Why Ethan Frome is Actually Great Beach Reading

The following blog post was contributed by Miranda Cooper, a student at Williams College and seasonal tour guide at The Mount. Picture1

Sometimes our visitors put hard-hitting questions to the staff here, questions like, “Is Wharton readable?” or “Is she any fun?” Many of us happen to think so, but the question is a good one worth a careful answer. While hardly bodice-rippers, Wharton’s titles aren’t squarely academic either and most are surprisingly readable. If you’re not afraid of an SAT word here or there, most find the themes she wrote about 100 years ago hold up pretty well.

But this leads us to a more complex question: must a book be fun to be considered pleasure reading? Rebecca Mead (who spoke at The Mount on July 21!), who wrote an excellent piece in The New Yorker, addresses just this.

Mead shares the experience of perusing an old journal in which she recorded her reading list between ages 17 and 21, and her list skews decidedly… heavy. Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Joyce, James, Rushdie, and Calvino. Mead readily admits that her literature survey as a young woman led her primarily to the classics rather than guilty pleasures, but then points to something delicious: it is very possible to derive pleasure not just from reading something fun but from reading “to become well read.”

So, maybe you can bring Ethan Frome to the beach? Toss it in next to the sunscreen because as Mead maintains, “…there are pleasures to be had from books beyond being lightly entertained. There is the pleasure of being challenged; the pleasure of feeling one’s range and capacities expanding; the pleasure of knowing what others have already thought it worth knowing, and entering a larger conversation.”

Picture2Ethan Frome certainly fits these criteria. So perhaps we can conclude that Edith Wharton’s oeuvre sits comfortably in both the popular and literary camps, if we accept Mead’s insightful definition of pleasure reading. And if you do need something a little more lighthearted than Ethan Frome, there are plenty of great works of literature and Wharton titles that fit the bill.

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Spinning yarn and weaving magic: Storytelling comes to the Berkshires!

Who doesn’t love a good story? There’s something about a taut, tempting yarn. It twists your perspective, and, when done well, can magically transport you to a different time and place.

Sure, a captivating story can burst from the pages of a book or be broadcast from a recording. But perhaps the best story-sharing experience is one between live humans, where words are accompanied by expressions and gestures and nuances of voice that imbue the narrative with broader, deeper dimensions.

We’re not the only ones who think so. In recent years, storytelling as entertainment has exploded in popularity. There’s a science behind it, after all. And who doesn’t agree with Ira Glass’s way of thinking?

Catapulted to the public sphere by The Moth, storytelling events now headline weekend arts and cultural listings in major cities across the US.

Massmouth executive director, and host and performer Norah Dooley

Massmouth executive director, and host/performer Norah Dooley

And in certain rural parts, too: We’re delighted this fall to introduce several storytelling events to western Massachusetts! The first one—this Friday evening, September 5—features polished performers from Boston-based massmouth, inc., who will come to The Mount to share their sparkling, true-life tales of traveling, temptation, and tribes. The show will be hosted by massmouth executive director Norah Dooley, who will also perform one of the eight-minute monologues. It promises to be a great evening. We’ll have drinks and nosh for sale; the doors will open at 7:30 for the 8 pm show. Tickets are $15, but here’s the thing: We’re rewarding our blog readers with a special discount price! Click here and use the promotional code “storytelling” for $10 tickets instead. Sound good?

While you’re at it, get tickets too for the next storytelling event on October 18, this one in partnership with Speak Up, a storytelling group based in Hartford, CT. That Saturday night, five skilled storytellers will regale the audience with love-and-marriage-themed tales. Bring a romantic partner, a friend, or simply yourself to hear stories of love lost, love found, and love finally understood. Tickets are $15.

If you can imagine yourself onstage, sign up now for the storytelling workshop at The Mount that will be hosted by 12-time Moth StorySLAM champion Matthew Dicks on Sunday, October 19 from 9 am to 1 pm. It’ll be inspiring, educational, and exceptionally fun, and—believe us—you won’t want to miss the chance to take part!

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Friends Find a Seat at the Table

The following blog post was contributed by Miranda Cooper, a student at Williams College and seasonal tour guide at The Mount. 

People from all walks of life come to The Mount during the summer to immerse themselves in a bit of Edith Wharton’s legacy. We see people of all ages and Picture1from all kinds of places. There are a few trends, though, and one of them is that we often see groups of friends who have come together to visit our beautiful treasure in our lovely corner of Lenox. Often, these are groups of women who have been taking trips together for years.

