Due to the impending snowstorm and in the interest visitor safety, The Mount will close today at 1 pm.
Thank you for your understanding. Drive carefully, and happy holidays to everyone!
Due to the impending snowstorm and in the interest visitor safety, The Mount will close today at 1 pm.
Thank you for your understanding. Drive carefully, and happy holidays to everyone!
The Mount was abuzz with activity on Saturday afternoon! It started with the well-attended holiday open house and “Backstairs” tours in the early afternoon, and ended with a fantastically successful (sold out) tea hosted by Alison Larkin to celebrate the release of the new Pride and Prejudice audio book, which she deftly narrated to commemorate the novel’s 200th anniversary. About 150 people showed up to enjoy tea, treats, and tantalizing tidbits of Jane Austen’s revered novel, as rendered by Alison—or, rather, Jane Austen herself—in period dress.
Alison/Jane presented Jane Austen hand puppets to the evening’s trivia winners and, accompanied by Elizabeth Bennett, led the crowd in a rousing rendition of Lavender Blue.
Gingersnaps and tea sandwiches went like proverbial hot cakes, and those who purchased the audiobook enjoyed a one-of-a-kind photo-op with Jane Austen’s 21st-century channeler.
(Thanks to BMA Audio for the photo.)
Be sure to join us at our next event in The Mount’s Drawing Room, when we welcome Vanity Fair contributing editor David Kamp on Saturday, January 18. Mr. Kamp will discuss the connections between Edith Wharton and Julian Fellowes, creator of the esteemed program Downton Abbey.
Edith and Teddy Wharton weren’t the only people who lived at The Mount from 1902-1911. At any given time when the Whartons were in residence, 15-20 servants staffed the house and property–all of them with unique circumstances and stories.
We’re eager to tell those stories, which is why we just launched a new “Backstairs” tour that reveals details about the lives of servants who lived and worked at The Mount a century ago. On Saturday, we welcomed about 35 people on each of two one-hour tours. Visitors seemed quite engaged, and we were very pleased with how everything went. (If you took a tour, we welcome your comments!) Derek Gentile wrote about the tour in today’s Berkshire Eagle.
And, if you missed the tours last weekend, here’s good news: we’re offering four more “Backstairs” tours this month. Make plans now to join us on at 12 pm or 2 pm this Saturday, December 7, or at 12 pm or 2 pm on Saturday, December 14. The main house will be open on those days from 11 am to 3 pm, offering a warm winter haven, festive holiday cheer, and intriguing Gilded Age history!
(Lenox, MA) -The Mount, the home of Edith Wharton in Lenox, MA, has created a new “Backstairs” tour that reveals details about the lives of servants who lived and worked on the property from 1902 to 1911, when it was occupied by Edith and Teddy Wharton. The “Backstairs” tour will debut during The Mount’s holiday hours on Saturday, November 30; Saturday, December 7; and Saturday, December 14. “Backstairs” tours will be given at 12:00 p.m. and 2 p.m. on each of those days.
Inspired in part by public fascination with the PBS television series Downton Abbey, whose creator Julian Fellowes has cited Wharton as a major literary influence, the “Backstairs at The Mount” tour will highlight the roles, relationships, living conditions, and working expectations of the 20 servants who staffed the house and property each summer while the Whartons were in residence. Like other Berkshire-based households during the Gilded Age, The Mount relied on the Whartons’ permanent staff as well as local residents for cooking, cleaning, driving, gardening, and other daily tasks. Many of the servants lived on the property: unmarried females lived on the fourth floor of the Main House, while families and unmarried males on the top floor of the Stable. Thomas Reynolds, the gardener and caretaker, lived year-round in the Gatehouse.
A servant’s view of life at The Mount was the most-requested new tour in a recent visitor poll. “Visitors want to know how servants lived and how they interacted with those they served,” said House Manager Anne Schuyler. “And while we might not know as much about many of the servants as we would wish, we do know that Wharton had an intriguing international staff, each with a unique story waiting to be told.” Englishman Alfred White–or “White the Great,” as one of Wharton’s friends referred to him–was the head butler who had very distinct views on how to run the household. Alsatian housekeeper Catherine Gross was fiercely loyal, but had a tragic past. German-American Anna Catherine Bahlmann, Wharton’s ex-governess and secretary, straddled an uncomfortable class line between servant and friend. Lenox native Charles Cook, who served as the Wharton’s beloved chauffeur, lived in town during his service, but perhaps moved to The Mount later: he is said by some to haunt the estate today!
By all accounts, the Whartons treated their servants quite well for the times. “They even threw a little Christmas party for White and his family one year, and they built The Mount with the latest labor-saving devices, including an Otis elevator for the luggage,” said Schuyler. But, with its long hours and rigid rules, life in service was not easy, particularly for those on the lowest rungs of the servant ladder.
“With this new tour, we hope to share a variety of those voices with our visitors, and to give them a glimpse into that world,” said Schuyler.
The Mount is located at 2 Plunkett Street in Lenox, MA. The grounds are open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, with special ticketed events hosted in the Main House throughout the winter and early spring. Starting November 30, the Main House will be open this holiday season on three consecutive Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The entire property, including the buildings, will re-open daily for visits and tours on May 3, 2014.
