An Edith Wharton revival -- Martin Scorsese has adapted ''The Age of Innocence,'' for film

By Lauren Picker
Updated August 27, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

An Edith Wharton revival

Though she died in 1937, these days Edith Wharton is hotter than Sharon Stone in a sauna. The first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, best known for satirizing the belle époque‘s fashionable set, is once again in fashion herself. This month, Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited adaption of The Age of Innocence, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer, arrives at the Cineplex. Several other filmmakers are also dipping into the Wharton oeuvre, most of which is back in print. Now Whartonmania takes a new twist with the publication by Viking of a completed version of The Buccaneers.

Unfinished at the time of Wharton’s death, The Buccaneers traces the trajectory of five American girls from the lower rungs of New York society to Britain’s upper crust. In an effor that gives new meaning to the term ghostwriter, Marion Mainwaring has fluffed up and wound down the tale, which has already been optioned for the screen by Twentieth Century Fox. ”I did add a few things,” allows Mainwaring, who helped research R.W.B. Lewis’ Pulitzer Prize-winning 1975 biography of Wharton. ”If you’re a writer, you’re duty-bound to be faithful to the tone, but your own imagination takes over.”

When the uncompleted manuscript was first published in 1938, Time hailed The Buccaneers as ”a novel which might have been [Wharton’s] masterpiece.” Wharton purists would have preferred to leave it at that. As Lewis points out, the novelist left behind a plot synopsis that reveals just how it all turns out: ”I don’t see the value of one person finishing the work of another — especially in the case of The Buccaneers.”

There’s a value all right, but given the Wharton name’s current cachet it’s not necessarily literary. Indeed, the childless writer’s heir — William Tyler, the son of Wharton’s close friend Elisina Tyler (and a former U.S. ambassador to France) — continues to receive royalties from her works. Now in his 80s, Tyler divides his time between Chevy Chase, Md., and Antigny, France. — Additional reporting by Frank Spotnitz