My first memorable encounter like this occurred on an ordinary June day when I met four ladies who engaged me in conversation. I learned that they had all attended Wellesley College together and graduated in 1951, and that for decades they have been getting together during the summers to visit different places.

A few weeks later, I found myself having lunch with a lovely group of women (who told me to remember them as the “ie’s,” because their names all ended in “-ie”) who treated me to lunch, so that we could continue the conversation that had begun on my tour. These ladies had attended Mount Saint Scholastica, a small women’s college in Kansas where they were all roommates, and they too take an annual trip. I was deeply touched by their undeniably strong friendship with one another, a friendship that had endured for decades and which still clearly brings them so much joy.

Picture2So what is it about The Mount that attracts lifelong friends? And why is it that many of these groups of friends are all female, and even attended women’s colleges together? It could be pure coincidence… but I doubt it. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense: of course the beautiful home of the first woman ever to win a Pulitzer for fiction would be a logical choice of destination for groups of women who have obvious appreciation for the power of women’s education and the literary and cultural legacies of groundbreaking female intellectuals. But more than that, The Mount is a place deeply rooted in friendship. All of our guests leave The Mount knowing that Edith Wharton treasured her close friends; one of the first comments guests usually make in the dining room concerns the surprisingly small round table, which Wharton liked because it allowed her to have intimate gatherings.

Miranda Cooper

Miranda Cooper

The Mount is not only a place of literary greatness and stunning beauty; it is a place of friendship. It was built in 1902 as a place where Edith Wharton’s dearest friends could gather and enjoy lounging in the drawing room or sipping tea on the terrace. And in 2014, groups of lifelong friends can enjoy those same experiences. The Mount is still a place where people who care about one another can enjoy one another’s company, a place where groups of friends like the Wellesley ladies and the “ie’s” can come together to reminisce about their college years and pick up where they left off one, two, or twenty years ago. And I think that’s exactly how Edith Wharton would have liked it.

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The Lesser-Known Side of Wharton

Most often associated with literary fame, Edith Wharton was a complex, intellectually motivated woman whose passions led to many other remarkable achievements: interior design, gardening, and—perhaps most astoundingly—her unwavering dedication to helping refugee children, wounded soldiers, and struggling families in France during World War I.

EW with WWI soldiersWharton helped establish three hostels for refugees, delivered supplies to the front lines, and created a Paris “workroom” that employed 90 women in need of family income. She wrote about her efforts in a 1915 piece for the New York Times. “There is hardly a form of human misery that has not come our way and wrung our hearts with the longing to do more and give more,” she wrote.

On Thursday, July 31, Dr. Alan Price will deliver a lecture at The Mount centered on three important American war charities in France, and the dress of their three extraordinary leaders: Edith Wharton, Nina Duryea, and Isabel Lathrop.

A Wharton scholar and humanities researcher, Dr. Price has chosen to highlight the incredible civilian response to one of Europe’s greatest tragedies by focusing on American volunteers in France. “I can’t look at the war directly; it’s too horrible,” he said. More than 20,000 American women served in charity and war relief organizations overseas, including at least two with ties to Berkshire County: Edith Wharton, who spent a decade at The Mount in Lenox, and Nina Duryea, who lived in Stockbridge from 1920-1952.

The lecture, entitled “What They Wore to War: Dressing American Relief Workers in the Great War,” stems from Price’s book, The End of the Age of Innocence: Edith Wharton and the First World War, and marks the beginning of The Mount’s four-year acknowledgement of this significant anniversary.

For more highlights of Wharton’s war work, visit the exhibit Edith Wharton and the First World War, open at The Mount through October 31. Dr. Price consulted on the project, which details four of the busiest and most taxing years of Wharton’s life. Also, here’s a short online piece written in 2011 by Molly Guinness about Wharton’s time in Paris, much of it darkened by the dire circumstances of war.

“The war was a terrible event. If we don’t learn from ‘the guns of August,’ we are doomed to repeat it,” Price cautioned.

Join us for the lecture, which will begin at 4 pm next Thursday. Tickets–$10 for Mount members, $12 for the general public–are still available and can be purchased online.


