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In Memoriam: Shari Gabrielson Goodmann

This post was contributed by Shari’s friend, Suzanne Ferriss, PH.D., Professor of English at Nova Southeastern University.

Shari (Benstock) Gabrielson Goodmann, December 2, 1944-May 26, 2015

Wharton fans and scholars will note, with great sadness, the loss of Shari Gabrielson Goodmann, who recently passed away after a ten-year battle with early onset dementia. Under the name Shari Benstock, she published “No Gifts from Chance”: A Biography of Edith Wharton (1994), as well as a critical edition of The House of Mirth. Her meticulously researched biography challenged previous accounts, by R W B Lewis and others, to offer a more modern and complex portrait of the Pulitzer-prize winning author as a woman who “fashioned life to her own desires.”

Shari.  Photo by Irmelie Jung.

Shari. Photo by Irmelie Jung.

Shari’s interest in Wharton emerged from decades of scholarly work on the intersection of women’s lives and literature (as well as a personal attachment to the Berkshires). Her book Women of the Left Bank: Paris, 1900-1940 (1986), a study of over two dozen expatriate women writers, including Wharton, was groundbreaking in its fusion of history, biography and literary criticism. Thirty years after its initial publication it remains an invaluable resource for scholars of French and English literature, for historians of the modernist period, and for those interested in women’s literature, lives and sexuality.

As an editor of books and journals, Shari not only granted greater visibility and significance to women writers but to the scholars studying them. She was tapped by Germaine Greer to edit Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature and, with Celeste Schenck, created one of the first book series devoted to women’s writing and feminist scholarship, “Reading Women Writing,” at Cornell University Press. Her edited collection on women’s autobiography, The Private Self (1986), has become a classic in feminist literary scholarship. I had the good fortune to collaborate with her on three books: A Handbook of Literary Feminism (2002), an intellectual history of literary feminism in the United States and Great Britain from the Renaissance to the present, and two edited collections on the cultural study of fashion: On Fashion (1994) and Footnotes: On Shoes (2001). Generous, ebullient, funny, she touched the lives of generations of scholars and students—at the University of Tulsa, the University of Miami and beyond—and will continue to do so through her published works.

Shari composed much of her Wharton biography at her second home in South Egremont and made frequent visits to the Mount, establishing friendships with those working on its restoration and preservation. Almost exactly fourteen years ago (on July 30, 2001), she appeared on C-SPAN’s American Writers series to discuss Wharton’s life and work. Filmed on location at The Mount, the episode serves as a lasting testament both to Wharton’s contributions to literature, landscape architecture, and interior design, and to Shari’s formidable intellectual gifts. You can view the episode here: http://www.c-span.org/video/?165364-1/writings-edith-wharton

Her husband, Tom Goodmann, who cared for Shari during her long illness, asks that In lieu of other memorials, donations may be made in her name to The Mount, which she described as “rising upward and outward to sun and air.”

Donations can be made by contacting The Mount’s Development office at 413-551-5100 or lcodwise@edithwharton.org

 

Kicking Off a Spooky Ghost Tour Season

This post was contributed by Marge Cox, The Mount’s Assistant House Manager and Ghost Tour Guide.

Maline Thai, 7.1.15, faces in window

The July 8th Ghost Tour had everyone on high alert.  There was definitely some kind of presence in the house making itself known.  Doors opening and closing and footsteps in the servant wing were heard several times.  Could this have been Catherine Gross the Head Housekeeper, still on duty after all these years?  Our Tour Guide, Robert, was patted on the head.  Perhaps Teddy Wharton?  When the tour was in the drawing room several of our ghost chasers heard noises coming from the library.  The many photos taken revealed mysterious orbs around us and unexplained misty images.  This is my second year of “ghost hunting” at The Mount and I do believe that the spirits of the people who once lived here remain among us.

Right: It’s been a spooky season so far!  Maline Thai caught this strange figure in the Stable window on the July 1st Ghost Tour.

 

 

Free Fun Friday at The Mount!

On June 26, The Mount welcomed over 950 visitors for Free Fun Friday, a program made possible with the support of The Highland Street Foundation.  Families, friends, and couples admired Wharton’s beautiful gardens, toured her spacious home, and explored the unique sculptures on the grounds.

Enjoy these wonderful photos of Free Fun Friday at The Mount by John Seakwood Photography!

