Thursday, May 30, 2019

Local Stops: The Mount


The Mount was built and designed between 1901 and 1902 by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Wharton. The exterior of the home was based on Belton House, a 17th-century English country house. The majestic interior of the mansion drew inspiration from French and Italian style and combined Edith Wharton's philosophies and knowledge of design and architecture. In 1971 it was declared a National Landmark, one of only 5% of National Historic Landmarks dedicated to women. Today it is open to the public and operates as a cultural center and historic house museum. It is also often used for weddings and other private events. It survives as an example of the design principles expressed in her book, The Decoration of Houses (1887). And, if you visit on the right night you might even catch a glimpse of Edith herself; for within its walls, there is said to be a ghostly presence (or two) lurking about.


The Woman Behind The Mount

Edith Wharton was born Edith Newbold Jones in 1862 to a very affluent family in New York City. Her father's family had made their fortune through real estate and were so affluent that some sources claim that they are "the Joneses" of the often used phrase, "keeping up with the Joneses." Her family frequently traveled around Europe and during her travels she became fluent in French, Italian, and German. When Edith was 9 she suffered and almost died from typhoid fever before making a full recovery. Eventually, in 1872 her family returned to the United States. They split their time between winters in New York and summers in Newport, Rhode Island.

Edith found many of the social structures that influenced and limited women's life at the time to be oppressive and superficial. She was educated by tutors and governesses but never received the formal education that she craved, so she took it upon herself and explored libraries that belonged to her friends and her father. Although, she did obey her mother's command to not read any novels until she was married. She took an interest in writing at a young age but most of her early work was published anonymously, privately, or under pseudonyms as it wasn't seen as a "proper" occupation for a society woman at the time.

In 1885 at the age of 23, she married Edward (Teddy) Robbins Wharton in a marriage of convenience. They had very little in common but did share a love of travel and for many years they spent months at a time abroad. They originally settled in Newport and then in 1897 they purchased their New York home before building The Mount. Here, she wrote several of her novels and entertained others in the Amerian literary society including her close friend Henry James. They would enjoy dinners, cozy fires, and stargazing through a telescope on the terrace. It was the only place Edith ever really felt like was her home.

There was also a fair amount of darkness and turmoil that happened behind closed doors at The Mount. You see, Teddy suffered from mental illness and this is where his mental health really began to deteriorate. It is also where the marriage of Edith and Teddy began to unravel and decay. He did not share her intellectual interests and they both eventually had affairs. Teddy also violated her trust and embezzled a large amount of money from her trust fund.

When her marriage fell apart, Edith reluctantly sold The Mount and permanently relocated to France. Throughout World War I, she worked relentlessly in charitable efforts for refugees, the injured, the unemployed, and displaced. Her efforts included opening tuberculosis hospitals, opening a workroom for unemployed women, and setting up hostels for refugees. Through her influential connections with the French government, she was able to travel to the front lines of the war five times.

After the war, she divided her time between Paris and Hyères in Provence and continued writing. In 1920, Edith Wharton became the first women to win a Pulitzer Prize for literature for her novel The Age of Innocence which was later adapted into a film directed by Martin Scorsese.

Edith died of a stroke on August 11, 1937. She was laid to rest in a cemetery in Versailles. Although, some people claim she has since returned to The Mount.


The Ghosts of the Past
Edith Warton had an interest and a fear of the paranormal, claiming to have been "haunted by formless horrors" as a child when she was ill with typhoid fever. I have to wonder if her near-death experience gave her a peek behind the veil. This fear had a grip on her into her late 20's. She was even terrified to know a book containing ghost stories was in her presence. Eventually, Edith was able to harness her fears and penned several ghost stories of her own.

In 1942 when The Mount became part of the Foxhollow School for Girls the residents reported unexplained noises and experiences in the living areas of the mansion. Other paranormal reports include seeing apparitions of two seated figures in the drawing room reading, another apparition peering out the upstairs window of the stable, footsteps that seemingly belong to no one, and disembodied voices.

In addition to the general guided and self-guided tours, The Mount also does ghost tours from late June until Halloween where they share ghost stories from staff and visitors.

I can't tell you whether or not The Mount is really haunted, you'll have to decide that for yourself. What I will say, is that it wouldn't surprise me if Edith and Teddy's energy echos in their beloved home like living history.

"Do you believe in ghosts?" is the pointless question often addressed by those who are incapable of feeling ghostly influences to - I will not say the ghost seer, always a rare breed, but the ghost feeler, the person sensible of invisible currents of being in certain places and at certain hours." - Edith Wharton 

The Mount | 2 Plunkett Street Lenox, Massachusetts | www.edithwharton.org

12 comments:

  1. Ahhh a ghost tour- too fun! And this place is sooo gorgeous- makes for a perfect little photoshoot!

    -Ashley
    Le Stylo Rouge

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    1. Definitely! It's actually been used for one in Vogue.

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  2. I loved learning more about the Mount, but especially learning more about Edith! Now seems like the perfect time to read the Age of Innocence. Really enjoyed this post, Lauren!

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  3. What a wonderful place and I love also your summer look with the blue patterned dress and the denim jacket!
    xx from Bavaria/Germany, Rena
    www.dressedwithsoul.com

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  4. What a charming place indeed. Anyway, that dress looks lovely on you dear!

    Jessica | notjessfashion.com

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  5. Thanks for introducing me to Mount, what a dreamy place it is! I love the architecture and tasteful decor.

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  6. Wow! The architecture and overall design is absolutely gorgeous. So much inspiration to pull from to decorate your own space as well. Thanks for sharing, beauty!

    XO,
    Jalisa
    THE STYLE CONTOUR

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    Replies
    1. It's so stunning in person! So much detail that pictures don't do it justice.

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