Friday, 19 August 2016

The Mount: Edith Wharton's House, Lenox, Massachusetts

The Mount, Edith Wharton's home
Have you noticed how historic houses always showcase the achievements of men?  Women barely get a mention, and when they do it is often only in supporting roles. The grand houses we visited on our road and cycling trip through America's north-east were almost all built by men and, with few exceptions, the history of the houses highlighted the achievements of the men who lived in them. Visiting estates such as George Washington's Mount Vernon, Henry Francis Du Pont's Winterthur and even Edward Berwind's The Elms, you could sometimes be forgiven for wondering what roles their wives played in life. Edward Berwind's wife was so tucked away in the minutia of his life history I had to dig deep even to discover her name. How refreshing then, on our last historic house tour, to visit The Mount; planned, built and made famous by a woman.

Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was one of America's greatest writers. It was clear from the comments of our fellow visitors that her fame needs no explanation in the U.S - she was an author with whom an entire generation of school children had an intimate acquaintance. As Australians, David and I had not heard of her, although I recognised the titles of some of her books from movies and TV mini-series we have seen - titles such as 'The Age of Innocence' and 'The House of Mirth.'

Edith was born into a world of privilege, centred on New York and Newport, Rhode Island. She drew on the experiences of her early years to immerse her readers in the private passions and scandals of the wealthy elite. Her first major work however, was a co-authored non-fiction book - 'The Decoration of Houses.'

The Mount, Edith Wharton's home
The Mount.

The dining room at The Mount
The dining room at The Mount - small and intimate by the standards of grand houses.

In designing her home, The Mount, she put into practice many of the ideas in her book. She had a particular passion for symmetry, incorporating fake doorways, windows and other architectural features to maintain the symmetrical lines of the house. I can't say I liked all her design quirks but, with our guide pointing them out as we explored, they made for a fascinating tour. The house had so many oddities it felt at times like we had wandered into a Harry Potter novel - things like the faux grotto entrance (too much like walking into a cave for my taste),  the mirror on the first floor creating the illusion of a room which didn't actually exist and the staircase jammed up against an outside window.

The Mount
Notice the fake (permanently closed) shutters on the left of the house. Their purpose was to maintain the symmetrical look of the exterior.

Mirror at The Mount
My photograph doesn't do it justice but from the right angle this mirror makes it look as if there is another room behind it.
Edith Wharton's personal life was no less conventional than her house. She was a strong, self-reliant woman born into a world where women were expected to become wives and mothers - and nothing more. In 1885 in danger of becoming an 'old maid' at the age of 23, she married Edward (Teddy) Wharton, a man 13 years older than her. Although she was married to Teddy during the entire time in which she designed, oversaw the building of, and lived at The Mount, the house and gardens were stamped almost exclusively with Edith's personality. Teddy's life was marred by mental illness and his presence in the house seems to have been very much overshadowed by his famous wife. I was especially struck by how plain and institutional-like his bedroom was, compared with the sumptuous furnishings of the other rooms.

The Mount was sold in 1911, and in 1913 Edith and Teddy divorced and Edith moved to Paris where she lived for the rest of her life. Edith Wharton was the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Today, The Mount is one of only 5% of American National Historic Landmarks dedicated to women.



Edith Wharton's bedroom
Edith's bedroom - most of her books were written in bed.

Teddy Wharton's bedroom
Teddy's bedroom - I can't help thinking it must have been  less plain than this.

Egg-beater at The Mount.
I couldn't finish without including this photo taken in the kitchen. Am I the only person who doesn't think it is an antique! The caption describes it as a 'wildly popular utensil of the late 19th century.' I don't own one now but I did until recently.


The kitchen - you can take a Backstairs Tour to explore the lives of staff who lived and worked at The Mount.

We had a very pleasant lunch on the terrace.



Tips and tricks and things to know: -


Where is The Mount?


  • The street address of The Mount is 2 Plunkett St, at the corner of Rte 7 in Lenox, Massachusetts.

  • It is two hours from Boston and two and a half hours from New York city.

  • For detailed directions, and even GPS co-ordinates, click - here


When is it open?

  • The Mount is open from mid-May to the end of October between 10.00 am and 5.00 pm. The exact dates vary slightly from year to year.
  • It closes early on some dates. Click - here - for information on early closings.


How much does it cost and do you need to join a tour?


  • Admission is $18 (adult), $17 (seniors 65 and older), $13 (students with ID) and free for children and teenagers 18 and younger.
  • Admission tickets are valid for 7 days.
  • The general admission ticket includes guided house and garden tours. You can also see the house at your own pace without joining a tour.

  • As well as the general tour there is a Backstairs Tour for $23 which includes your regular admission. David and I didn't have time for it but if it is half as good as The Servant Life Tour we did at The Elms at Newport, Rhode Island then I would highly recommend giving it a go.

  • Click - here - for information on The Mount's Ghost Tours and - here - for a calendar of special events.


My tips: -


  • You can see both the house and the gardens at your own pace, however I highly recommend you do the tour. Both Edith's life and her house are so interesting it would be a shame to just wander through and miss all the anecdotes and information you get on the tour.
  • Stay for lunch at the Terrace Cafe. The food is ordinary but the view and general ambiance are lovely.
  • Leave yourself plenty of time. The house is on 49 acres so you can easily spend the whole day there.