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New for 2015

What’s new at The Mount for 2015?  Summer programming is back, SculptureNow returns, and we’re really excited about several new initiatives, including:

“The house and gardens being full of visitors enjoying this very special place that Edith Wharton created.” -Rebecka McDougall, Communications Director

“Easy! Being outside on the Terrace all day long – working in the Terrace Café!” -Lynn Sciacca, Café Manager

“I think I’m most excited to welcome people and activity back to the property. It gets lonely here in the winter months, without the constant stream of visitors passing through the gates, and I’m looking forward to unexpected encounters and conversations with both new and familiar faces.” -Kelsey Mullen, Director of Public Programs and Education

A colorful view of the Main House, by Grounds Superintendent, Chad Donovan-Hall.

A colorful view of the Main House by Chad Donovan-Hall, Grounds Superintendent at The Mount.

 

Edith Wharton’s Workshop

Last summer, when director Susan Wissler asked me to be this year’s writer-in-residence at The Mount, I replied with a laugh and a rapid-fire “yes, yes, yes.” When asked what room I wanted to occupy during my two-week residency, I also didn’t hesitate: the library, with its French doors opening to the wrap-around terrace and a view of the Berkshire mountains, the same view I’d tried to commit to memory on my first visit to The Mount in the summer of 2012.

That year, I gave a talk on my book, Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life, as part of The Mount’s Summer Lecture Series. I arrived on one of those liquid-gold July afternoons, the light shimmering on the landscape. My talk was held in the converted carriage house, where Wharton had originally stabled her horses and later parked her cars that she liked to take on expeditions along winding Berkshire roads. I remember the faces in the crowd that day, as the lights dimmed and the first of Clover’s photographs (she was a gifted photographer in the early 1880s) was projected on a nearby screen. After my talk and a gracious service of tea, I ambled down the road through a canopy of trees to Wharton’s white stucco, three-story mansion for a treat: dinner with guests on that terrace facing Laurel Lake and the mountains beyond.   A Palladian staircase off the terrace leads to a sunken garden and a second garden planned by Wharton’s niece, the gifted landscape designer Beatrix Ferrand. That evening, as I heard the wind whoosh through the evergreen trees, I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

It’s been more than six weeks now since I’ve returned home from my residency at The Mount. The weather has warmed and spring is here. But I think often of those days in cold, snowy March. I’ve worked in some beautiful spaces over the years: the main reading room of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., with its high ocular ceiling and iron clock; the stately reading room at the Massachusetts Historical Society; the small but perfectly proportioned room in the Sturgis Library on the Cape, with Captain Sturgis’ 19th c. book collection lining the walls. But spending ten days writing in Wharton’s library was different somehow.

Here was my pathway every morning on the mansion’s second floor from the servant’s kitchen through the formal dining room and living room to the library – the last window is one of the library’s French doors.

Dining Room

This view, where the axis of each room lines up with the next to form an enfilade or corridor, is a distinguishing feature of the house, borrowed from the grand European homes.

The library itself is not imposing. Like the other rooms, its size feels just right, conforming to how Wharton described what a library should be in chapter XII of her 1897 Decoration of Houses:

The general decoration of the library should be of such character as to form a background or setting to the books, rather than to distract attention from them. The richly adorned room in which books are but a minor incident is, in fact, no library at all.

Library

The furniture, rug, and curtains are not Wharton’s, but all the books that line the three walls between four French doors are hers. They are all “good editions in good bindings,” as she prescribes in Decoration, and were purchased back by The Mount in 2005. The story of that purchase is itself a fascinating tale, as told by one of my favorite writers, Rebecca Mead, in the April 28, 2008 issue of the New Yorker. Every once in a while even now, a book comes back. Wharton’s copy of Jane Eyre came back 2½ years ago. Madame Bovary is still missing.

Books

I put my writing desk and chair next to where Wharton had placed hers, catching the light on my left and facing the far wall lined with more books and punctuated by the fireplace where Wharton and Henry James, a frequent guest, would repair after dinner to read and gossip. Wharton didn’t write in the library. She wrote The House of Mirth and Ethan Frome, her best known novels from her time at The Mount, in her boudoir, where she liked to write in bed in the mornings. Even so, I got a small sense of what she saw when she was in her library. Mostly, I had the view I most wanted – the terrace, pine trees, and the mountains beyond. I didn’t even mind all the snow. It gave the landscape a hushed, less hectic aspect I found comforting. Plus, if I’d been able to open those doors, I wouldn’t have been able to resist going outside, and I’d come to The Mount to work.

