August 27, 2016

Walden Pond & The Mount

Edith Wharton (nee' Jones). The American Idiom "Keeping Up With the Jones's" alludes to EW's Society Matron forbearers moving Uptown Manhattan with the socially ambitious keen to follow suit.

Two weekends ago, I had an unexpected layover in Greater Boston. I do have someone near & dear in the area but since I hadn't given prior notice, I wasn't just going to sneak up on her unannounced disallowing the usual lavish preparation GSL gals giddily undergo after long separation.

Replica of shed where Henry David Thoreau secluded for 2 years and wrote Walden.

Saturday, I headed over to Walden Pond which is a State Park with several miles of walking trails and of course the famous little cabin where Henry David Thoreau retreated to "live deliberately and to front only the essential facts of life..."


Sunday brought the fulfillment of a long intended pilgrimage. I have said on at least 1 other blog when faced with the oft asked Fantasy Dinner Party query, I'd first invite and then defer host duties to Edith Wharton. Ms Wharton is my absolute favorite woman of History. Until 2010, I thought of her only as a Society Matron who could write a little.  She was so much more than that. She had her summer home, The Mount, in the Berkshires built and decorated to her specifications which were more form & function oriented contrary to the more chintzy oaky-baroqoey Victorian tastes of the day. She considered herself a better gardener than novelist. When I was in Haiti on Humanitarian Relief post Earthquake  back in early 2010, I asked a UN staffer if she had access to any good books. The following day, she handed me the Pulitzer Prize winning bio of Wharton by R.W. B. Lewis. Amid the devastation zipped in a mosquito net on a cot in an overcrowded tent wearing rifle range earplugs, to enter EW's world was an enchanting diversion. I've since read House of Mirth, Custom of the Country and her memoirs: A Backward Glance and several of her short stories. She was a brilliant writer but I admire her even more for how she threw herself into aiding orphans & refugees during the first World War. Then living full time mostly in the South of France, she took up residence at her Paris apartment, EW leveraged her talent, fame, and resources and became the first foreign woman awarded the Legion of Honor by a grateful nation.

A docent and one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen. Probably mid-70s, largely untouched to my eye,  likely French to my ear; which may explain a lot. The land The Mount sits on was purchased by EW from the Sargents...yes those Sargents. Their cousin, John Singer, would have lunged at an opportunity to immortalize the above beauty.
Our guide was the delightful Wendy.  GSL loves docents and fills Sergeant-at-Arms (no, those other sergeants) duties to border collie slowpokes and shoot shushing glares at chatterboxes.
EW's bedroom where she wrote House of Mirth. Docent Wendy said she'd write all morning while sitting in bed tossing finished pages to floor quickly scooped up by chambermaid relaying to secretary for transcription. She had a staff of 20 at The Mount.  EW was independent but not low maintenance.
This view from the Italian Garden opposite the French Garden.

This is from a photoshoot Vogue did at The Mount back in 2012 celebrating EW and her literati circle that was shot by Annie Liebovitz, styled by Grace Coddington for a mag edited by Anna Wintour. Why have a Russian Supermodel, Natalia Vodianova, as Edith Wharton and not a female writer or literary scholar? GSL would have viewed this as a wonderful opportunity to introduce a young, talented female author to a huge international audience.... and do so with even greater style and substance.

I just remembered that Uncle L helped bring this splendid film adaptation of one of EW's darker novels to the big screen.
Shot in Northeast Kingdom, Vermont on a shoestring budget, I remember him telling me a fortuitous snowstorm cut production time and prevented cost overruns.


  1. Ahhh---Wharton stories. The blessing/curse of the forties/fifties ninth-grader, depending upon literary taste and reading bent.

    I do so wonder, from time to time, about the other people with a tale to tell---those young folks with pencil and tablet and nowhere for the genius to go, no one to read, or those Mamas who rose earlier than their brood and sought the quiet of the dawn or a blessed hour of the off-at-school day in which to set down their ideas, vainly hoping that the ones composed over the dishpan would not flee before a free moment to set them to paper after bedtime.

    Those bright, talented souls without the privilege of a bevy pf page-scoopers, no secretaries, no quiet sanctum in which to reign from the four-poster, summoning breakfast and fresh pens alike, with no thought of any of the commerce or labor of the day---those are the lost stories, to me, the set-downs and the scribbled scraps of lives and tales never read. Those are, like the great music never composed by that quiet young man whose hands were destined for plow and not violin, or the paintings made only on butcher-paper or barn planks by gifted hands never discovered .

    I mourn those unread tales sometimes, just thinking of the minds and imaginations without the channeling or the opportunity---those are a dolor unknelled, and a loss unwept, relegated to attic boxes to burn from the inside out, until tossed or burned by heirs or the new owners of the house.

    Stream of ramble just remembering the ponderous slog through House of Mirth (in which there was not one whit). says rachel, who found Crime and Punishment more uplifting, I think.

