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Edith Wharton's books arrive in Massachusetts after 100 years

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During Edith Wharton's well-travelled life, the American writer crossed the Atlantic an impressive 66 times. Now, after many months of negotiations, her extensive library is to cross the Atlantic again, to the US from Britain.

The 2,600-volume collection has been bought by the foundation that runs the Mount, the estate in Massachusetts the Pulizter- winning writer designed and which she made her home for more than a decade. The foundation plans to make Wharton's library available to literary scholars from around the world.

'This is a great day,' said Stephanie Copeland, president of the group. 'This is the most important acquisition we could have made. Nothing, other than the house and the gardens, gives an insight into [the writer] than her library.'

The collection " rarely on public view since the writer's death in 1937 " will be of huge interest to scholars, filled as it is with annotated and dedicated volumes. Among these is a copy of Problems of Power, written by one of Wharton's lovers in Paris, Morton Fullerton. He wrote in it: 'To Edith Wharton but for whom this book would never have been written.' And there is a copy of US President Theodore Roosevelt's 1915 book, America and the World War, which he signed, saying: 'To Edith Wharton, from an American American.'

The volumes were sold to the Mount for around pounds 1.5m by a Yorkshire bookseller, George Ramsden. He bought the bulk of the library in 1984 for pounds 45,000 and has spent much time piecing together the missing volumes.

He had to travel to Saltwood Castle, home to the Clark family. Sir Kenneth Clark " father of the late Tory MP Alan Clark " was Wharton's godson and he inherited the library. But he sold most of it to a London dealer from whom Mr Ramsden bought them. When Mr Ramsden returned to Saltwood to try to find missing volumes he was told by the diarist MP that his quest was 'admirable but a thundering nuisance'.

Mr Ramsden, who runs Stone Trough Books in York, said he believed Wharton was 'probably the most important American woman writer there has been'. He added: 'A lot of other writers' libraries have been broken up. The libraries of [writers such as] Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad ... they are destroyed. These volumes gathered together are a reflection of the writer.'

Exactly 100 years after the publication of The House of Mirth, considered her first major novel, the interest in Wharton has never been higher. In recent months, the online forum of the US-based Edith Wharton Group has been busy with speculation about the anticipated sale.

Ms Copeland said she believed Wharton, famous for her insights into the privileged classes to which she belonged and for her friendships with the likes of Henry James, F Scott Fitzgerald, Jean Cocteau and Ernest Hemingway, maintained modern relevance. 'Look at The House of Mirth. That is a book that young people today read. Her subjects and characters are not limited by time.'

The sale was concluded at Mr Ramsden's home in the village of Settrington. Guests had champagne and lunched on pheasant Mr Ramsden had shot. He told The New York Times: 'The unique thing about this library is that she wrote about it herself in her autobiography. She tells you what books mean to her.'

n An estimated one in 20 American adults is not literate in English, which means 11 million people lack the skills for everyday tasks, a federal study shows. From 1992 to 2003, the nation's adults made no progress in their ability to read a newspaper, a book or other prose arranged in sentences and paragraphs. They also showed no improvement in comprehending documents such as bus schedules and prescription labels.

The adult population did make gains in handling quantitative tasks, such as calculating numbers on tax forms or bank statements. But even in that area, the typical adult showed only basic skills, enough to perform simple daily activities.

(C) 2005 The Independent - London. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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