Emily Dickinson Museum : The Homestead and The Evergreens

The Emily Dickinson Home

This year we made our third visit to Brattleboro, Vermont and on each visit I have wanted to make the trip an hour south to Amherst where the former home of the poet Emily Dickinson is open to the public as a museum. Amherst is an attractive College town – five in all in the area – with some interesting shops and plenty of eateries.

Emily Dickinson Homestead

On the Friday of our stay I drove myself back down into Massachusetts. The museum was easy to find and I was able to book onto the second tour of the day : Emily Dickinson’s World a 90-minute guided tour of both the Homestead (Emily Dickinson’s house) and The Evergreens (Austin and Susan Dickinson’s home). This constitutes an in-depth focus on Emily Dickinson’s life and family and the major influences on her writing. Includes the parlors, library, and the poet’s bedroom at the Homestead; the library, parlor, dining room, kitchen, maid’s room, water closet, nursery, and “Emily Room” at The Evergreens.

Emily Dickinson room

The Poet’s Bedroom is currently under renovation

As I had just missed the first tour by a few minutes I decided to buy the tour of the grounds which is an audio and self-guided.

“Grounds of Memory: a guide to the Dickinson landscape” The audio tour of the outdoor Dickinson grounds (duration of full-length tour is 60 minutes; visitors may tailor the tour to fit their needs) Explores Emily Dickinson’s fascination with the natural world and her family’s deep interest in the land and  includes eighteen stops outside the Homestead and The Evergreens. Stops may be visited in any order. Each stop offers a 2- or 3-minute narration and at least one Dickinson poem appropriate to that stop.

Narrated by poet laureate Richard Wilbur
Voice of Emily Dickinson provided by poet Mary Jo Salter

The Flower Garden

 First three stops are at the Flower Garden

Flower Garden and Home

The Ornamental Flower Garden and the Homestead

Main St and Amherst

Main Street looking towards Amherst

Evergreens

The West Bedroom (1st floor, RHS) was Emily’s

The Evergreens

The Evergreens – built by Edward Dickinson as a wedding gift to his son and daughter-in-law on their marriage

The grassy path

The grassy path between the two homes – “Just wide enough for two who love” (ED)

Here is a brief biography of the poet but the tour really brought to life her life and the lives of her family in particular her sister, Lavinia, her mother and father and her brother, Austen and his family.

EMILY DICKINSON was born in Amherst at the Homestead on December 10, 1830. Her quiet life was infused with a creative energy that produced almost 1800 poems and a profusion of vibrant letters.

Her lively childhood and youth were filled with schooling, reading, explorations of nature, religious activities, significant friendships, and several key encounters with poetry. [She was not always the recluse that many choose to characterise her – at one  time she called herself The Belle of Amherst.] Her most intense writing years consumed the decade of her late 20s and early 30s; during that time she composed almost 1100 poems. She made few attempts to publish her work, choosing instead to share them privately with family and friends. In her later years Dickinson increasingly withdrew from public life. Her garden, her family (especially her brother’s family at The Evergreens) and close friends, and health concerns occupied her.

With a few exceptions, her poetry remained virtually unpublished until after she died on May 15, 1886. After her death, her poems and life story were brought to the attention of the wider world through the competing efforts of family members and intimates.” [source]

This was a house visit par excellence. The 90 minute houses tour was filled with interest and insight into the lives. The Dickinson Landscape self-guided audio tour complete with poetry readings added to almost complete immersion into ED’s life and thoughts. Our house guide was entertainment herself and added poetry quotations and a quick ‘class’ in the importance of word choice in a ‘schoolroom’ – in which we all participated. No photography was allowed in the house but the tour was such fun and so informative that I will forgive them for that. Having visited the home of a poet I had barely heard of I came away feeling as if I met her myself. Well done, Emily Dickinson House Museum!

On leaving the Museum I couldn’t resist a quick visit to another nearby museum – almost from the sublime to the ridiculous – The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. A purpose-built centre devoted to the art of contemporary children’s book illustrator Eric Carle. We still have a very dog-eared copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar at home.

Picture Book Art

 

Carle Museum

 The Eric Carle Museum

The very hungry caterpillar

This is what a Very Hungry Caterpillar looks like!

