Today we journeyed to Lenox, MA, to The Mount, the home of writer Edith Wharton. Just like Millay, she defied social expectations for a woman of her time and pursued her intellectual ambitions to the highest degree.
Although most of her relationships with men (including her husband Teddy, whom she later divorced) were unsatisfying, she did have a few brief moments of happiness. As the quote in the title of this blog implies, she reveled in the good times. She cherished her friendship with ex-patriate writer Henry James, with whom she enjoyed a true marriage of the minds. They possessed “a sense of humor and irony in exactly the same key.”
Having only read Ethan Frome (Ann and I) and The House of Mirth (Jen), we were amazed to learn that Edith penned 40 books in 40 years!
Her first book was actually on interior decorating but she penned many other non-fiction books in addition to countless novels such as The Reef, Summer, and The Age of Innocence, which earned her a Pulitzer Prize.
Edith’s philosophy and intellect are reflected throughout The Mount, which made the visit all that more interesting. In contrast with other mansions of the Gilded Age (think Biltmore), The Mount was full of intimate spaces and natural light. We adored our tour guide, Cecily, who was charming, funny and smart. Cecily encouraged us all to read The Age of Innocence, claiming it was Wharton’s most accessible novel.
During the tour, we learned that “Edith liked her tables round, her lighting low, and the conversation sparkling.” Being dog lovers (Edith considered cats “snakes with fur”), we were thrilled to see that dogs played an integral role in her life. Her dogs slept on cushions under the table and dined from bowls of Chinese porcelain by the fireplace.
Her gardens were equally impressive, with French- (above) and Italian-inspired designs. Not surprisingly, she even had a pet cemetery where several of her little darlings now rest in peace. Unfortunately, our visit did not conclude with a view of her grave, as she is buried in France where she spent the latter years of her life.
We next went to the nearby homestead of William Cullen Bryant, a writer and naturalist who was most famous for penning Thanatopsis, a mediation on death. While his home is now a National Historic Landmark, unfortunately for us, it was not open today. But we did peek inside the picturesque barn, which still had the individual house stalls and troughs.
Our tour for the day concluded in Northampton, where we strolled the grounds of Smith College, which prides itself on building generations of independent young females. Seeing a young woman seated by the Mill River Dam, where she laughed to herself as she leafed through a book, Jen quipped: “Now there’s a young woman who thinks for herself.”
And on that subject, tomorrow we’ll go to Amherst, the home of the notoriously independent-minded Emily Dickinson. It will be quite different from The Mount, as Emily never reached the fame of Edith in her lifetime, but given her talents, we expect to be equally delighted.