About The Mount
The Mount is both a historic site and a cultural destination inspired by the passions and achievements of Edith Wharton. Designed and built by Edith Wharton in 1902, the house embodies the principles outlined in her influential book, The Decoration of Houses (1897). The property includes three acres of formal gardens designed by Wharton, who was also an authority on European landscape design, surrounded by extensive woodlands.
Today, The Mount hosts over 35,000 visitors annually, offering daily tours of the property May-October with special events throughout the year. Annual summer programming includes Wharton on Wednesdays, Music After Hours, and the popular Monday Lecture Series. Exhibitions explore themes from Wharton’s life and work.
The Mount is located at 2 Plunkett Street in Lenox, MA. The property is open daily for visitors from early May through October 31. (Hours may vary.) For additional information about The Mount, visit EdithWharton.org.
About Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was born into the tightly controlled society of Old New York at a time when women were discouraged from achieving anything beyond a proper marriage. Wharton broke through these strictures to become one of America’s greatest writers. Author of The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, and The House of Mirth, she wrote over 40 books in 40 years, including authoritative works on architecture, gardens, interior design, and travel. Essentially self-educated, she was the first woman awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Yale University, and a full membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
For additional information about The Mount and Edith Wharton, please visit EdithWharton.org.
This post was contributed by Nicole Knapp, The Mount’s administrative/executive assistant.
Since beginning to work at The Mount six months ago, I’ve come across untold numbers of photos of Edith Wharton’s picturesque property and even ventured to take a few myself. I believe that every photo I’ve seen to date of The Mount has captured something whimsical, beautiful, or historical about the property: the slightly fuzzy yet fascinating photos taken during Edith Wharton’s time, the clear black and white images of the Foxhollow School days, the overwhelming project capacity presented in restoration photos, the curious lights in the woods or the pale faces caught in windows of ghost photos, and the recent treasure trove of 2013 Mount photos taken by employees, visitors, and photojournalists.
Every photo is valuable. Also valuable, and perhaps rarer in the case of The Mount, is the close cousin of the photograph: the painting.
One beautiful afternoon, local artist Kate Knapp (no relation) came to the property to capture The Mount in a painting. Recently, she gave this painting to Executive Director Susan Wissler as a gift.
Isn’t it lovely? Thank you, Kate!
David Carpenter, the composer of the opera The Age of Innocence, talks about the importance of supporting the arts in the United States. Carpenter shared his work at The Mount on October 26, 2013.
My talk at The Mount was part of a series of free lectures about the opera as a way to connect with audiences who love Wharton (there are legions of them out there, I’ve discovered) and invite them to a free performance on November 17. At the end of my lecture, I took a very interesting question from a young woman who asked, “The performance of the opera is free, and you’re doing these lectures for free—how are you paying for this production?” Surprised by the question, I answered as best as I could, talking about my online fundraising campaign through a non-profit organization called Hatchfund and using social media to connect to potential donors. But this all got me thinking about funding for the arts, and what independent artists like myself, and non-profit arts organizations like The Mount, have to do to remain afloat, while making our best efforts to offer our programs and performances at little or no cost to audiences. What rationale do we have to expect audiences to make to support us in our fundraising efforts? More to the point: Why do we believe the arts matter in our society?
We’ve all gotten the letters in the mail, and the messages in our inboxes: yet another request for a donation to a worthy cause, many of them arts-related. It’s manifestly impossible to contribute to all of them, especially when we’re all watching our budgets. Yet we can’t seem to escape the fact that the arts are part of our lives. Whether we’re listening to music on our iPods, reading a favorite novel, or watching a performance on TV or YouTube, we have a need for something that appeals to our creative side; we feel our lives would be incomplete without it. And no matter how busy we are, we always seem to be able to spare time attend this need to feed our imaginations. I realize, of course, that this “need” might be categorized under the heading “entertainment,” and God knows there’s a huge industry out there trying to keep us entertained. But for now I’m going to set aside arguments about “high” or “serious” versus “low” or “populist” art—what they have in common is that they have no practical value in terms of what we need to physically survive. I’ll argue, instead, that these things that appeal to our creative side are a great part of what makes life worth living. For I can’t think of another reason of why we would take the time out of our demanding lives to go see a movie, or attend an orchestra concert, or see a Broadway show, or an opera. What we’re delighting in, I think, is witnessing creativity in all its forms: we’re amazed that another member of the human race was able to come up with something so clever and original. And, whether we realize it or not, our lives have been enriched by this experience.
I believe that all of us who are involved in the arts (and this would include those who support creative artists) are acutely aware of how indispensable the arts are in our lives. It’s been a real pleasure to me, after I’ve given one of these lectures on my opera, to talk to people afterwards who love Edith Wharton. We share a common language. And I’ve found it immensely gratifying to see how people have been moved by my musical treatment of the novel—it has, I think, made their experience of these characters and their emotions more vivid. While they didn’t fulfill any practical need, we still can’t imagine our lives without them.
