Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A day at Edith Wharton's

We all know how much I love Edith Wharton. Remember the fat guy and cake analogy? That's how much. Something you might not know: before Edith Wharton was known for being one of the all-star, all-time-bestest-of-the-bestest American writers, she was a big shot in--wait for it--interior design. She invented the field. At a time when everyone was cramming their houses full of as much Victorian shit as they could find, Edith Wharton advocated clean lines and symmetry, having spent many years on the European continent in well-acquainted villas. (With whom or what were the villas acquainted?)

She put her ideas to good use when she designed, built and furnished her fabulous Berkshire mansion, the Mount, her "true home," though she only lived there for ten of her seventy-five years. Today, the Mount is a roadside attraction a damn sight more classy than South England's Wookey Hole, which isn't what you think, so don't be afraid to open that link. I suppose it would be more appropriate to call the Mount a historical residence, but I visited it with the BF and BFM on our way from Montpelier to New York, and anything one visits on a road trip is, by definition, a roadside attraction.

The vast majority of furniture and decoration inside the Mount is contemporary. When Edith Wharton divorced her husband and ran off to France, the Mount passed through a couple of different owners, including a finishing school for well-bred girls, and all of the original furnishings and decorations were lost. Fortunately, being that Edith Wharton literally wrote the book on interior design, the restorers used the her ideas to recreate a Mount that isn't exact, but would have pleased her greatly. And, since none of the furniture is original, it means we actually got to sit on it!

Of course, the preservationists who manage the Mount are on a never-ending quest to obtain anything from Edith Wharton's original creation. As far as furniture goes, they haven't been very successful. There was a single sofa in her bedroom suite that was roped off as an original piece, but I'm pretty sure that even the bathroom fixtures were later additions. However, the historians did make one incredible find that literally made me gasp when I saw it: they have Edith Wharton's personal library. Her books. The Mount has Edith Wharton's books.
I was once scolded by the tour guide in the Hawaii Supreme Court chambers for cracking open the books behind the special judgey podium, so it's probably a good thing that the Mount people put up an iron fence in this room (you can't see it in that picture, but I'm leaning on it). They knew that anyone who comes to Edith Wharton's house is going to want to get their nasty, oily hand-juice all over those fat, tempting volumes, especially since Wharton liked to write in the margins.

Wharton marginalia. These are the things that get me hot and bothered in the middle of the night.