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The Book of the Homeless


The Book of the Homeless


“I believe if I were dead, and anyone asked me to come back and witness for France, I should get up out of my grave to do it.”

--Edith Wharton, "Talk to American Soldiers"

Edith Wharton was a keen observer of society and a chronicler of her times. There's an elegance and clarity to her writing that makes her stories thoughtful, biting, witty, (and yes) beautifully sad.

Although Edith Wharton may be best known for her novels analyzing New York's upper crust, the author lived in France from 1907 until her death in 1937. There, she witnessed the ravages of World War I, especially the incredible hardships endured by the refugees.

The world had never known a war like the one that ensued, which is as remembered for the millions of lost lives as for the hideous arsenals of weapons that came to include poison gas, flamethrowers, trench mortars, aerial bombardments, and armored tanks.

She helped by establishing The Children of Flanders Relief Committee and The American Hostels for Refugees.

To raise money for her charities, she agreed to edit this work of poems, essays, and pictures.

She called it “The Book of the Homeless,” a collection of verse, essays, musical scores, and drawings that would, in later years, influence her thinking about the form and function of her novels.

Contributors included some of the brightest names of the time: Jean Cocteau, Paul Claudel, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, George Santayana, Igor Stravinsky, and W.B. Yeats.

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt provided the introduction, in which he wrote: "We owe to Mrs. Wharton all the assistance we can give. We owe this assistance to the good name of America, and above all for the cause of humanity we owe it to the children, the women and the old men who have suffered such dreadful wrong for absolutely no fault of theirs."

"There were moments," she later wrote, "when I felt I had died, and woken up in an unknown world. And so I had.”

Praised by critics for its realism and candor, The Book of the Homeless was one of Wharton's personal favorites, and remains as relevant today as when it was first published.

EDITH WHARTON (1862-1937), one of the greatest American authors, transformed the art of fiction. The Pulitzer Prize winning author of numerous novels and short stories, including The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, The Age of Innocence, and The Descent of Man, she is considered to be a literary colossus, and a central figure in the development of the modern novel.

 "Perhaps, the greatest female novelist that America has yet produced."

—Cynthia Griffin Wolff


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