Last Monday I ventured to Lenox, Massachusetts with four of my P.E.O. sisters. (P.E.O. is a philanthropic education organization I belong to.) We went to visit Edith Wharton's estate, The Mount. I didn't know very much about this estate before visiting, but she built it as her summer home in the early 1900's. Ms. Wharton only lived at the estate for about ten years, but the Edith Wharton Restoration took it over in 1980 (after several owners in between) and have been renovating it ever since. Unlike most historical homes I've visited, there is very little that is original in this home. There are several photographs blown up that allow the visitor to see the Mount as it was in Ms. Wharton's day.
Naturally, my favorite part was the library, which the Edith Wharton Restoration bought for over $2 million (they're dedicated, folks!) I longed to jump over the barrier and look through her books to see what notes she had made. There were a few on display under glass, but it's just not the same. It's an amazing collection, and it's the one room that actually resembles the way Edith lived in it. It was most interesting to hear that Edith used her library for reading or writing letters. She wrote her novels (The House of Mirth most notably) and short stories in her bedroom. The library is located in a very public area of the house, between Mr. Wharton's wine room and the drawing room where they entertained visitors.
I confess, when I read Edith Wharton in The Age of Innocence in high school, I didn't like it. I think it's fair to say my literary palate has diversified, expanded and grown since then, and I'm now eager to read The House of Mirth, which she wrote at the Mount, and Ethan Frome, which is set (allegedly) at the Mount.
One parting thought: I couldn't resist snapping a picture of Edith's copy of The Brothers Karamazov, which I am failing miserably at reading. I so wonder if she read it, and I would love to see her notes in the margin!
If you ever find yourself near Lenox, Massachusetts (only an hour from Albany), the Mount is worth a visit. I would love to go again on a cooler day and stroll the gardens. Visiting in spring or fall would be ideal. The Mount also offers special events, lectures and Friday night ghost tours (inspired by its appearance on Ghost Hunters.)
Now tell me: what is your favorite Edith Wharton work? What should I start with to satisfy my new fascination with her?