Terrace

I was left quietly alone my first week, as I settled in to finish an article on 19th century pressed flower albums, which I’ve titled “Enduring Beauty.” What are pressed flower albums, you ask? Perhaps you’ve run across a pressed flower in a book of poems or a novel. Prior to the advent of photography in the mid-nineteenth century, young women were encouraged to keep flowers, plucked and pressed and put in albums, as a way to remember the places they’d visited or special occasions. I’d first seen an extraordinary 1839 example, with the colors of its daisies and primroses still detectable, at the Massachusetts Historical Society while doing research for my book on Clover. I couldn’t stop thinking of it—I found those bits and pieces of nature, flattened between pages and often accompanied by a poem, incredibly moving.

My first days I did a lot of up-down, up-down. I call it “writer’s vertigo.” But when that happened, I’d take down one of Wharton’s books (carefully, I promise) to steady me. Many are inscribed and still more have her markings in the margins. Books of poetry, theater, and science, particularly those on evolution; the classics; books on travel, history, philosophy; a Bible prayer book, biographies, and, of course, lots of novels: a whole collection of George Eliot and Henry James, to name just two writers. Hermione Lee, Wharton’s biographer, says that the “most revealing and moving pages in these marked-up books are where Wharton has paused over something that seems to give her advice, on how to live or how to write, or has marked something that speaks to her own circumstances.” A favorite example would have to be a mark next to this passage by Keats: “Do you see how necessary a world of pain and troubles is to school an Intelligence to make it a Soul?” At what point did Wharton make this mark? Hard to know, but his words spoke to her much as her words speak to us. As Lee remarks, “her library is…her education, her inspiration, and her workshop.”

Two weeks in Wharton’s workshop surrounded by the beauty of The Mount and the Berkshires – it’s enough to inspire. Happily, my article is just about ready to be sent out for review – I’ll be sure to post a link at this blog when it’s in print.

Many thanks to Susan Wissler and all the wonderful people who run The Mount (you know who you are)—for the opportunity to spend this time with you, for your encouraging words, cups of tea, and invitations to dinner. Thank you to Nynke Dorhout, librarian extraordinaire, who first invited me to The Mount and for her expertise about Wharton’s books. A special thanks to Naomi and Roger Gordon, who let me stay in their beautiful home nearby. You can find out more about my book on Clover Adams at nataliedykstra.com and can reach me by email at ndykstra@hope.edu.

One more item: The Mount will be accepting applications for next year’s writer-in-residency, starting July 1. Be sure to contact The Mount for more information, and good luck to all the applicants!

Photo credit: Ellen Dykstra

Photo credit: Ellen Dykstra

Natalie Dykstra is an Associate Professor of English at Hope College in Holland, MI. She teaches one semester a year, and in the spring and summer lives with her husband in Waltham, MA. Her first book, Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life, was nominated for the Massachusetts Book Award in 2013.

First Signs of Spring

After a particularly long winter, we were very excited to see the first signs of spring here at The Mount, including blue skies, pleasant temperatures, sprouting plants in Wharton’s gardens, and the arrival of Yarmey’s Window Cleaning Co. to wash away that winter grime!

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New Faces at The Mount

April saw the arrival of glorious spring weather and a series of young, new faces at The Mount!  Berkshire students recently visited to work and study.

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On April 11, The Mount hosted The Lenox Crew Team’s Silent Auction and Wine/Beer Tasting fundraiser, in exchange for several days of spring grounds clean-up.

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The team – part of Lenox Memorial Middle and High School – helped The Mount’s Grounds Superintendent, Chad Donovan-Hall, gather sticks, branches, and other debris left over by various winter storms.

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And they did an excellent job!

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Afterward, they spent some quality time with The Mount’s unofficial mascot, Pippy!

Working on their portfolios

On April 17, students from Miss Hall’s AP Art class visited The Mount.

Miss Hall's AP Art Class

Within Wharton’s beautiful mansion, they worked on their portfolios.

Meet Bonaparte the Rabbit!

Before we saw Bonaparte, this is how we imagined him.

Before we saw Bonaparte, this is how we imagined him, in Wharton’s bedroom.

We knew we weren’t alone. The alarm went off in the middle of the night, things weren’t left quite as they were before, and we sensed another presence. Finally, a security camera in the Main House revealed the answer: it was a rabbit, not a ghost, in the mansion!

