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Edith Wharton Is Hot

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You read that right, Edith Wharton is H-O-T. Who says so? Entertainment Weekly, and they ought to know.

Two new novels are about to be released with stories inspired by Wharton, and some of her classics are being reprinted in gorgeous new editions.

This is great news for Wharton fans. In Florence a few weeks ago, at an international Wharton conference, one of the questions I kept hearing over drinks and dinners was this: when is it Wharton's turn? Yes, there've been some movies of her work, but barely a trickle compared to the Austen flood.

Nobody's expecting Wharton to ever be as popular as Jane Austen, with all the attendant websites and tchotchkes. After all, Wharton had a much more jaundiced view of life than Austen did, and she's unlikely to be hijacked as a writer of romances, the way Austen has been.

But her stories, her style, her humor -- they are arguably richer than anything Austen ever offered. And Wharton's our own. You can visit her gorgeous home in Lenox, Mass., The Mount. You can find tales of American life in her books that are as true today as they were when she wrote them, whether in The House of Mirth or in neglected later works like The Mother's Recompense, one of my favorites.

She had a Golden Age in the 1970s it seemed, when R.W.B. Lewis released his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography. I've loved her work since then, wrote a biographical/psychological book about her, then a comic mystery featuring murder at a Wharton conference, and most recently a re-telling of The House of Mirth from the point of view of one of its minor characters.

Wharton was a consistently brilliant author of short stories, novels, travel books, war reportage. Her own life is amazing. Brought up in a privileged cocoon of old New York money, she broke out to make her way in the world as a fiercely intellectual woman who was multi-lingual, amazingly well-traveled, knew famous writers by the truckload, and had a steamy affair in her forties with a bisexual journalist. That last story alone is worth a movie with Michael Fassbender.

Spending time in Florence with other Wharton fans reminded me how deep and rewarding a writer she is, how varied, how funny, how profound, and how ready she is for major revival. Bring on the biopic! Bring on the mini-series!