And finally, the next day we both made the journey back down to Amherst, enjoyed a decent lunch and I tracked down the Dickinson graves in West Cemetery where there is also a Community History Mural featuring characters from the Amherst story from all fields of experience (farming, literature, domestic life, education, military, industry and economic life) and including, of course, Emily Dickinson herself.

Dickinson family graves

The Dickinson Graves in West Cemetery, Amherst

Emily Dickinson grave stone

Wording on Emily’s Gravestone

History Mural West Cemetery Amherst

The Amherst Community Mural, West Cemetery

Emily Dickinson on History Mural

Emily Dickinson (Lavinia behind) on the Community Mural

The Carriage House

The Carriage House

This September just past we made our third visit to Brattleboro Vermont. We stayed again in a property that had once belonged to poet and novelist Rudyard Kipling and which is now owned and run under the auspices of The Landmark Trust USA. The house is on a much smaller scale than Naulakha and sits on the same driveway a little way down from that grand, commanding house.

Naulakha from Carriage House

Naulakha from The Carriage House

Here is the description of it from the Landmark Trust USA website :

When you stay at this Landmark, you’ll awaken wonderful memories. Formerly this was the barn where Rudyard Kipling’s carriage was kept, then it was converted to housing for his staff. This beautiful smaller example of the tones, designs and appointments of Naulakha, accommodates 4, has one bathroom, a complete spacious kitchen, and beautifully landscaped lawn area where you can relax in an adirondack chair or picnic in the shaded backyard.

Adirondack chairs

The view NH from those chairs

The View from the Chairs : New Hampshire

 From the patio outside the kitchen, there is a stone pathway which will lead you from the lawn area to the barn where Kipling’s horses, Nip & Tuck, were stabled.

Barn

 The Barn

This property is super comfortable, nestled in among the trees, and banked by perennials. You’ll feel a certain sense of having lived in a cabin in the woods, with comfort.”

Sooooo, comfortable :

Sitting Room CH

The Sitting Room

Carriage House Kitchen

The Kitchen

Desk. Carriage House

Desk at rear of Sitting Room

Carriage House bookcase

One of the Bookcases

Kipling still predominates on the shelves but I read and enjoyed :

Who lived here book

Who lived here?

vermont Feud

Rudyard Kipling’s Vermont Feud

American Outhouse

The Vanishing American Outhouse

RK picture

Rudyard Kipling was keeping a watchful eye on us!

Three weeks in New England on Instagram

Just a few days ago we returned from our holiday in New England. When I’m away I try to post each day on Instagram so the family can see where I am or where I’ve been and what I have seen. I’ve been busy since I got back so here’s a selected taster from that trip and soon I’ll be back with some detailed posts. But it’s been a “proper” holiday lounging about, reading and enjoying the relaxation.

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Our cosy Cape Cod Cottage in East Falmouth

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The Island Queen to Martha’s Vineyard

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Seen on the Chappaquidick Ferry- a reminder of our next trip

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Woods Hole Marina and Oceanographic Institute

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Little Libraries always catch my eye

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End of Season Sand Sculpture, Barnstable, MA

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Connecticut River Vermont/New Hampshire

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The Carriage House near Brattleboro VT

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Eric Carle Museum, Amherst MA

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Vermont Maple Syrup made here

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Vermont View

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LL Bean, Freeport ME “We never close

Around the World in Christmas Gifts

Every gift received this Christmas has a special association for me: be it reading, travelling, visiting libraries, drinking tea or communicating via traditional pen and ink or modern internet methods.

ipad mini

I am now the rather nervous owner of an iPad Mini. I’m sure I will get used it and love using it but currently it sits pristine on its box whilst I still tap away at my laptop and snap away with my camera or iPod Touch.

Calendar

I’ll be checking dates and tempted to book Landmark Trust stays every time I look at my Landmark Trust Calendar for 2014. There is Astley Castle on the front (and also on the back) cover.

Cotswolds

Whilst at the Landmark St Mary’s Lane in Tewkesbury earlier this year I came across “Cotswold Follies and Fancies”. It’s a guide to the curious, whimsical and romantic buildings around the area. I’m happy to have a copy of my own to take with me next time I visit the Cotswolds.

Rome

In 2014 I have travel plans for another ATG walking holiday this time in Italy. We will be staying just one night in Rome but will be sure to hunt out at least one of its “Quiet Corners”. In 2015 I’m hoping to spend a bit longer in and around The Eternal City.

