Edith Wharton is my new hero. There is so much more to the famous writer than I was previously aware of and it wasn’t until I visited her former home, The Mount in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts and joined a guided tour with one of the knowledgable and animated guides did I discover a person far more fascinating than any of her literary characters.
Did you know that besides writing the American classics, The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton penned over 40 books in her lifetime and was the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize? That she was not only a celebrated author, but a prominent architect and designer as well? That she was also a trailblazing humanitarian and animal activist? That her closest friends and relatives included the likes of Henry James and Theodore Roosevelt? That she earned such a handsome income from her writing that she eventually supported her husband with her earnings? And that she accomplished all this despite being born into a strict family during the rigid Victorian period? Talk about a true pioneer!
Of course, for one as gifted as Wharton, she could afford some peculiarities. Wharton spent her mornings in bed with her beloved dogs, writing her novels longhand. She would number her pages and toss them onto the floor for her secretary to pick up and organize later in the day. Wharton also guarded her privacy, opening her home up to only a small number of people at a time, and then only for those who were closest to her. Wharton hated entertaining in the traditional sense and avoided it as best she could, but had a clear knack and love for intellectual conversation.
To Edith Wharton, house and home should be an extension of the self so The Mount, designed by Wharton herself, was heavily influenced by European design that she lovingly recalled from her childhood in Europe and outlined in her authoritative book on design, The Decoration of Houses. The more notable and impressive of the rooms include her library with more than 2,700 books from Wharton’s own collection and her intimate dining room complete with dinnerware and place settings.
Walking through the restored house provides guests a strong sense of who Wharton was. She put so much of herself into the look and feel of the home that she was able to create a space reflective of her personality. The home comes alive with her presence; the atmosphere is electric and you feel that the spirit of Edith Wharton is all but guiding a pen into your hand to write the next great American novel.
Speaking of spirits, The Mount also holds a special weekly ghost tour that guides brave souls through the century-old house in hopes (or fear) of finding truth to some of the spooky tales experienced by visitors and staff at the Edith Wharton house. Paranormal activity at The Mount include glowing orbs, mysterious footsteps, disembodied voices, and tingling sensations on guests’ shoulders. I love a good spook and I’m disappointed my timing at The Mount didn’t allow for one of their special ghost tours.
To preserve and honor Wharton’s memory, The Mount acts not just as a museum, but also a thriving cultural center in the Berkshires. Programs include a Monday lecture series, outdoor art and sculpture exhibits, theatre productions by renown companies, writing competitions, and weekly readings of Wharton’s short stories by local actors.
With so much going on between May and October (The Mount is closed during the winter), any time would be ideal to visit during your next trip to The Berkshires. Wharton is such a multi-faceted woman and The Mount is so wonderfully intriguing that, just like her classic novels, it’s worth returning to again and again.
Besides, there are still mysteries and secrets to be uncovered. Or at the very least, inspiration and admiration.
*My tour was sponsored by The Mount, but all opinions are an accurate and honest view on my experience there.