    1. Stream of ramble? I think not dear Rachel. Very profound observations beautifully expressed. My familie's Great Matriarch, my g-gran long had dreams literary and musical and grand plans on pursuing them but without those same privileges EW enjoyed. As a girl she trudged off to a library built and provisioned by the beneficence of a former penniless bobbin boy from Dumferline, Scotland who gave all his money away and died near EW's Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts.
      My G-Gran, as a girl, voraciously read everything she could get her hands on and after doing farm & even kitchen chores walked to church and after gratefully receiving initial fundamental instruction toiled her nights away teaching herself to become known as the greatest organist in Southeastern Ohio whose ambitions extended beyond her small hamlet but were thwarted by becoming widowed with 4 small hungry children in 1918. She used that same talent & tenacity to start her own insurance company putting those same once small 4 hungry children through college and following in their mother's musical footsteps as accomplished pianists. My grandmother told me of how proud her mother would be, as she was, to see their son/grandson debut at Avery Fisher Hall a half century later.

    2. 2nd para first line "evening kitchen chores.."

    3. ...Also, Southwest Ohio, not matrilineal line inspires occasional overhaste in honoring them

    4. I had already set my heart on SE Ohio, for my dearest "grown-up" friend before I met and married Chris was a retired professor from the Cincinnati Conservatory. He of the rural raisin' and small-town high-school was later taught by fabulous teachers---one a second-step from lessons with Liszt, and so he spoke of his own training as a Liszt Grand-child.

      Sorta thought your GG and cousins might have been at the Conservatory when he was teaching. And Avery Fisher!! Oh, my. Would that she could have been there, her elegant gown stretched tight across her bosom, from pride and joy.

      We DO have some wonderful folks in our Trees, don't we?

  2. Interesting to see the contrast between the two writers' bolt holes and where they committed their thoughts to paper. Oh, to have a staff of 20.

    The docents look to be quite perfect for their positions and yes, elegant too. No Botox needed here.

    1. The contrast was on my mind that weekend and several days thereafter. I think it's long been intellectually fashionable to look with far greater favor at the Walden Pond approach but I wonder at how many unaided needy orphans lived within Thoreau's easy reach?

  3. Oh GSL! Im just now seeing EW's bedroom. How lovely!

    1. As stated on the postcard sent your dear mother, her presence would have made that special day all the more splendid and memorable...we both would have let you tag along likely with several of those shushing glares aimed your way.

  4. Great post with wonderful pictures. Let me think, is Edith Wharton my favorite American female writer? I do believe she is. 'The House of Mirth' is the only novel that ever made me cry when I finished it. 'Summer' was pretty rough too. I can't believe she ever thought Henry James was superior to her in writing because she was clearly the better craftsman. You won't be surprised to know that when I am on the UES of Manhattan near all those fabulous mansions on Fifth Avenue I think of ol' Edith. Can't help it. xx

    1. EW was a great writer although I wouldn't rank her ahead of her dearest friend Henry James. I love the story of how HJ, in dire straits financially but too proud to accept assistance, received a sudden $8,000 advance (about $200K in today's money) from his publisher but was actually from EW whose books sold like hotcakes. I loved her when reading that. Her family wasn't nearly as wealthy as her Astor cousins and she supported herself and her mentally unstable husband. She thrived in the company of strong minded men, hubby notwithstanding alrhough had several highly intelligent strong willed women as close friends too.

  5. THANK YOU, Dear Heart, for the invitation into your oh-so-exclusive No Gurls Allowed Club!

    I'd be delighted to hew logs, build rafts, ride horses AND a Railroad!! And I can be counted on for Spyglass and Snacks anytime. No frog-gigging for me---I love every edition of them, but not in a culinary way, so I'd have to be washing my hair that night.

    What a charming invitation and what an honor! And if they won't let us ON the train, I can walk MILES on the rail without falling off---twelve years of 1/4 mile to school, home and back at lunch, and home at 3 p.m. And teen years of five or six of us "walking the track" four miles to the nearest town to the movies, day or night in those days.

    Our neighborhood was comprised of about twelve boys, one petticoats-and-lemonade-in-the-shade older girl, and a younger, spoilt little redhead next door who could be heard for blocks shouting "GRAMMAWWWW!" every time somebody crossed her. The ladies all around nicknamed me Sheena, for I refused to be either tribesman, victim, or damsel, and could out-chunk most of the guys with knife or rock.

    Sir, I convey my humblest gratitude for the great honor you bestow. At your service sharpening ax, polishing greaves, making brownies.


    1. I hear Pippi Longstocking kept a Sheena poster tacked over her cot.

      GSL always tried to climb the tallest trees the fastest with hopes that petticoat lemonade shaded older girl might swoon worry while spoilt redhead threatened to tell my mother.