Fodors Maine

No plans yet to return to New England next year but if we do I have just the up-to-date guide to make planning easy in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.

Tea and spoons

Paris is one of my favourite destinations and this (academic) year one of my Swiss friends is working there in her Gap Year. She sent me lovely Mariage Freres loose tea in a tin and two pearl spoons from the shop where she’s working : Sabre. It would be lovely to visit her whilst she is there.

“The fragrance of adventure and poetry endlessly pervades each cup of tea” – Henri Mariage [Founder]

Candle

On a visit to Paris in 2010 a Parisian friend and I visited The House of Victor Hugo in a quiet corner of the Place Des Vosges. We’re still hoping to make a rendez-vous together at his other former home (owned by the City of Paris) Hauteville House on Guernsey. In the meantime I have this ‘writer’s’ candle whose scent of bergamot-iris-hyacinth is reminiscent of Le Jardin D’Hugo.

phantoms

My friend, fellow blogger and fellow online book group  moderator Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book read and recommended “Phantoms on the Bookshelves” this year. About it he says “Jacques Bonnet is more like the friendly face at your book group who will enthuse about managing to squeeze another bookcase into the corner of the living room.” I’m looking forward to reading Mr Bonnet’s book, translated from the French, very soon.

The Library

I understand that M. Bonnet writes about other libraries beside his own and some may be included in this coffee table book “The Library : a world history” which will find pride of place on Miladys table. I’ll be dipping into it all year and beyond.

Postcards

Since joining The Leeds Library I have been a regular reader of The New Yorker so it was with great delight that I unwrapped a box of 100 cards taken from the covers of that magazine over ten decades. When I need to send a card I should find a date or subject suitable for almost every recipient. If I don’t find one in that box then I can turn to a gift box of 20 cards of designs by Frank Lloyd Wright for the American Liberty Magazine.

Lavendar bath

And at the end of the day I can relax in a Lavender Foaming Bath: “A new definition of calm.”

Many thanks to everyone who gave these gifts … and I hope you were at least half as pleased with what I gave you!

The Old King’s Highway : Route 6A Cape Cod

The final nine nights of our September New England holiday were spent on Cape Cod at one of our very favourite places : The Lamb and Lion Inn at Barnstable. This year was our fourth visit but this shrank in insignificance when we met two couples who had been visiting for their 18th and 23rd times respectively.

The Lamb and Lion Inn right on the 6A

So, I was pretty familiar with the Old King’s Highway but have only on more recent visits realised the full historical significance of this road. When you cross the Sagamore Bridge you join Highway 6 the main dual carriageway that links the Sagamore with Provincetown 72 miles away. However, to reach the Lamb and Lion and follow a slower pace and drop down a gear or two you need to take the Route 6A to the north.

The 6A leaves the 6 at Sagamore and rejoins it just west of the town of Orleans and in total the OKH is 34 miles long and traverses seven towns and is just yards from the beach in some places. In fact it is hard to realise that you are so near the seaside as you drive along but turn left (north) down almost any lane as you drive from Sagamore to Orleans and you’ll find  sandy beaches hugging Cape Cod Bay or, nearest to us at the L&L, the lovely sheltered Barnstable Harbour.

Sunset at Barnstable Harbor Beach

When we stay on Cape Cod we have a very limited “comfort zone” so the part of The Old King’s Highway that I’m going to tell you about is just that between Barnstable and Dennis. I just checked on Mapquest and it’s a distance of about 11 miles.

I have tried to find out exactly which “Old King” the highway is named for but it’s not mentioned in the bits of literature that I have collected and no sign on “Google” either. I assumed King George III but it’s much older than that – a late 17th century extension of the King’s Highway from Plimouth. The whole of it is designated a Regional Historic District and is the largest such district in America. It is also one of America’s most scenic highways.

This 34 mile roadway winds through 7 cape towns, past hundreds of historic sites and landscapes, including farmsteads, cranberry bogs, salt marshes, sea captain’s homes, and village greens.”

In addition there’s America’s oldest library (The Sturgis Library), a famous artist’s home (Edward Gorey), a Coastguard Museum, a unique secondhand bookshop (Parnassus Books), an Historic New England property (The Winslow Crocker House), great eateries and interesting, one-of-a-kind shops and galleries, roadside fruit and veg. stalls (we recommend the heritage tomatoes), shipyards and churches and cemeteries and all of those just within our 11 mile zone.

