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Today on The Mount’s blog, staffers at the literary landmark pay tribute to Edith Wharton’s 149th birthday. The author designed, built, and resided at the estate in Massachusetts’ Berkshire Mountains for nearly a decade (among those she hosted was writer pal Henry James, who had high praise for the equisite “French château”).

If you’re considering purchasing a membership to The Mount, today is the day to do it. In honor of Wharton’s birthday, those who sign up today will receive a copy of The Cruise of the Vanadis, a travelogue chronicling the author’s 1888 Mediterranean cruise.

The Mount has struggled with financial difficulties in recent years and has undertaken serious fundraising efforts. Last week it was announced that an anonymous donor had given a gift of $300,000 to The Mount. A birthday present for Wharton?

Check out these previous posts on Edith Wharton and The Mount:
Day Tripping to Edith Wharton’s Estate
Edith Wharton’s Paris
Is the Mount Haunted?

“Decidedly, I’m a better landscape gardener than a novelist,” Edith Wharton once claimed. The gardens at her estate, The Mount, in Lenox, Massachusetts, are indeed a highlight of the estate, which I visited recently on a day trip with my husband and my mother-in-law. For an afternoon, we traveled to the turn of the twentieth century and envisioned life as Wharton knew it during her tenure as mistress of The Mount. 

Wharton had a talent and a passion for architecture and landscape design. She was heavily influenced by her years abroad and drew on classical European design principles for both the house and gardens. Before she penned The House of Mirth, her breakout novel, in an upstairs bedroom suite at The Mount, she co-wrote a book on interior design, The Decoration of Houses, with architect Ogden Codman in 1898. Remarkably, the book is still in print.

The white, three-story mansion is reached by walking along a forested path, and we explored the house on a self-guided tour. Highlights are the library (right) with dark wood, carved bookshelves, where Wharton’s personal collection of tomes resides once again after being purchased from a European collector; the drawing room, the largest room in the house and the only one with ornate ceiling treatment; and the dining room, where a cushion placed beneath a Victorian table is reminiscent of one that Wharton kept there for her canine companions. (I was disappointed to find out that Wharton disliked cats and referred to them as sneaks in fur.)

Visitors are allowed on the second level of the house, although it’s currently undergoing restoration work. Wharton’s sitting room is the one that’s most finished, and it has vivid floral paintings set into the paneling, which came from Milan, Italy. One room has been designated the Henry James Guest Suite in honor of Wharton’s fellow writer, her good friend and traveling companion (they once toured France together, where one of their sojourns was to French scribe George Sand’s chateau).

After exploring the house, we had lunch at the Terrace Cafe on the wrap-around porch overlooking a glistening pond and the gorgeous gardens. A broad staircase leads from the terrace to a walkway lined with lime trees. On either end of the walkway are two formal gardens: a French-style flower garden circling a fountain in the shape of a dolphin and an Italian-style giardino segreto (hidden garden; at left) with stone walls and archways.

I was pleased to see there were a lot of people at The Mount on the day I visited, although it didn’t feel crowded because of the sprawling size of the estate. The Mount is open until October 31st. It’s still facing financial difficulties, and it could be a last chance to visit this exquisite place, which is unlike any other literary landmark in the United States. As Henry James said, perhaps while admiring the view from his guest room window, The Mount is “a delicate French chateau mirrored in a Massachusetts pond.” –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

Edith Wharton’s Berkshires estate, The Mount, opened today for the 2008 season.

I plan to visit the house and Italianate-style gardens, both of which were designed by Wharton, this summer. And if ever there was a time for bibliophiles to pay a visit to a literary landmark, this is it. The Mount is facing foreclosure, and a fundraising campaign has been launched to save the property, a National Historic Landmark. A significant amount of money still needs to be raised by May 31st. To see pictures of the house and gardens or to make a pledge (which won’t be called in unless the monetary goal is reached), go to www.edithwharton.org.

The Berkshires area is a paradise for literary travelers. In addition to The Mount, Lenox is also home to the Shakespeare & Company ensemble, which stages productions of the Bard’s works from May through October. In nearby Pittsfield is Arrowhead, Herman Melville’s farmstead and where he wrote Moby-Dick, and the Herman Melville Memorial Room at the Berkshire Athenaeum, which houses the world’s largest collection of memorabilia related to the writer. One of the items on display is his passport signed by Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was Melville’s overseas sponsor while serving as U.S. Consul in Liverpool, England. And last but not least, the Hawthorne House is a small red cottage where the novelist penned his gothic tale The House of the Seven Gables. It’s located on the grounds of Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer performance venue, and although it’s not open to the public it can be viewed from the outside.

This summer will be my first trip to the Berkshires, and I’ve already started my itinerary to make sure I don’t miss any of these literary sites and events. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

wharton_the-mount-with-japanese-anenomes-by-david-dashiell.jpgThe Lenox, Massachusetts estate where Edith Wharton wrote The House of Mirth and other novels is faced with imminent foreclosure due to financial difficulties, the New York Times recently reported. Trustees of The Mount have launched a fundraising campaign to save this National Historic Landmark, and $3 million needs to be raised before April 24, 2008. Pledges can be made at www.edithwharton.org, and they won’t be called in unless the monetary goal is reached — so there’s no risk to pledging a donation.

Wharton designed the house and gardens, and in addition to its literary significance The Mount is notable for being one of only 5 percent of National Historic Landmarks dedicated to women.

[Photo courtesy of David Dashiell and The Mount]

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