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A sizzling hot Summer

The following blog post was contributed by Katie Wesche, who is currently interning at The Mount:

Summer coverKnown to some as Wharton’s “hot Ethan,” and to others as the “‘50 Shades of Gray‘ of 1916,” the novella Summer stands as some of Wharton’s racier work. Critics panned the book upon publication, regarding Wharton’s foray into summer romance and the sexual awakening of a teenager as an “empty story.” But this lesser-known work has had a renaissance in recent years, captivating younger audiences and adults alike.

In celebration of Summer and summer, The Mount will host marathon reading of the book on August 12 at 1:00 pm. We invite the greater Berkshire community to help us bring this story to life by volunteering to read a short segment – we’re looking for 25 of you, in total! If you’d prefer to enjoy the book as a member of the audience, we encourage you to take in Wharton’s incredible descriptions of mountain landscapes from a breezy seat on the Terrace. Stop by for a chapter or two, or stay through to the classically Whartonian ending. Summer features a Berkshire County setting, a forbidden romance, and shockingly modern themes that resonate even today – everything you could want from a summer read.

And if you’re on the fence, you just might want to give Summer a skim before seeing Ben Stiller’s (yes, that Ben Stiller) unique adaptation of Wharton’s story.

Interested readers should contact Katie Wesche at by August 1st.

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Free to be… at The Mount!

We believe strongly in the power of community. That’s why, each season, we build in as many free public programs as we possibly can. We love to welcome our friends and neighbors from Lenox and other nearby towns; the Berkshire region is a tightly knit place, and we tend to rely on one other all year ’round.

Scroll down to see a gallery of photos from our biggest, best community party ever: the 2014 Community Garden Party! Over 700 people attended the fourth annual free event that has become a staple of the Berkshire summer season calendar.

Whether you’re a local or summer visitor, mark your own calendars for any or all of these FREE happenings this season:

Music After Hours:MAH_singer_John_Seakwood Fridays and Saturdays in July and August

Join us on the Terrace every weekend in July and August for lively evenings of music performed by the region’s most talented musicians. Relax with a glass of wine and light fare while savoring the sounds and the spectacular view!

Guided tours of the outdoor SculptureNow exhibit, Common GroundJuly 13, August 17, September 14, October 12

This exciting exhibit spanning The Mount’s grounds features large-scale work by 25 acclaimed artists. The free Sunday tours are scheduled to begin at 11:30 am on July 13, August 17, September 14, and October 12.

Wharton on Wednesday: Wednesdays through July and August

Join us each Wednesday at 5 pm through July and August to hear why Edith Wharton’s writings continue to captivate readers and win Wharton new fans! This ever-popular program is free for members, and only $5 for not-yet members of The Mount.

Summer marathon reading: Tuesday, August 12

Enjoy Wharton’s incredibly modern coming of age read over the course of five and a half hours, starting at 1 pm. 

Poetry-smallPoetry on the Terrace: Thursday, September 11

Join us at 5:30 pm to hear six richly talented poets–Susan Hartung, Phil Pardi, Lori Desrosiers, Mary Koncel, Barry Sternlieb, and Ellen Doré Watson– who will read from their published and current work.

The Amy Clampitt Memorial Reading featuring Sharon Olds: Friday, September 12

On Friday evening, September 12, at 7 pm, The Mount will present the free Amy Clampitt Memorial Reading by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Sharon Olds. This event is This event is made possible through support from the Amy Clampitt Fund, a fund of Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, as well as a gift from the Xeric Foundation, Inc

Here are some great images from photographer John Seakwood capturing family fun at the Community Garden Party on June 29:


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We’re making great progress!

As of this afternoon, we’ve raised $40,000 through our Emergency Fund campaign! That’s about half of what we need to cover the property repair costs. Thanks to everyone who has contributed– we welcome any amount, large or small.

Here’s a message sent today from our Executive Director Susan Wissler. If you didn’t receive it, be sure to sign up for our e-news!

Dear Friends,

I am happy to report that the damage to the gardens, from last week’s storm, has largely been addressed. In fact, the gardens look just stunning as we head into the long weekend.

Thanks to a quick response, we were able to save the majority of the perennials and the flower beds have been completely cleared of rubble. In addition, the heavily eroded garden pathways have all been refilled and access to all areas of the property is now restored.

The response from the community has been overwhelming. We have received $40,000 in donations towards repairs, including a generous $10,000 gift from the Berkshire Bank Foundation. We estimate that the total cost will range between $60,000 and $80,000. We have launched an Emergency Fund campaign to raise the remaining $40,000. We will also been hosting our first Music After Hours this Friday and will be asking for donations to help underwrite the repairs. I do hope you join us. 