Historic House plaque – one of very many along the 6A

Deacon John Hinckley House (one of many historic properties along 6A)

Thomas Hinckley Lived Near Here – such signs abound on the 6A!

Inside The Sturgis Library, Barnstable

The Trayser Coastguard Museum, Barnstable

Hallet’s Soda Fountain

My ice cream soda is ready!

Parnassus Books (so much more inside!)

The Winslow Crocker House

(Sea) Captain Bang’s Hallet House

Edward Gorey House

Sesuit Harbor Cafe

Sesuit Harbor

Don’t Call Me Ishmael – Part Two : Where a Mountain Inspired a Tale of a Whale : Herman Melville’s Arrowhead

Don’t Call Me Ishmael‘ was the title of a post here a year ago in which I wrote about a visit with a friend to the Mattapoisett Historical Museum to inspect the Ashley Whaling Mural a map of the south coast of New England from the mouth of the Connecticut River to Cape Cod. We also looked at Whaling Journals.

There was just time on Saturday 15 September, after our visit to The Norman Rockwell Museum and Stockbridge, to fit in a tour of Herman Melville’s home Arrowhead, just a mile along the road from our Lenox motel in Pittsfield, MA.

In the summer of 1850, seeking a reprieve from the heat and noise of New York City, Herman Melville brought his young family to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a place he had visited since childhood.

Flush with the success of his first books and entranced by his meeting of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Melville impulsively bought a nearby farm, which he named Arrowhead. That winter, ensconced in his study with its view of Mount Greylock, Herman Melville wrote his masterpiece ‘Moby Dick’.

Melville’s most productive years were those he spent at Arrowhead; works written here include ‘Pierre’, ‘Benito Cereno’ and ‘The Confidence-Man’. Melville and his family returned to the city in 1863, but Arrowhead remained in the Melville family until 1972.”

The Barn Shop and Information Desk

In a barn behind the house there’s a shop and the desk where you can book for a house tour. In another out-building there’s an exhibition “So Far From Home: Whalers and Whaler Art”.

“The exhibit explores how Polynesian artworks influenced the art of visiting whalers like Melville, with a display of images, text, scrimshaw, tattoos, and Polynesian art and artefacts. Collector Jeffrey McCormick loaned a large selection of scrimshaw and other items to make this exhibit possible.”

There are also some fine examples of Whaling Journals and a model of the whaling ship ‘The Wanderer’.

Model of The Wanderer

In the field next to the house and garden there’s a rather strange sculpture. It’s called ‘Ahab and the Whale’ and it’s a startlingly life-like straw sculpture by Michael Melle.

The house tour itself was fairly interesting (no photography allowed) and the best part was visiting the study and seeing the view of Melville’s inspiration Mount Greylock.

Mount Greylock from Arrowhead

In addition to the house tour and exhibitions there’s a self-guided grounds tour described on the free leaflet that you are given when booking your ticket. Complete with quotations from Herman Melville the leaflet details the immediate house surroundings and barn and the Arrowhead Nature Trail across the meadow and through the woods where Melville was inspired to write. Unfortunately, time was tight at this point and I was unable to undertake the Nature Trail. Something else for next time!

By pure coincidence I received a Folio Society newsletter just this week alerting me to the Moby Dick Big Read. Here is what it says on the website :

… an online version of Melville’s magisterial tome: each of its 135 chapters read out aloud, by a mixture of the celebrated and the unknown, to be broadcast online in a sequence of 135 downloads, publicly and freely accessible.”

A year ago I said I wouldn’t be reading ‘Moby Dick’ but this year I intend to start listening to The Moby Dick Big Read.

A book for young whale watchers

As for embarking on a Whale Watch Cruise – well, I still won’t be doing that – but I now have a husband who did! And he saw some!! The whale watchers return :

“If it doesn’t tell a complete story … it won’t do as a Post cover” : The Norman Rockwell Museum

The ‘Post’ in question was ‘The Saturday Evening Post’ and the statement was made by the prolific, American illustrator who, between 1916 and 1963, produced 323 covers for the weekly magazine.  Some of Norman Rockwell’s covers are very well known and are used today on posters, postcards and greetings cards throughout the world. Rockwell was born in New York City in 1894 and died in Stockbridge, MA in 1978. One’s first impression is that his paintings depict cosy, inter-war-years, small town American home life. In fact this is far from the case. He covered a huge range of topics and he used local people as models and meticulously planned each picture he created.

