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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Connecting Point at The Mount

We are delighted to share with you this piece featuring The Mount that aired yesterday on WGBY’s Connecting Point series. Watch and enjoy!


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Notes from our visitors

Every year, we welcome tens of thousands of visitors to The Mount, including many students and teachers who come on school field trips.

Last week, we had the pleasure of meeting Gabriela Sheehan and her students from Herberg Middle School in Pittsfield. We were equally thrilled this week to receive the thank you notes they sent after their visit! We’re touched, and we’re sure Edith Wharton would agree: there’s still something very special about handwritten notes. 

Herberg Middle School Thank-yous 004 Herberg Middle School Thank-yous 003 Herberg Middle School Thank-yous 002 Herberg Middle School Thank-yous 001















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The Mount Launches Author Interview Series This Summer with Kate Bolick as Host

Featuring conversations with Andre Dubus III, Joanna Rakoff, Scott Stossel, and Jennifer Finney Boylan, the new “Touchstones” series will premiere in August

Lenox, MA—This summer, The Mount, the home of Edith Wharton in Lenox, Mass., will premiere a new interview series featuring celebrated journalist Kate Bolick in conversation with leading authors. Debuting in August, the new “Touchstones” series will include writers Andre Dubus III, Joanna Rakoff, Scott Stossel, and Jennifer Finney Boylan. The one-hour conversations will begin at 6 pm on four successive Friday evenings: August 8, August 15, August 22, and August 29.

Kate Bolick’s 2011 cover story in The Atlantic, “All the Single Ladies,” sparked a national conversation and led to a headline-grabbing book deal. Her much-anticipated book—part memoir, part biography, part cultural criticism—explores how women’s roles, expectations, and personal goals have shifted over the last two centuries. It will be published by Crown next spring.

The “Touchstones” series will feature Bolick conversing intimately onstage with her guests about the defining moments that shaped their creative lives, from disastrous setbacks to grand triumphs, and all the small decisions and twists of fate in between. “Artists are among their own best creations, Wharton herself being a prime example,” says Bolick. “To talk with my favorite living writers about the forces that shaped them, while at the home of one of my personal literary heroes—it’s incredibly exciting.”

“We are delighted to welcome to The Mount this lineup of literary all-stars,” says Susan Wissler, executive director of The Mount. “Kate brings high energy and great depth to everything she does; this series promises to be engaging, entertaining, and thought provoking.”

In recent years, The Mount has become the literary hub of the Berkshires. The cultural non-profit regularly hosts esteemed writers—including novelists, poets, biographers, scholars, and journalists—for readings and discussions. Other writers who have appeared at The Mount include Tom Reiss, Megan Marshall, Stacy Schiff, Simon Winchester, Mary Jo Salter, Adam Gopnik, Claire Messud, Mark Strand, Heidi Julavits, Matthew Pearl, Susan Orlean, John Berendt, Kati Marton, and many others.

A longtime admirer of Edith Wharton, Bolick forged a connection with The Mount after hosting two writer interviews in 2012. She recently spent time at The Mount as a writer-in-residence while she was writing her book. In the book, Bolick revisits the lives of Edith Wharton and five other women whose intellectual ambitions were considerably more pronounced than their marital ones—an attribute shared today by millions of American women, including Bolick, who have chosen to remain single.

The Mount is located at 2 Plunkett Street in Lenox, Mass. For more information or to purchase “Touchstones” tickets, visit or call 413-551-5100.

The “Touchstones” events are as follows:

Friday, August 8, 6 pm (Doors open 5:30)
Touchstones: Kate Bolick in conversation with Andre Dubus III

The Mount welcomes journalist/author Kate Bolick for a series of interviews with leading writers. The August 8 program will feature Andre Dubus III, author of six books, including House of Sand and Fog, The Garden of Last Days and his memoir, Townie. Tickets and information at $18 general; $15 Mount members.

Friday, August 15, 6 pm (Doors open 5:30)
Touchstones: Kate Bolick in conversation with Joanna Rakoff

The Mount welcomes journalist/author Kate Bolick for a series of interviews with leading writers. The August 15 program will feature Joanna Rakoff, author of the novel The Fortunate Age and the soon-to-be-released memoir My Salinger Year. Tickets and information at $18 general; $15 Mount members.

Friday, August 22, 6 pm (Doors open 5:30)
Touchstones: Kate Bolick in conversation with Scott Stossel

The Mount welcomes journalist/author Kate Bolick for a series of interviews with leading writers. The August 22 program will feature Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic and the author of My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind and Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Tickets and information at $18 general; $15 Mount members.

Friday, August 29, 6 pm (Doors open 5:30)
Touchstones: Kate Bolick in conversation with Jennifer Finney Boylan

The Mount welcomes journalist/author Kate Bolick for a series of interviews with leading writers. The August 29 program will feature Jennifer Finney Boylan, a widely praised author and professor. Her 13 books include three novels, a collection of short stories, three memoirs, and six young adult books. Her most recent book, Stuck in the Middle With You: Parenthood in Three Genders, is a memoir about the differences between fatherhood and motherhood. Tickets and information at $18 general; $15 Mount members.

This series is generously sponsored by Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass.; The Amy Clampitt Fund, a fund of the Berkshire Taconic Community Fund; and the Xeric Foundation, Inc.

About The Mount:

The Mount is a National Historic Landmark and cultural center that celebrates the intellectual, artistic, and humanitarian legacy of Edith Wharton. We engage a diverse audience by providing context to Wharton’s life and achievements through our educational and public programs and the conservation and preservation of her historic estate and gardens.

Each year, The Mount is host to over 40,000 visitors. Daily tours of the property are offered May through October, with special events throughout the year. Annual summer programming includes a joint exhibit with SculptureNow, Wharton on Wednesdays, Music After Hours, and the celebrated Monday Lecture Series. Exhibitions explore themes from Wharton’s life and work.

For more information, please visit


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