Thank you so much for your concern and all the offers of help and aid. Your well wishes mean everything. Have a wonderful Fourth of July and come visit us soon so you can see the work first-hand.

Very best,

Susan Wissler
Executive Director

The photos below show the clean-up crews at work. 

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They’re back!

We couldn’t be happier to announce this: the French flower gardens look stunning!

Thanks to our incredibly hardworking facilities staff headed by Ross Jolly as well as our gardener Laura Walton, we’ve been able to clear out the tons of road debris that last week covered the beds, plants, and walkways after the severe rainstorm. The visually apparent damage to the gardens has been repaired, though we still have a lot of work ahead to address other property injuries and to make sure this never happens again.

We’ve launched an Emergency Fund to help raise the $60,000 to $80,000 in estimated costs. We’ve had a remarkable response so far: in just six days, we’ve collected $25,000, including a much-appreciated $10,000 grant from the Berkshire Bank Foundation. We’d be so grateful for any help you can provide!

Donate button

Thanks also to Ben Garver of the Berkshire Eagle for this great video update:

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After the rain, the rainbow

As many of you know, last Thursday’s sunrise came with a devastating revelation: the night’s torrential downpour had wreaked havoc on our prized French flower gardens as well as parts of the road and pathways on the property. At some point during the night, the entire garden had been submerged; by morning, much of it was covered by about 20 tons of road and pathway debris.

We gasped, took deep breaths, rolled up our sleeves, and got straight to work. We closed the property on Thursday so our entire team could address the major problem at hand. Determined to keep things running as smoothly and normally as possible, we renewed our commitment to our weekend events—including Sunday’s widely anticipated annual free Family Garden Party—and opened the doors to the public again on Friday morning.

We carefully assessed the damage and made a plan: we engaged Ben Webster, whose crew worked with us a decade ago to complete the original $2 million garden restoration, and secured the assistance of Laura Walton, The Mount’s official gardener. We’re working on getting a final estimate for the repairs (and preventative measures to ensure this will never happen again), and we will announce it as soon as possible.

Once we started digging and rescuing any plants we could, we were heartened by the belief that many of the perennials, despite being buried alive, will likely survive. We counted our blessings in other ways, too: only about half of the garden was affected. We know it could have been much worse.

But here is what was really heartening: the outpouring of support we received from people near and far. The word spread quickly, and it wasn’t long before the emails and calls came pouring in. It was a shower of a different and very welcome kind: a long, steady stream of people offering hands-on assistance, financial help, and general good wishes. Over 700 people flocked to the property for the Family Garden Party on Sunday—record-breaking attendance for the four-year-old community-oriented event!

This is exactly what keeps us going every day: knowing so many people care about this beautiful historic property, and care about what we do to advance cultural programming and honor the multi-faceted legacy of Edith Wharton. Thank you for supporting The Mount through thick and thin. We welcome any financial gifts you are able to make to help with these extensive repairs, and thank you—as always—for reaching out to remind us that, with the help of friends, anything is possible.

Some photos from Sunday’s Family Garden Party: 

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Edith Wharton’s Gardens Sustain Major Damage from Record-breaking Rainstorm

Silt and Gravel in French Flower Garden, June 30, 2014

Silt and Gravel in French Flower Garden, June 30, 2014

Dear Friends,

I wanted to let you know that Wednesday’s torrential rainfall caused significant damage to parts of The Mount’s flower garden and pathways. We estimate that the runoff created by the storm carried approximately twenty tons of road and pathway material into the French flower garden. About half of the garden is buried in up to six to eight inches of material. Based on the debris marks left on the plants and shrubs, it is clear that at some point during the night, the garden was completely submerged under water. The pathways leading to the gardens were stripped bare of nearly two feet of limestone and soil, revealing the original foundations of quarry rubble laid by Edith Wharton over a century ago.

The extent of the damage is still being assessed. Luckily, it was contained and the majority of the estate is accessible and as beautiful as ever. We did close the property on Thursday but we are now open and welcoming visitors. Our programming will continue as planned, including our free Community Garden Party on Sunday.

Restoring the gardens to their usual splendor is our number one priority as we head into our busy season. The necessary repairs will be extensive and costly. I am heartened by the outpouring of concern and well-wishes from the community. Everyone wants to know what they can do to help. We are still gathering information and hope to have that answer for you next week.

All my best,

Susan Wissler

Executive Director



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