On Saturday 15 September we made a visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge, MA. We thought we’d maybe spend an hour or so there but three hours later we decided to leave and I still had not seen everything that the Museum had to offer, including the current special exhibition ‘Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered’.

I think we’d expected a Disneyfied exhibit and we’d have sentimental America overload. Far from it. This was an excellent presentation of the work of one of America’s best-known illustrators.

All 323 covers are on display in publication order on the walls of the basement gallery. In the same room is a video loop about Rockwell’s life and painting narrated by his son Tom Rockwell. Also in the basement is a Library and Archive.

composed primarily of business, personal, and fan correspondence, together with reference material. Of particular note is a collection of several thousand black-and-white photographs of models and scenes used by the illustrator in the development of his work.” [from the NRM website]

The NRM Gift Shop

For nearly fifty years, millions of Americans brought Norman Rockwell’s art into their homes, enjoying the artist’s Saturday Evening Post covers while seated in their favorite chairs, surrounded by their belongings in the company of their families. This intimate connection with Rockwell’s art made his images a part of the fabric of American lives.

On the ground floor of the Museum are the main galleries which include his paintings of the Four Freedoms or Four Essential Human Freedoms (of speech, of worship, from want, from fear). The theme was derived from the 1941 State of the Union Address by President Roosevelt.

Also, in pride of place, and this was the painting about which my tour guide spoke, was Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas. Later I found the Main Street almost impossible to photograph in September (the result is below). Each year there’s a programme of events in the town based around a recreation of this painting. This year it’s 30 November, 1 and 2 December.

Norman Rockwell in his studio with the painting Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas

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When we’d exhausted the Museum itself (or rather it had exhausted us!) and spent time in the well-stocked Gift Shop we took the short walk to Rockwell’s Studio.

The Museum (opened in 1993) is located in lovely extensive grounds (36 acres) a few miles outside the small town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts – there’s plenty of parking and green spaces. The Studio itself was moved to the grounds in 1986 and is fitted out now as it might have been in October 1960 with his equipment, books, inspirations.

After visiting the Museum, we parked up in Stockbridge and took a walk around the town. When I walked into the Stockbridge General Store I suddenly remembered that I had watched a programme on TV back in December called “America on a Plate : The story of the Diner” in which Stephen Smith visits various diners throughout America and reflects on their connections with popular culture. At one point he visited Stockbridge and set up one of the Rockwell covers – The Runaway – using the original models for the police officer and the runaway boy. I realised that I was in the diner where this had taken place. The programme in full is not currently available via iPlayer but I found two YouTube recordings of the programme. The Norman Rockwell part begins in Part One 12.22 minutes in and continues through the beginning of Part Two.

The Custom of the Country, Dramatic Licence and Edith Wharton and The First World War

Writing these posts about my visit to The Mount has made me want to revisit as I now feel that I missed a lot.  I spent two hours there and after the 50 minute tour I rather hurried round the rest of the house and the gardens and took twenty minutes or so out of my remaining time to have a cup of tea. If I am ever fortunate to have the chance to pay a visit to The Mount again then I’d try to spend the greater part of a day there. I suppose this post consists of things I missed or very nearly missed or was only able to scan very quickly.

The Custom of the Country was the title (taken from an Edith Wharton fiction title) of the result of an American Vogue fashion shoot by Annie Leibovitz that had taken place at The Mount and was published in the September (2012) Issue. Copies of the 18 page feature were piled up around the house, presumably for the paid-up attendees at the Berkshire Wordfest 2012 event that was due to start at 5pm that very afternoon. Copies of the full size magazine were for sale in the shop – all 916 pages of it, weighing in at just under 5lbs – I could hardly lift it let alone consider packing it in my suitcase to bring home with me!  Anyone who has seen the fly-on the wall documentary The September Issue will know just what I’m talking about here. To be featured in the magazine at all is one thing; to feature in the September Issue is an achievement indeed and Edith Wharton has done it and deserves it. There’s been a bit of hoo-ha that male writers and actors appear as various men in the sets but that Wharton herself is played by a model but I don’t want to get into that discussion here.

