There is something about Edith Wharton and a cup of tea that just go together. I can imagine this tray being brought to her in bed, her favorite place to write.
Edith Wharton at The Mount in 1905
Edith Wharton is one of my favorite writers. I have read most of her books and visited her home "The Mount" in Lenox, Massachusetts several times. In 1902, she designed and supervised the building of it, and I have enjoyed walking through the rooms and imagining her life in this large elegant house with its beautiful gardens. Edith Wharton was born in 1862 into the tightly controlled world of "Old New York," a place where women were seriously discouraged from accomplishing anything other than a "good marriage." She broke through the strictures of her world to become one of the most important American writers. She was self-educated and became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and to receive an honorary doctorate from Yale University. She wrote "The House of Mirth" in this residence and I picture her sitting up in her bed -- her favorite place to write -- with her breakfast tray, dropping pages as they were finished on the floor which her secretary would pick up and type. This was how she wrote her books.
The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts
A friend of mine who shares my passion for Wharton's books recommended "Old New York," a collection of novellas by Wharton. I started with the last novella because of its title -- "New Year's Day." It is classic Wharton with a heroine of questionable background who has stumbled badly in the eyes of society and is dealing with the consequences that society could wreak on anyone who wandered outside its strict code of behavior.
The story is told by the narrator, a young man who remembers a New Year's Day gathering at his grandmother's mansion in New York in the 1870's. At one point the entire party gathers at the window to look at the Fifth Avenue Hotel across the street which is on fire. As they watch the elegantly dressed men and women running out of the hotel, they notice Lizzie Hazeldean, our heroine, and Robert Prest exiting together. Lizzie is married to an invalid husband who is housebound. The man she is with is obviously not her husband and the grand doyennes of society put two and two together and a scandal develops which will affect Lizzie's entire life. The plot is filled with subtle surprises and I was moved by the story of this classic Edith Wharton heroine and the depths of her character that are revealed.
By the way, January 24, 2012 is the 150th anniversary of Edith Wharton's birth, and there will be many celebrations. If you would like to see what is going on for this occasion, visit The Mount's website. There is no one like Wharton for getting to the heart of the struggle in people between individual freedom and fitting in, and also depicting the world of "Old New York" as it existed during the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth-century. Wharton's ability to convey the accumulated damage to the emotions and heart of her characters caused by the subtle behavior of society has no peer and her novels are a gift to readers. It will be a cause for celebration when her 150th anniversary occurs!
Photos of Edith Wharton and The Mount via The Mount website