IN 1888, WHEN she was twenty-six, Edith Wharton confided to a friend that she would give everything she had to go on a tour of the Aegean Islands. The friend was Jarnes Van Alen, a member of one of those old New York families that Wharton was later to make the subject of her fiction. His response was that he would be happy to charter a yacht for such a cruise if Edith and her husband Teddy would accompany him as his guests. Edith and Teddy, grateful as they were, felt that they should share expenses with Van Alen, even though they calculated it would cost them $10,000, roughly equal to their annual income. Edith's brothers, the CO-executors of Edith's trust fund, were vehemently opposed to such a venture, as was the entire Wharton clan. But when Edith made it clear that she really did want to go, Teddy's verdict was simple: 'Come along, then,' he declared. They set sail aboard the steam-yacht Vanadis just a few months later.
While experiencing what she was to call 'a taste of heaven', Wharton decided to keep a journal. Apart from some fragments of poetry and a miscarried attempt at a novel, it is the first text of any length she ever wrote. Perhaps she prepared the completed manuscript from notes when