Mrs. Wharton’s View

The view from Mrs. Wharton’s window was a striking one…full of interest and beauty. As a Wharton fan or avid reader might notice, I’ve re-arranged a line from Edith Wharton’s short story Mrs. Manstey’s View in accordance to my feeling upon visiting her home in Lenox Massachusetts this past weekend. While Mrs. Manstey’s view may have been lacking in beauty, Wharton’s was the reverse.

A view from the flower garden
A view from the flower garden

It was the quintessential fall day; the wonderful sun after a heavy rainfall warming the ground and creating that sweet, earthy aroma of autumn leaves and earth. As my fiance and I walked down the tree lined road from the parking lot to Wharton’s estate a sense of history enveloped me. There were lavish Italian style gardens, bursting with shades of purple, white and pink offset by the vivid greenery and turning leaves. A tree lined path led to another small courthouse and past the house. I imagined Wharton sitting there, composing her thoughts in a journal.

The inside of Wharton’s house was surprisingly, but refreshingly, plain. I’ve visited many historic homes that were just as grande, if not more so, in the interior as they were on the exterior. Don’t get me wrong; Wharton’s home was still beautifully decorated, but not lavish. It was nice to see something modest and livable. You could easily picture yourself in her bedroom which was very simple. Wharton believed that a bedroom shouldn’t be elaborately decorated because it distracted one from falling asleep. True enough. Our guide told us that Wharton wrote many of her famous books/short stories in that very room (she prefered to write in bed!) including The Age of Innocence. I peered out of Wharton’s bedroom window: a breath-taking view of her gardens and the Berkshire Mountains bursting with color met my eyes. Talk about inspiration! The living room and dining area were the most decorated but my favorite was Wharton’s library; rich, dark wooden book shelves built into the walls and brimming with books, a cozy fireplace to read by, and of course doors that opened to the veranda.

Books upon books lined the shelves
Books upon books lined the shelves

I suppose I sound like an obsessed Wharton fan, but it wasn’t until recently that I became interested in her works. I must admit, however, that I felt rather proud when I was the only one out of about fifteen/twenty people on the tour that raised their hand when the guide asked whom among us was a reader of Wharton’s works? Anyhow, I vaguely remember reading Ethan Frome in high school but other than that, never touched Wharton again until now. After reading Age of Innocence and loving it, I delved into her short stories. It was deeply intriguing and perfect in length for the busy schedule. Her description is exact, and insights into character and society riveting.

The View From Wharton's Window
The View From Wharton's Window

OWL has a very nice Wharton collection which I’m currently making my way through. Hopefully I’ve piqued your curiosity and you’ll explore some of her works:

Age of Innocence: A great book reflecting New York society, class and forbidden love. Wharton truly brings her characters alive and you find yourself hating the Wellands or Van der Luydens for their snobbery towards Madame Olenska, yet siding with the protagonist Archer when he falls in love with her despite his marriage with May Welland (FIC WHA).

Ethan Frome: Perhaps, like me, you read this in high school and then never gave Wharton another chance. I’ve begun to read through it again, realizing I don’t remember much of it. It’s always nice to re-read something at later points in your life because you always read it differently with new insights or emotions. Maybe you’ll catch something you missed last time around, too (FIC WHA).

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton: Just in time for Halloween–Wharton’s ghost stories are spooky and mysterious without being corny. Two of my favorites were The Lady’s Maid’s Bell and The Eyes. (FIC WHA).

The Letters of Edith Wharton: Besides reading an authors works, I’ve always loved access to their letters, diaries or journals. These offer a very personal look into their lives outside of their books-pieces of history. You will find letters in here she wrote from The Mount, and pictures of what it looked like when she lived there. Check out the last picture I posted of the view from her room, and then look at the photographs on pg. 83–the view is similar but there are many more trees now.

Edith Wharton: An Extraordinary Life: This is an illustrated biography (if you prefer one without illustrations we’ve got some other great ones in the biography section) and I think the photographs add more depth. One fun fact about her is that she loved dogs and had several small ones of her own. In a letter to her godson, she had written: “Once they found a boy who understood what the birds said and I have always been that way about dogs, ever since I was a baby. We really communicate with each other and no one had such nice things to say as Linky.” Linky was one of her dogs that passed away–and you can visit her pet cemetery on a small hill next to her house in Lenox. (B Wharton)

Short Story Collections: An abundance of fabulous stories. I loved The Reckoning, Mrs. Manstey’s View, The Other Two, and Roman Fever…to name just a few! (FIC WHA). We have several editions, including the Library of America edition and one edited by R.W.B. Lewis who also wrote Edith Wharton: A Biography (B Wharton).

~You might not have known that Wharton was also a designer. In fact, she designed The Mount herself and the Italian style gardens. The decorator in you might wish to take a look at her book The Decoration of Houses (747.88 WHA).

Sarai is the Publicity Coordinator/Library Assistant and is loving all the migrating birds who come daily to my bird bath…splashing in glorious bliss.

4 thoughts on “Mrs. Wharton’s View

  1. Nice blog Sarai! Always really interesting to be able to see and touch pieces of an author’s home. It’s a very special thing…

  2. I too suffered through Ethan Frome in high school and assumed Wharton was an author to stay far, far away from. Then in college, I was required to read House of Mirth and the Professor’s House, and everything changed! Like you, I suddenly was awakened to Wharton’s lyrical power and realized her books could be a JOY to read! Rather than the loathsomeness of boring Ethan Frome. Someone please stop making students read Ethan Frome! Pick from any of her other books!

  3. I am giddy that you finally are into Edith Wharton. I was slugging through ‘The House of Mirth’ – even before your report – but it’s trailing behind six or seven other important books. So, now, because of you, I will have an energetic go at ‘Mirth’, and I’ll be soon catching up with you, Sarai!

    I love The House of Mirth. Lenox – hmm – how many miles, how much gas, what little time! I’ll get there before long. Thanks, Sarai, for the tip about a Sunday drive into the Berkshires. I won’t forget it.

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