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I will publish a new post every Thursday/Friday (depending on your time zone). If you want to follow our travels check back each week or enter your email address in the 'Follow this blog by email' box in the right hand sidebar just below my profile picture.

For all the posts so far 
on our north-east USA road and cycling adventure click - here. 

Note: David and I received complimentary admission to The Mount.


30 comments:

  1. This sounds like my kind of place to visit. I am pinning it in plans of a driving trip.

    First time visiting you, and really enjoyed it. Will be joining your mailing list!

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    1. Thankyou for the kind words. I hope you enjoy The Mount, if you get there, as much as we did.

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  2. I still use an egg beater - what do you use if you don't? But I'm an antique myself...heheh (also I knew EW - she came up a bit a Uni)

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    1. Haha - I am even more of an antique than you, I use a whisk but I also have a hand-held blender, affectionately know in my house as 'the whizzy thing.' You clearly studied English Literature at uni, a subject I steered well away from - although don't get me wrong I love books.

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  3. Enjoyed this post very much, Lyn. Would love to visit the house. Love that terrace and kitchen. #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. The kitchens, laundries and other work areas are always my favourite parts.

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  4. I loved visiting the Mount as well - the study is what interest me the most - seeing original writing and library is impressive. I also always add to my book collection when I visit - from their gift shop. I have to add that Edith was as proud of her gardens as of her books- if not more so!!! My best pictures of the Mount are probably from the garden:)

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    1. Visiting The Mount has made me realise I should read some of her books. Did you notice the photo of Edith supposedly working at her desk and the caption which said she actually did most of her writing in bed!

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  5. I loved the Age Of Innocence! One of my favourite books - actually I like most female writers from that age - English and American (and some Australian). They were so bold and witty when you consider how few options women had in those days. The house is very well preserved - what's it's history between 1913 and now?

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    1. The house was used as a school for quite a long time, then saved and restored by a not for profit foundation.

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  6. It's really sad how male-centric most societies are. Good for Edith Wharton for breaking through and being famous in her own right! I started one of her books - Summer - but never finished it. Am now thinking that I should go back and actually finish it, imagining her writing it while in that marvelous bed. I'd love to visit this fascinating house someday :)

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    1. Sometimes great writers can be difficult to read. I remember hating Patrick White (Australia's greatest author) at school and then loving his books later on when nobody made me read them. Edith Wharton is now on my 'to read' list. I am still working my way through 'A History of South Africa' - a hang over from our last trip but once I am finished that Edith Wharton is next on the list.

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  7. Another beautiful historic landmark house to visit! Would you believe I still have one of those egg beaters in my kitchen drawer?

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    1. Haha - can I borrow it. I don't know what happened to mine but I do miss it sometimes, if only for its nostalgic value. Whenever I look at that egg beater I think of my much-loved grandmother using one to make a cake.

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  8. I am going to have to read some of her books now! Nice to hear about a historical house from a famous woman. We need more of this. Thanks for linking up with #theWeeklyPostcard.

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    1. We probably need more famous women, full stop! It is such a shame that the achievements of half the human population have been so underplayed throughout history.

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  9. Ha - no you're not the only one, we used to have to use an egg beater at school in Cookery class and that wasn't THAT long ago!
    Fascinating house, I'd love to see it. And I can understand why her books were so popular - effectively an olden day OK magazine. #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. I should start an egg-beaters anonymous club. Lots of people commenting seem to have owned one or still do. You can probably still buy them on e-bay somewhere - lol.

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  10. You are right! It is refreshing to visit a place built, designed or decorated by a woman. Here in California we have Hearst Castle (San Simeon, Central Coast). Even though, the house and grounds were funded by Hearst, the architect was a woman, Julia Morgan. It was great to learn more about her legacy (I have visited more of her buildings in other areas).

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    1. I didn't know Heart Castle was designed by a woman. I have never been there. I admit that the price of the tickets has put me off going there, but maybe one day.

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  11. I'd love to visit Edith Wharton's House in Lenox, Massachusetts. It looks really nice and fresh inside. And for sure I'd allow time for lunch on the terrace.

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    1. I am sure you would enjoy it as much as we did.

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  12. Would love to visit The Mount - I love old houses, particularly if they had something to do with writers. This must have been a special trip for you as a blogger and writer Lyn :)

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    1. Yes, I suppose so, although it made me realise I need to stop reading so much on the internet and get back to reading more books.

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  13. We were in Lenox, MA last year in November, but unfortunately it was closed; so this made up for it.

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    1. I followed your trip on your blog and it looked like you had a fabulous time but one problem with that time of year is that a lot of attractions are closed.

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  14. Such an interesting post about a woman - despite being born and raised here and being an English Major in college - I didn't 'discover' until only a few years ago. What an age she lived in and what a home she created!

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    1. Almost all the Americans in the group we toured the house with seemed to have studied Edith's books at school, but it may have been a particular generation. David and I were force fed Patrick White novels when we were at school (I hated them then and love them now) but I don't think my twenty something boys have even heard of him.

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  15. Lyn I found the story of Edith fascinating . Bravo to her for being ahead of her time. I applaud her strength in a time of obviously men come first attitudes. As to the egg beater my Mom definitely still has one of those. :)

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    1. Haha - I am thinking of starting an egg-beater's collectors club on Facebook, so many people seem to have one stashed away somewhere.

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