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Edith Wharton's 'The Age of Innocence' comes home
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by Eve M. Kahn



NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE ).- Edith Wharton kept restlessly editing her bestsellers even through numerous print runs. In 1921, she finished fine-tuning “The Age of Innocence” upon its sixth printing and tucked one edition onto the shelves at her chateau in Southeastern France.

That copy, with her signature and bookplate, has resurfaced in time for the centennial of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. It has been donated to the library at another of her palatial homes, the Mount, a museum in Lenox, Massachusetts.

This is the only known English-language version of “The Age of Innocence” that belonged to Wharton, said Susan Wissler, executive director of the museum. (Examples of the writer’s copies of many of her works are already at the Mount; gaps include her collected teenage poems.) Wissler added that the museum’s book collection, as it grows, powerfully evokes Wharton’s interests and presence: “The library very much provides us with her soul.”

The “Age of Innocence” copy, a gift from book collector Dennis Kahn, will be unveiled Jan. 24, Wharton’s 158th birthday. Kahn bought it from the book dealer Sarah Baldwin in 2002 for $2,500 (it was recently appraised at $12,500). Wharton aficionados “don’t know how it escaped” from the writer’s library, Kahn said.

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 British bookseller George Ramsden and acquired by the Mount in 2005.

Kahn’s gift bears the bookplate of a Wisconsin businessman and philanthropist, Norman D. Bassett, who died in 1980 at 89; 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.

The book’s margins have a few mysterious markings highlighting passages. Scholars will get to ponder which owner or reader put dashes around the main character Newland Archer’s late-in-life musings about his youthful flame, Countess Ellen Olenska, “who had become the composite vision of all that he had missed.”










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