Edith Wharton's New York - Day 5
Our last day and just one stop left on our itinerary: a visit to the Wharton's home, The Mount, in the Berkshires.
The Mount is not only Wharton's North American architectural masterpiece and textbook example of her principles of proportion, harmony, simplicity, and suitability, it is the place she wrote her most successful book, The House of Mirth.
A modest sign on the side of a narrow road was the only indication that we had arrived at this splendid site. To reach the house, we left our car and walked for a quarter mile along a dirt lane through gently rolling woods, past the yet-to-be-restored stables, treetops swaying in the breeze, spring flowers growing along the manicured forest floor.
As we neared the end of the lane, there it was, peeking through the trees. The 3-story house emerged from the landscape, a white painted brick wall forming a courtyard to mark the entrance. This 1902 country home was where Wharton entertained her inner circle of friends including Henry James, Egerton Winthrop and niece Beatrix Farrand, one of America’s foremost landscape gardeners. Waiting to welcome us was our tour guide, Ann.
Artfully weaving Wharton's biography into the history of the house and grounds, social customs of the day, and her literary oeuvre, we walked room to room. The lowest floor was the entry hall, where guests would have arrived and been escorted up the beautiful staircase, edged with a French iron railing, to be welcomed by their hosts in the second floor gallery and parlor. The parlor and adjoining dining room are intimate in size and décor, reflecting Wharton's preference for small gatherings. Each of the rooms led out to the terrace with grand views of the gardens below and the lake beyond.
While most of the furnishings are not original, each room - including her sitting room and bedroom - are based on early photographs. While her publicity photo shows her working at the desk in her sitting room, it was in her bedroom that Wharton would spend the early hours of her day, writing each morning. Wharton would sit in bed and write her stories long-hand, tossing each numbered sheet on to the floor where later her secretary would later put them in order and type them up.
The only thing better than walking through the house, was walking through the gardens. These formal, yet welcoming gardens are beautifully designed and ground the house on the site. A 2-tiered and sweeping lawn is defined by neatly trimmed hedges and trees. A formal French garden on the north is arranged around a pool and fountain and an Italian garden on the south offers another fountain and a vine-covered arbor. Connecting these two gardens is a crushed limestone walk lined on both sides by “lime” trees. Looking up at the house from the gardens can only be described as spectacular.
What a way to top off this journey into the life and work of Edith Wharton.
Click here to read more about The Mount and how it was saved from ruin.
To discover more about the life and work of Edith Wharton search the Library Catalog. You'll find her novels, short stories, books on architectural and garden design, and much more.
Many thanks to Friends of the Library president Marsha Huff who had the idea to plan our tour around the life and work of Edith Wharton, tour guide Karen Bergenthal who made all arrangements and so elegantly guided us through the city, driving us to and from Lenox, MA.
Thanks to our fellow travelers who added to the pleasure of the trip with their enthusiasm for all things Wharton.