Friday, August 13, 2010

literary road trip: The Mount

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.

The house itself was mostly furnished by designers for a designer's showcase several years ago. I'm really glad we decided to pay the extra $2 to go on a guided tour because I learned so much about the space and Edith Wharton's life.

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.

My second favorite part of the Mount were the gorgeous gardens. My picture doesn't quite do it justice, as you would really need a wide-angle lens to appreciate its scope and symmetry (an obsession of Ms. Wharton as she designed both the house and the garden.) We had lunch in the terrace cafe while overlooking the gardens, the Berkshire mountains (in the distance) and wished we could see Laurel Lake through the trees.

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?


  1. I wish that I had thought to visit author homes when I was in college in Massachusetts. I would have loved an excursion like this. Thanks for the treat.

  2. Wow - looks like an amazing way to spend a vacation! :)

  3. I LOVE Edith, and I can't believe I haven't been to The Mount yet - you've inspired me to go!

    I reread The Age of Innocence every year, so even though you've read it, I would suggest doing it again. Languish in it - take it slowly. I find that's the only way to appreciate her!

    PS - Check out the Gillian Anderson version of The House of Mirth. It's stunning.

  4. bookwormmeetsbookworm.blogspot.comAugust 13, 2010 at 1:18 PM

    I really like this post. Have you ever researched the Literary Traveler website? It's pretty interesting. I read Ethan Frome and some other shorts stories of Wharton's, and her wintry imagery is so clear you can literally feel the bleakness of the landscape and the characters' futures. Apparently, the story was based on her time living there, as she felt isolated in the country, yet very much enjoyed being away from the city. I'm interested to see how you feel about her work after visiting and then re-reading.

  5. @Nicole. It's not too far from NYC. Day trips are always fun!

    @readerreads It definitely felt like a vacation, even though it was only an hour away!

    @Morgan I will check out that version of Mirth. I'm really looking forward to reading her and deciphering the clues of what's based on the Mount.

    @bookworm Thanks for the Literary Traveler suggestion! I'll report back once I've read some Wharton again.

  6. Carrie,

    This looks like quite the adventure. I'm taking a NE road trip this year and will have to add this as a stop. From the pictures, it looks like perfect weather for such a trip! I'm really going to try and sit down to read The House of Mirth this year. I absolutely loved Ethan Frome.


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