We immediately gave our new friend a name: Bonaparte, named after Wharton’s “delicious, brown” pet rabbit. In her later years, she would reminisce with her sister-in-law, Minnie Jones:

“When I was 7 years old, & you, I conjecture, 19 (& newly married), I one day…entrusted you with the care of my pet rabbit-& you forgot him in the park, & went home to lunch without him! This incident…is the only blot that, after a microscopic scrutiny of the ensuing sixty years, I am able to discover in your perfect record as sister-in-law, friend & comrade.”

Bonaparte remained elusive , comfortably dining on apples, clementines, and almonds during the coldest days of winter. On February 25, we caught Bonaparte and set him free. Although we’re sure he’s having many adventures in Wharton’s surrounding woodland, we wouldn’t mind if he came back for a visit!

Releasing Bonaparte.

Bonaparte’s release on February 25, 2015.

Bonaparte's sprint to freedom!

Farewell, Bonaparte!

Whartons in Winter

Winter at The Mount.

Winter at The Mount.

Every year for nine years, when the birds flew south and the trees turned bare, Edith and Teddy Wharton and their household would pack up and leave The Mount for the winter. Although Wharton maintained that she would have preferred to write and live at The Mount year-round, Teddy was fond of society and disliked the New England winter cold, so they bid their summer home adieu and initially resided in New York for the winter months. In 1907, the pair began spending their winters abroad in Paris.

Although they rarely wintered at The Mount, Wharton clearly knew something about New England winters, as she was able to accurately depict the bitter, chilly brutality of wintertime in a fictional town for her 1911 novel, Ethan Frome. The Whartons actually did spend a winter at The Mount, between December 1905 and February 1906. According to biographer Hermione Lee, “The grimness of the remote, inaccessible New England farms and of the ‘mountain’ people’s lives in desolate little hill villages, particularly in the winter… stirred Wharton’s imagination quite as much as the life of the wealthy ‘cottagers.’”

So what was living at The Mount like in the winter? Cold. Heating has always been a problem at The Mount, and in Wharton’s time, the house was heated by a coal-fired furnace. It appears that the servants experienced the worst of winter conditions: Hermione Lee speculates that Wharton may have moved up her sailing date in January 1908 by a month to save her servants from the chilly living conditions at The Mount. Wharton also remarked in 1907 that the servants suffered very much the previous December, due to a hot-water furnace in the servant’s wing that functioned inadequately in very cold weather.

While times have changed, winter conditions in the Berkshires certainly have not, and The Mount continues to close its doors for public tours every winter, just as The Whartons once did. We’re excited to bid winter adieu and open for the 2015 season on Friday, May 1!

Trustee Spotlight: Cris Raymond

This post was contributed by Cris Raymond, one of the newest trustees on The Mount’s board.

Cris Raymond.

Cris Raymond

I have been asked to relate why I joined the board at The Mount. First, let me say that it truly was an honor to have been invited. As an English major in college, an editor in New York City, and a writer, I always have admired the works of Edith Wharton. The fact that she was the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in literature and that she chose to build her home here in the Berkshires is also something that I behold with pride.

Although I spent most of my adult life in New York City and Europe, I grew up in the Berkshires. When I was at school here, my headmistress constantly reminded us that the “O” of “obligation,” comes before the “P” of privilege. We had to spend one afternoon a week working for and in our community. When I returned to live in the Berkshires, I took that “O” very seriously and continue to do so. I can think of no better way to serve my community than by working with the board of The Mount to protect this national treasure.

There is a creative energy in the Berkshires. Practitioners of Chi Qigong, the art of transferring healing energy through the body, believe that hemlocks and pines give off energy. Here in the Berkshires we are surrounded by forests of pine and hemlock. It cannot be a coincidence that this energy may have played a part in Edith Wharton, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Serge Koussevitzky, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, and many others choosing to have their homes here. Longfellow began his poem Evangeline with “This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks ….” It is most unfortunate that Longfellow’s house in nearby Pittsfield was torn down.

We must do everything in our power to preserve, protect, and cherish the heritage these creative artists left us and share it with the world at large. Another poet, T.S. Eliot wrote: “Time past and time present are all contained in time future.” Now, in the present, we must act and do what we each can to ensure the future of The Mount.

If you are interested in learning more about The Mount and ways you can help, please contact Lindsay Codwise in the Development office by e-mail or by telephone at 413-551-5112.