Today is the birthday of novelist Edith Wharton, born Edith Newbold Jones in New York City (1862) The Joneses were wealthy New York society -- that's where the expression "Keeping up with the Joneses" comes from. They were alarmed by their little girl, who was precocious; she taught herself to read, and wrote her first novel on brown wrapping paper when she was 11 years old. When Wharton was 14, she wrote her second novel, called Fast and Loose, a parody of British romances. When she was 18, five of her poems were published anonymously in The Atlantic Monthly. But then, at the age of 18, she stopped writing for almost 10 years. Instead, she lived the life of a rich young lady -- first as a debutante; then as a young wife, married to Teddy Wharton, a wealthy man who had almost nothing in common with her.
She loved motorcars, especially fast ones, she loved dogs -- especially small dogs -- she liked to knit, she was passionate about design and she loathed the Victorian style she had grown up with: cluttered, dark, heavy drapes and fancy upholstered furniture. And she loved to write.
In 1905, she published The House of Mirth, the story of the socialite Lily Bart, raised as a proper young woman, without any job skills, and so after her parents' death, her only hope is to marry a rich man. She can't bring herself to marry someone she doesn't love, and because of this she ends up friendless and poor. It's a tragic story, and it was the best-selling book of the year.
Edith Wharton went on to write more popular novels, including Ethan Frome (1911) and The Age of Innocence (1920).
It was on this day in 1848 that the California Gold Rush began. The carpenter and wheelwright James Marshall was leading a crew to build a saw mill for a man named John Sutter, who owned nearly 50,000 acres along the Sacramento River and wanted to start a logging operation there. It was a cold, clear morning. The night before, Marshall had diverted the river so he could put in the saw mill and on this morning, he found gold flecks where the water had been. John Sutter asked the workers to keep their discovery a secret so that he could continue with his sawmill -- but the story came out in the March 15th issue of The Californian out of San Francisco. And on August 19th, The New York Herald reported that there was gold in California. And gold prospectors headed for California. The population of California was about 150,000 Indians and about 14,000 non-Indians. Twelve years later, more than 300,000 people had migrated to California, and fewer than 30,000 Indians remained.
Mark Twain headed to California in 1861, and spent some time prospecting in Angels' Camp, trying to make his fortune, but he didn't find anything in the way of gold. He did, however, hear a man tell a story about a frog and how they filled him with buckshot so he couldn't jump, and so he lost his owner a bet. That story was "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," the story that made Mark Twain famous.
(entries courtesy of the online The Writer's Almanac)