In honor of summer vacations, a leisurely look at The Mount, the house Edith Wharton designed and built as her summer retreat, for writing, reading, and small house parties with good friends.
Wharton may be sort of an odd fit for a romance blog, but I’ve always been fascinated by her. Neither her fiction or her real-life marriage and love affair(s) have much to offer in the way of an HEA.
But I have sometimes thought that a woman’s nature is like a great house full of rooms: there is the hall, through which everyone passes in going in and out; the drawing room, where one receives formal visits; the sitting-room, where the members of the family come and go as they list; but beyond that, far beyond, are other rooms, the handles of whose doors perhaps are never turned; no one knows the way to them, no one knows whither they lead; and in the innermost room, the holy of holies, the soul sits alone and waits for a footstep that never comes. (The Fullness of Life, 1893)
She wrote this early in her career, and in spite of her cynicism about love/marriage, I love how the passage embodies her psychological insight, gilded prose style, and use of architecture to explore deeper themes.
Much of the main house has been restored, including her boudoir and library. Wedding business helps support the ongoing restoration and the stable is used as an event staging area.
I knew that Wharton was one of the 1% in her day, born a Jones in New York’s late Victorian society (as in “keeping up with the…”). I didn’t realize she’s also one of the 5% — The Mount is one of only 5% of U.S. National Historic Landmarks dedicated to the life, work, and accomplishments of an American woman. A spectacular place for a daytrip this week that was relaxing, historic, literary, and inspiring.
Many people know Wharton’s novels (my favorites are The Age of Innocence and The Buccaneers), but fewer people know of her other life work as a designer and design theorist. Her The Decoration of Houses was published in 1897 and has never gone out of print. The Mount is an immersive experience — you can walk and sit and gaze at the views in the spaces that embody her design principles, and it is easy to imagine the presence of her real life friends, her fictional characters, and/or the characters as they have been portrayed on film.
Happy summer! Wishing for all readers and writers the benedictions of delightful moments in shady gardens, ample book-lined rooms, and plenty of quiet, comfortable places to sit and write.
Edith preferred to write in bed, though she was frequently photographed at a desk. After tomorrow when my kids return from camp, I won’t have much peace and quiet for reading and writing, but I’ll have memories of the Mount, and some nice pictures to look at!