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William Morton Fullerton (18 September 1865 – 26 August 1952) was an American print journalist, author and foreign correspondent for The Times. Today he is best known for having a mid-life affair with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Wharton.
Fullerton was a graduate of Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts and studied at Harvard. He received his Bachelor of Arts in 1886. While studying at Harvard, he and classmates began The Harvard Monthly. Thomas Buford Meteyard’s closest friend of these years (aside, perhaps, from Bliss Carman) —a lifelong relationship as it turned out—was Morton Fullerton, a classmate first at Phillips Academy at Andover, Massachusetts, then at Harvard, where the two worked together on the Harvard Monthly. At Harvard Fullerton studied with both George Santayana and Charles Eliot Norton (Bernard Berenson was a classmate in Norton’s course).
After his graduation and first trip to Europe in 1888, he spent several years working as a journalist in the Boston Area. In 1890, four years after his graduation from Harvard, Fullerton moved to France to begin work for The Times office in Paris. He eventually became the chief foreign correspondent, and remained with The Times. He remained there until 1910, leaving to try his hand at freelance journalism. He authored several books and numerous articles and served as an officer during World War I. Later, Fullerton joined the staff of Le Figaro, where he remained until his death in 1952. It was Fullerton's extensive knowledge of the world of publishing that led him to assist author Edith Wharton (with whom, at the time, he was involved) in publishing the French translation of her classic novel The House of Mirth, through a well-known magazine.
Morton has been described as "Singularly attaching… a dashing well-tailored man with large Victorian moustaches and languid eyes, a bright flower in his button hole, and the style of a 'masher'."
After graduation, while working as a journalist in London and Paris, Fullerton, scion of an old Puritan family, became a friend of Oscar Wilde’s, had an affair with the model for Lord Henry in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lord Ronald Gower, and later all but supplanted Marcel Proust’s friend, Walter Berry, as Edith Wharton’s lover. Dark, dapper, handsome, something of a “bounder” in the slang of the day, with what his biographer Marion Mainwaring has called “an agile, Catholic penis,” Fullerton suavely juggled “multiple lives … multiple secrets,” his claim to fame really that he deeply moved two authors of genius with whom he was intimate: Henry James, who used Fullerton as a model for the character of Merton Densher in The Wings of the Dove and wrote of “something—ah, so tender!—in me that was quite yearningly ready for you,” and Wharton, whose long passionate poem, “Terminum,” described a sexual encounter with Fullerton. So did her novel The Reef, a full-length treatment of the affair after it foundered.
Upon moving to London he befriended Hamilton Aidé and became the lover of Lord Ronald Gower.
Henry James met Edith Wharton at the Paris home of Edward Darley Boit, whose daughters would be the subject of the marvelous painting by John Singer Sargent at the MFA in Boston. They had other connections. Wharton was friends with Howard Sturgis, whom she had met in Newport. James had met Sturgis when he was 18 and James was 30. The Sturgises were an old Yankee Boston family and Howard's father had settled in London to run the Barings Bank. Later, Wharton and James were involved in a triangular relationship with Morton Fullerton, a Harvard graduate. Introduced to James in 1890 by Harvard Professor Charles Eliot Norton, Fullerton was a correspondent for the London Times and "well-groomed and extremely well-dressed, Fullerton, from numerous accounts, exuded great charm and had powerfully seductive ways, with a slim build, bushy yet groomed mustache, slicked hair and intense eyes." James was captivated. "I'd do anything for you," he wrote. James introduced Wharton to Fullerton. The journalist and bon vivant was involved with the gay circles of Paris and London. Fullerton dined with the gay poet Paul Verlaine, for example, and Oscar Wilde turned to him for help when he arrived in Paris bankrupt after being released from jail. At first, James was intrigued by Fullerton's and Wharton's attraction and encouraged it. Then he began to feel like a third wheel as their affair deepened and the two spent increasing amount of time alone. He grew depressed and left the lovers in France.
From 1906 to 1909 Fullerton was famously involved in an affair with American Pulitzer Prize–winning author Edith Wharton. They met in the summer of that year after being introduced by mutual friend Henry James. She undoubtedly considered him the love of her life, describing him as her "ideal intellectual partner". However they were never 'officially' together, as Wharton was already married and Fullerton's highly promiscuous personality prevented him from ever committing to a serious relationship.
After the affair ended, Wharton, who was fiercely guarded when it came to her private life, requested that Fullerton destroy every letter she had ever sent him in order to avoid any scandal. The affair itself, although suspected, was not confirmed until the 1980s. Fullerton had ignored Wharton's request and had kept all of her letters, which were eventually published as a book, The Letters of Edith Wharton, in 1988. The affair probably helped inspire an erotic fragment for Beatrice Palmato, a novel that Wharton outlined but didn't pursue, given that the incestuous father-daughter relationship at its core would make it unpublishable.
He was also engaged to his half cousin Katharine Fullerton Gerould, but the engagement was called off when Fullerton postponed the wedding. Katharine, sick of waiting, went on to marry another man and become a successful author in her own right. Around the same time he was engaged to Katharine and also involved with Wharton, Fullerton lived with an older woman named Mme Mirecourt, in Paris, but the affair ended disastrously and Fullerton was left owing her a great deal of money.
By the time Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana was a graduate student in Paris he was part of the gay underground of the period, a genial and popular figure evidently, and for the first time can be linked as a student to Morton Fullerton A letter of Fullerton’s to Dana in Paris in 1911 refers to one Chafee as “a peculiarly winsome youth” and counts on Dana to join them both at “a rendezvous to which I am looking forward with delight.”
Morton also had a long affair with the Ranee of Sarawak, Margaret Brooke.
A biography, Mysteries of Paris: The Quest for Morton Fullerton, was published in 2001 by Marion Mainwaring.
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