Julian Fellowes has discussed the influence of American novelist, short story writer and designer Edith Wharton on his work.
Born in 1862 in New York, Wharton is best remembered for her insider’s view of America’s privileged classes. The the Pulitzer Prize-winner was also nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1927, 1928 and 1930.
Taking part in a webchat with The Guardian, Downton Abbey writer Fellowes commented: “I discovered Edith Wharton quite late in life. I was in my 40s when I first read her. I became a big fan, I went to see her house out at Lenox, called The Mount. I’ve been given a lifetime award by the Edith Wharton society.
“What she explores is a period of the crossing of two waters in New York – you had the old landed gentry – the younger sons mainly – and from them came George Washington, Thomas Jefferson. They were the dominant social class. They lived in largish, simple houses in Washington Square. And into that culture came this torrent of money after the civil war.”
He continued: “These people decided to come and spend their fortunes in New York and they started to build palaces up Fifth Avenue. Park Avenue became a great boulevard of New York.
“If you go up to the 80s, 90s addresses you can still see these palaces. And there was this great battle of these two social groups. And there was this woman, Caroline Astor, who came from old, original 17th-century settlers and she felt this gave her the right to be the determiner of who was in and who was out.
“She recognised that New York society had to expand – that there couldn’t be two rival societies side by side. She was very powerful.”
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