Edith Wharton at The Mount

Edith Wharton at The Mount

The Mount is an autobiographical house.

“No one fully knows our Edith who hasn’t seen her in the act of creating a habitation for herself,” remarked Henry James, Wharton’s close friend.

The Mount is an autobiographical house. Every aspect of the estate –including its gardens, architecture, and interior design – evokes the spirit of its creator.

She bought the 113-acre Lenox property in 1902 and began to create an environment that would meet her needs as designer, gardener, hostess, and above all, writer.

Construction proceeded quickly.

Within the year Wharton reported: “Lenox has had its usual tonic effect on me, & I feel like a new edition, revised & corrected . . . in the very best type. It is great fun out at the place, now too – as everything is pushing up new shoots – not only cabbages & strawberries, but electric lights & plumbing. I really think we shall be installed – after a fashion – by Sept. 1st.”

As moving day neared, Wharton, who was struggling with the financial demands of construction, thanked her publisher at Scribner’s for a timely royalty payment:

“Many thanks for the cheque for $2,191.81, which even to the 81 cents, is welcome to an author in the last throes of house-building.” In a letter to a friend a few weeks later, she exclaimed: “Finalmente! We have been in the new house for ten days, and have enjoyed every minute of it.”

In a letter to her lover Morton Fullerton, Wharton revealed how much of herself she put into The Mount:

“I am amazed at the success of my efforts. Decidedly, I’m a better landscape gardener than novelist, and this place, every line of which is my own work, far surpasses The House of Mirth. . . ”

And, from Wharton’s autobiography, A Backward Glance (1934):

“On a slope overlooking the dark waters and densely wooded shores of Laurel Lake we built a spacious and dignified house, to which we gave the name of my great-grandfather’s place, The Mount…There for over ten years I lived and gardened and wrote contentedly, and should doubtless have ended my days there had not a grave change in my husband’s health made the burden of the property too heavy.

“But meanwhile The Mount was to give me country cares and joys, long happy rides and drives through the wooded lanes of that loveliest region, the companionship of a few dear friends, and the freedom from trivial obligations which was necessary if I was to go on with my writing. The Mount was my first real home…its blessed influence still lives in me.”

Edith Wharton motoring with Henry James and Teddy Wharton at The Mount, 1904. Wharton mss, Lilly Library, Indiana University.

Edith Wharton motoring with Henry James and Teddy Wharton at The Mount, 1904. Wharton mss, Lilly Library, Indiana University.

Edith Wharton at The Mount, 1905.

Edith Wharton at The Mount, 1905.

Edith Wharton, 1905. Wharton mss, Lilly Library, Indiana University.

Edith Wharton, 1905. Wharton mss, Lilly Library, Indiana University.

Edith Wharton in procession at Yale University, after receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Letters (June 20, 1923). Edith Wharton Restoration.

Edith Wharton in procession at Yale University, after receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Letters (June 20, 1923). Edith Wharton Restoration.

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