Edith Wharton's library at The Mount
"He ushered her into a slip of a hall hung with old prints. She noticed the letters and notes heaped on the table among his gloves and sticks; then she found herself in a small library, dark but cheerful, with its walls of books, a pleasantly faded Turkey rug, a littered desk, and, as he had foretold, a tea-tray on a low table near the window. A breeze had sprung up, swaying inward the muslin curtains, and bringing a fresh scent of mignonette and petunias from the flower-box on the balcony."
That is the kind of library I want. But Edith Wharton's library at the Mount is a much grander room than Lawrence Selden's cozy library in "The House of Mirth." It is a beautiful space with bookshelves made out of oak and two doors opening up to the terrace. And it needed to be grand for it was the room where Wharton would entertain her guests -- which included her good friend the writer Henry James, Theodore Roosevelt, the diplomat Walter Berry, writer and painter Maxfield Parrish and landscape designer Beatrix Farrand -- for drinks and conversation before and after dinner. And when you consider that it now contains Edith Wharton's personal collection of books which were returned to the Mount from Europe in 2006, it is a very special room.
The best writers' houses are autobiographical, giving us insight into the person. The Mount is such a house. It reveals so much about Edith Wharton. Every aspect of the estate -- including its gardens, architecture, and interior design -- reflects her spirit. We sense her presence as we walk through the rooms. This is where she lived, wrote, and entertained her circle of friends which included some of the most prominent writers and artists of the day. It contains the bedroom where she wrote "The House of Mirth," writing the book in bed each morning and tossing the pages onto the floor for her assistant to pick up and type.
The library at the Mount, as it was recently photographed for Vogue magazine
And what about Edith Wharton's recent "star" turn in Vogue magazine? Did you see it? Wharton and the Mount (with a great scene shot in the library) were featured in the September issue of Vogue magazine. This gorgeous article and photo spread photographed by Annie Leibovitz and styled by Vogue's art director Grace Coddington on the grounds of the Mount has created a huge buzz. The article (written by Colm Toibin) tells the story of Edith's love affair with Morton Fullerton, the American expatriate journalist. Wharton's good friend Henry James was also in love with him. The photos form a gorgeous visual accompaniment illustrating the literary life and love story of Edith Wharton. Everyone who read it was thrilled that the photos featured writers, actors, and artists of today playing Edith's inner circle of friends, including writer Jeffrey Eugenides as Henry James and writer Jonathan Safran Foers as architect Ogden Codman. One of the scenes was shot in the library (photo above) with actor Jack Huston (from HBO's "Boardwalk Empire") playing Morton Fullerton, model Natalia Vodianova as Wharton, and Jeffrey Eugenides as Henry James. Go here to read more.
By the way, now that we are all becoming more familiar with Edith Wharton's life through the new books and articles about her, I wonder if someone will make a movie out of it. What do you think? Vogue magazine may have gotten the ball rolling with its luscious reimagining of Wharton's life at the Mount. It had the feel of a small costume drama. Hmmm...who could play Edith Wharton? Maybe two actresses, one playing Wharton as a young woman in her twenties, and one playing her later in life, perhaps in her forties. Rebecca Hall and Emma Thompson? Just a thought...the casting would be so much fun!