This is what I—and many other people involved in the arts, I think—would urge audiences to consider when they’re asked to support an artistic project. It is a drawback, in some ways, that our government provides far less support to the arts compared to European states, and yet this also points up the democratic spirit of culture in the United States. The American people realize the importance of the arts in their lives, and are willing to help fund cultural foundations and events. And perhaps this also motivates American artists to give back to the public with works that enlighten, delight, and allow audience members to connect with both the artist, and with each other. This was certainly one of my goals in composing The Age of Innocence, and I hope the performance of the opera succeeds in achieving this objective. I owe a great deal to The Mount for supporting my work, and I think the people there believe, as I do, that the arts remain one of the United States’ most valuable assets—let’s all help ensure their livelihood long into the future by supporting them.
Scenes from The Age of Innocence will be performed Sunday, November 17th, at 3pm, at Christ & St. Stephen’s Church, 120 W. 69th Street in New York City (free admission). To learn more about this opera, and to show your support for it, please visit http://davidowencarpenter.com/the-age-of-innocence.
October 26, 2013
Today’s blog contributor, Lynda Decker, is the president and creative director of Decker Design and a master’s candidate in design criticism at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
Qudoba, Starbucks, Weight Watchers, Lenny’s, Home Depot. West 23rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, in New York City bustles with mega-brand energy. Walk along the street and you will notice that many of the buildings have been here since the nineteenth century— the smaller ones former brownstone residences and the larger ones hotels or department stores. I am very familiar with this part of Manhattan because my graphic design firm, Decker Design, is located at 14 West 23rd Street, the birthplace and childhood home of Edith Wharton.
Wharton is remembered an astute observer of the social conventions of her time, and she could be a scathing critic artifice and pretense. Every day I see the plaque on our building’s façade placed by the New York City Landmarks Commission and wonder how she would view our contemporary culture. As I walk up the stairs to my office, I often hear the women in the Weight Watchers office, located one floor below me, cheer during their lunchtime meetings. How would Edith frame our post-millennial urge to share private information? Would she tweet her point of view? Would she dash off a scathing critique on the op-ed pages of the New York Times? Or would she simply turn it all into a novel or screenplay?
Were she to walk down 23rd Street today, Edith Wharton would not recognize her former home; a photo taken in 1870 shows 14 West 23rd Street as a three-story brownstone. The building is now five stories, and there is a large glass paned ground floor retail space, occupied by Starbucks. Decades after Wharton’s departure, the neighborhood transitioned from a residential community to a commercial area, and the Jones’ sold the 14 West 23rd in 1892 to James McCutcheon, a linen merchant who implemented extensive renovations.
My firm is located on the third floor, and we have adapted the space in a way that Wharton surely would have appreciated. Glorious natural light is maximized by translucent office walls, and the overall effect is modern, clean, open and airy. We designed a space based on our needs, allowing for spontaneous collaboration between designers and spaces for solitary contemplation.
Even with its more modern visual vocabulary, life in a landmark building still has its quirks. Our nine-foot windows, which needed approval from the New York City Landmarks Commission, are drafty; the wooden floor tilts downward to the west (We’ve estimated that there is about a 30-degree difference between the east side of the office and the west.). The exposed brick, likely covered with plaster when Edith’s family lived here, adds texture and character to the space.
This building is my second home, and it pains me that our lease is up in three months. I will be negotiating with our landlord next week. I can only hope that Wharton – who spent a lifetime chafing against a society that denied women education and opportunity – will smile down on a certain female business owner and bring a bit of luck to my deliberations.
Now you’ll have to excuse me, my chair is rolling westward.
On this day before Halloween, we thought we’d revive an insightful, informative post written by Anne Ray that appeared last October on tor.com. In it, Ms. Ray writes about how Edith Wharton’s ghost stories–not her novels–prompted her to become a Wharton enthusiast.
Ms. Ray writes:
After reading her ghost stories I couldn’t help but imagine Wharton herself, in The Mount, her giant house, locked in her terrible marriage, living in that incredibly rigid age, having her desperate love affair. Much has been written about that age, but until I read this it didn’t capture my imagination.
If you’re not familiar with Edith Wharton’s ghost stories, do yourself a favor and read a few this autumn. (You can order a copy online from The Mount bookstore.) Or join us in the Drawing Room of The Mount tomorrow night, October 31, at 6 pm for a dramatic reading of “Kerfol” by Ariel Bock and Dennis Krausnick. A few tickets are still available!)
We were delighted to read this recent post on Reader’s Almanac, the official blog of the Library of America, reproducing an Edith Wharton-themed speech Wendy Wasserstein delivered in 2002.
Wasserstein was an admirer of Wharton, whose work she called “rich… and deep…” She praised Wharton’s honesty, and likened her more to Chekov than to Jane Austen, to whom she is often compared:
“As I began writing plays, Edith Wharton’s knowledge of a New York dinner party seemed to me like Chekhov’s knowledge of afternoons at a Russian dacha, and who came to sit and have tea and how things changed regarding love and marriages, all beginning with those smaller moments.”
Wasserstein died of lymphoma in 2007 at the age of 55– much too soon. But we are glad to share today this remembrance of two very remarkable women.