known failed encounters in the American literary annals”. She spoke fluent French, Italian, and German, and many of her books were published in both French and English.
In 1934 Wharton’s autobiography A Backward Glance was published. In the view of Judith E. Funston, writing on Edith Wharton in American National Biography,