Dramatic Licence is the name of one of the two ongoing exhibitions on the top floor of The Mount.

Room 1 : The Henry James Suite at the top of the stairs has been transformed into a movie theater. After you enter the room turn to your left to start the journey through the trials and triumphs of Edith Wharton’s early attempts at adapting her own work and later efforts by others. Please sit in our vintage 1905 theater seats and watch a special Mount production of trailers and clips from films made of Wharton’s works. 

[I watched a few minutes of The Age of Innocence before moving on]

Room 2 : Teddy Wharton’s bedroom now hosts a bevy of beauties who have starred in adaptations of ‘The Age of Innocence’, ‘The Buccaneers’ and ‘Summer’. Given Mr Wharton’s reputed eye for the ladies, we think he would have approved. This room features material from the 1993 ‘The Age of Innocence’ on loan from screenwriter Jay Cocks and director Martin Scorsese.

Teddy Wharton’s bathroom depicts the interior of the ‘Ethan Frome’ kitchen based on a set design from the 1936 hit play based on Wharton’s tragic masterpiece.

The notes then go on to list the six films still available as DVDs, a note about lost movies, a list of books still in print and available from The Mount Bookshop.  There were lots of other relevant titles in the shop.

The Edith Wharton and The First World War exhibit speaks for itself. I knew that Wharton had lived much of her life in France and that she is buried in Les Gonards Cemetery in Versailles. In fact I wanted to find her grave when I was there in May but didn’t have time. I had not realised just how involved she was during the First World War.

Coincidently, even just the brief overview of the exhibit brought to life the poignant story of Molly and Tom the characters that I had just finished reading about in my friend Diney Costeloe’s book ‘The Ashgrove‘. Much of the action in the book takes place in a French convent.

Edith Wharton was profoundly affected by the First World War. This year, The Mount has designed an exhibition which examines her reaction to the devastation of the world she knew. Using images, artifacts, music, and the written word, it presents aspects of Wharton’s experience as a woman and a writer that are less well known to the public.

By throwing herself tirelessly and energetically into work, both literary and charitable, she was able to make use of her talents in ways previously unknown to her. Her charities, which included hostels for refugees and orphans from Belgium, workrooms to help widows and women who had lost their jobs, and hospitals for TB patients, benefited from her amazing organizational and fundraising skills. She used her great talent as a writer to send back reports from the Front detailing the horrors of war, in order to influence the United States to join the conflict.

By highlighting these two aspects of her war experience, we hope to bring a new understanding of Edith Wharton to the public.

In the Book Shop were several titles by Edith Wharton about the the War and her experiences.

A Step from the House is a Step into Nature : the Grounds and Gardens at The Mount

Wharton carefully planned the grounds of The Mount, which during her ownership comprised 150 acres of drives, woodlands, orchards, meadows, wildflower fields and formal gardens. Her niece, the noted landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, assisted by designing the maple-lined drive leading to the house and the elaborate kitchen garden that occupied the field in front of the stable. Wharton’s restored greenhouse still stands near the original gates.

The formal gardens around the house were designed by Wharton herself. Completely overgrown for many years, they now appear much as they did when the were new. At this time she was also writing her book Italian Villas and Their Gardens.

A broad Palladian staircase leads down from the terrace to gravel walks which descend to a lime walk of linden trees. The Lime Walk serves as a connecting hallway between the two major garden rooms. 

To the right when facing away from the house, the walled garden is an Italian “giardino segreto”. Wharton completed this garden with the proceeds from her first best-seller “The House of Mirth”.

On the left, the French-style flower garden has eight boxwood bushes arranged around a pool with Wharton’s dolphin fountain. Over 3,000 annuals and perennials have been planted here to suggest Wharton’s design. The trellis-work niche was recreated from photographs.

I wish I had had more time to wander the grounds at The Mount. I never visited the greenhouse, the woodland and the walled garden but I did walk up the small mound where Edith’s beloved dogs are buried.

Reminded me of the little gravestones of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s pet pugs at Le Moulin de la Tuilerie.

