Literary Guests of Biltmore House

Written By Amy Dangelico

Posted 02/01/17

Updated 04/03/24

Estate History

While we aren’t sure exactly when they met, George Vanderbilt and author Edith Wharton likely knew each other most of their lives. Both were born into New York society in 1862 and both moved in the same social circles.

Thanks to the Biltmore House guest book, we know that Wharton visited the estate at least twice: once in November 1902 and again around Christmas 1905.

On December 26, 1905, she wrote from Biltmore to her friend Sara Norton, describing the Vanderbilts’ gracious hospitality:

“Yesterday we had a big Xmas fete for the 350 people on the estate – a tree 30 ft. high, Punch & Judy, conjuror, presents & “refreshments.” It would have interested you, it was done so well & sympathetically, each person’s wants being thought of, from mother to last baby.”

From The Letters of Edith Wharton

During this visit, she signed a copy of her recently completed novel, The House of Mirth:

“To George Vanderbilt from Edith Wharton, Biltmore House, Christmas 1905.”

The House of Mirth later became entry #2,163 in George’s “Books I Have Read” journal series.

In the Biltmore archives, there are a handful of letters from Wharton to George. While many of the letters discuss Wharton subletting the Vanderbilts’ apartment on the Left Bank in Paris from 1907 to 1910, one of them stands out from the rest.

On March 25, 1913, Wharton wrote George regarding a 70th birthday gift for Henry James, author of The Portrait of a Lady. She was sending word of a circular and a collection of money for James to purchase whatever gift he wanted.

But a gift was never purchased. James found out about the collection prematurely and refused it.

Coincidentally, James, who was also a friend of George Vanderbilt’s, stayed at Biltmore—in the winter of 1905, around the same time as Wharton.

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