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Edith Wharton's Gilded Age Home

O

n a warm evening in 1902, Edith Wharton sat on the terrace here with friends. They were talking over Walt Whitman, reading Leaves of Grass aloud. They could look across the lime trees to the lake and listen for tree swallows on the lawn.

She drank in intelligent talk. This kind of curiosity sheer pleasure in ideas was new to her. Since she had built this youse a year ago, she had foudn new energy here, new work and new friends.

She was becoming a writer. In 1921, she became the first women to win the Pulitzer Prize in fiction, for her novel The Age of Innocence, and by then she had been writing bestselling novels and stories of Gilded Age New York for more than 15 years. But they began here.

She wrote many of her best-known novels in this house, in the 10 years she lived in Lenox — from The House of Mirth to Ethan Frome, set in the Berkshires.

Her house is now a museum, a center of writing, music and performance, landscape and gardens, dedicated to keeping her spirit alive.

Gilded Age gardens

Edith Wharton designed the house and grounds here — open woodlands carpeted with ferns, fountains and flower beds and a long walk of linden trees. I've heard she loved ostrich ferns, and when she found them on her neighbors' lands she would dig up (with their permission) and carry them home in the buggy to plant under her trees.

Coming from a wealthy family in New York, she had traveled widely in Europe, and her house shows the influence of Italian art and architecture. Tours will talk about her eye for design and her experiences here, as well as the lives of the men and women who worked for her in these rooms.

Music After Hours brings free outdoor concerts to the Terrace at The Mount.
John Seekwood / Courtesy of The Mount

Musicians and storytellers

Contemporary performers fill Edith Wharton's house, and her words, with meaning. Actors perform her short stories on the terrace and Shakespeare on the grounds. Spoken word and comedy open contemporary themes.

In summer, Music After Hours brings free live concerts on Fridays and Saturdays in July and August — guests can relax to jazz, blues and acoustic chords, with a glass of wine.

The Mount in Lenox holds many books from Edith Wharton's own library.
Photo by Susan Geller

Writers and readings

Nationally and internationally known writers come to the Mount today. In Collaboration with Lift Ev'ry Voice and the Amy Clampitt residency, the museum has welcomed poets from National Book Award finalist Kevin Young to Pulitzer prizewinner Sharon Olds.

Bestselling novelists like Lauren Groff share their work in conversations with Heidi Pitlor, editor of the Best American Short Stories, and a reading series brings weekly talks in the summer and fall. And writers in residence work on new fiction and nonfiction in the spring, looking out her window at the thaw.

A detail of an outdoor sculpture in metal glows in coppery folds at the Mount in summer 2018.
SculptureNow at the Mount / Photo by Kate Abbott

Sculpture on the grounds

Every summer and fall the Mount welcomes a new show of outdoor sculpture along the walkways, in the gardens and on the lawns. Curated by the Berkshire organization SculptureNow, the group show can range from natural to urban in feel, with works in wood and metal, fiber and stone.