“A Delicate French Chateau Mirrored in a Massachusetts Pond” : A House Tour of The Mount

Note and acknowledgement : All sections in italics are taken from the leaflet Welcome to the Mount : Self-Guided Tour

GROUND FLOOR

In my last post the tour group had just arrived in the Entrance Hall. Just as the forecourt was designed to be an extension of the house into the landscape, the entrance hall was an extension of the landscape into the house. It was conceived as a grotto, or artificial cave, with stylized plaster-work simulating mossy walls and dripping water. 

MAIN FLOOR

GALLERY

The Gallery was inspired by similar rooms Wharton had admired in Italy. It is essentially a circulation space, allowing separate access to all the surrounding rooms and cross ventilation in the heat of summer. Here Wharton displayed a collection of Objets d’Art from her travels.

TEDDY WHARTON’S DEN

This room was Teddy Wharton’s office. A bookcase displays treasures from Mrs Wharton’s book collection, which can be viewed in the Library through the “hidden” doorway. It maintains original hardware (ordered from France), mirror, marble fireplace, cast-iron fireback, French doors and parquet floor.

EDITH WHARTON’S LIBRARY

The design of Wharton’s library follows recommendations in ‘The design of houses’ that the primary decoration of a library should be its books [I can’t argue with that!], and that the shelves be organic built into the walls rather than freestanding furniture. The panelling is oak. 

Although Wharton is photographed several times sitting at her desk, she actaully did most of her creative writing in her bedroom. The library was a place for solitary study, or for entertaining close friends with readings before the fire.

The books on the shelves are Wharton’s own, having returned to The Mount in January 2006, after almost a century in Europe.

DRAWING ROOM

The largest room in the house (36ft x 20ft) it also the only room with an elaborate ceiling treatment, which was completely recreated in 2002.

The room features a beautiful French marble mantel with cast-iron fire-back depicting Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac. The terrazzo floor was covered by a carpet, probably an Aubusson from France.

Books in the Drawing Room

DINING ROOM

The one photograph of the dining room in the Wharton’s time reveals a round Victorian table with white-painted French armchairs. A cushion under the table was provided for a favourite dog. This has been recreated today. It is an intimate space that bears no relation to the dining tables in all the many other stately homes that I have visited. Attached to the back of each chair is a label indicating who was sitting there enjoying Edith’s food and wine and, above all, her stimulating company.

BEDROOM FLOOR

HALL

The hall, which is approximately 95 feet long, was decorated plainly in Wharton’s time, in keeping with her belief that a hall was principally a passageway and not a living space.

WEST GUEST SUITE

The suite of two adjoining  rooms on the western, or forecourt [courtyard], side of the house was probably used by Wharton’s married guests.

HENRY JAMES GUEST SUITE

The novelist Henry James was Wharton’s most honoured guest, and it is likely that he stayed in this, the best guest room during his three visits to The Mount. James was deeply impressed by the beauty of the estate, which he called “a delicate French chateau mirrored in a Massachusetts pond”, and by the Whartons’ hospitality. 

TEDDY WHARTON’S BEDROOM SUITE

Just as Teddy Wharton’s den is smaller than his wife’s library, so is his bedroom suite smaller, as if to emphasise his secondary position in the household.

EDITH WHARTON’S BOUDOIR & BATHROOM

Wharton’s boudoir, or sitting room, is the most elaborately decorated room on the bedroom floor. It is dominated by eight floral still-life paintings set into the panelling, which came from Milan in Italy. Original furnishings included a desk, a sofa, and a daybed, with curtains and upholstery in Toile de Jouy. The original paint colours have been restored, and the room will soon be furnished as it was in Wharton’s time.

EDITH WHARTON’S BEDROOM

This room was decorated simply; the treatment “most fitting” for a bedroom. 

Wharton did most of her writing here; she would awaken early and write in bed, dropping the finished pages to the floor to be collected later for typing by her secretary.

Other rooms included a sewing room, closet for Mrs Wharton’s dresses, a butler’s pantry, a brush room for cleaning shoes and outdoor wear, offices for household management, kitchen, scullery, servants’ dining room and laundry – now the Book and Gift Shop.

Every effort has been made to make the visit enjoyable and informative with the added touches of flowers and books relating to the decoration of this and any house and appreciation of those who have been involved in bringing the house back to life again as nearly as possible as it would have been during Edith Wharton’s time. The renovations and improvements are ongoing.