Edith Wharton continued to edit his best sellers restlessly even through numerous runs. In 1921, he finished tuning in “The Age of Innocence” in his sixth impression and put an edition on the shelves of his castle in southeastern France.
That copy, with its signature and plaque, has resurfaced in time for the centenary of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel. He has been donated to the library in another of his palatial houses, the Mount, a museum in Lenox, Massachusetts.
This is the only known English version of “The Age of Innocence” that belonged to Wharton, said Susan Wissler, executive director of the museum. (The examples of the writer’s copies of many of her works are already on the Mount; the gaps include her compiled teenage poems.) Ms. 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 its soul.”
The copy of “Age of Innocence,” a gift from book collector Dennis Kahn, will be released on January 24, Wharton’s 158th birthday. Mr. Kahn bought it from book distributor Sarah Baldwin in 2002 for $ 2,500 (recently valued at $ 12,500). Wharton fans “don’t know how he escaped” from the writer’s library, Kahn said.
Wharton gave away books, including signed volumes for charities to sell, and their heirs scattered others. More than 1,000 volumes of nonfiction he possessed were destroyed during a World War II bombing while they were stored in London. Another part of his library, preserved in a castle in Kent, England, was cataloged and assembled by the British bookseller. George Ramsden and acquired by the Mount in 2005.
Mr. Kahn’s gift bears the plaque of a Wisconsin businessman and philanthropist, Norman D. Bassett, who died in 1980 at age 89; Mr. Bassett had collected autographed books since he met Mark Twain as a teenager. Nynke Dorhout, the librarian of Monte, said: “We are still investigating the Bassett connection” to develop the provenance.
The margins of the book have some mysterious marks that highlight passages. The academics will come to reflect on which owner or reader puts scripts around the reflections of the main character of Newland Archer on his youthful flame, Countess Ellen Olenska, “which had become the composite vision of everything that had been lost” .