Tuesday, August 10, 2004

From a long essay on Wharton by Hermione Lee, author of a new biography of Wharton, in The Guardian .
I am writing a life of Edith Wharton, the great American novelist who lived from 1862 to 1937. This work has involved me in some wonderful journeys, because as well as writing 45 books, Wharton was also a traveller, a wartime administrator, a house designer and a gardener. She thought architecturally - in an early story she says "a woman's nature is like a great house full of rooms" - and to visit her houses is also to understand her character and her way of life. The first two houses she decorated, soon after her unfortunate marriage to Teddy Wharton, were in Newport, Rhode Island, but her third house, which she had designed and built, was The Mount, built on a hillside in Lenox, Massachusetts, between 1901 and 1902. Her friend Henry James called it a "delicate French chateau mirrored in a Massachusetts pond". It was certainly designed - by the architect Francis Hoppin, with some indoor help from Ogden Codman - with Europe in mind.You can see reflected in it the principles of design she had expressed in her first book, co-authored with Codman in 1897, The Decoration of Houses. She wanted to import European style to American house design, but not in a superficial or flashy way. The Mount cost about $80,000 all told, but that was much less than some of the other grandiose millionaires' "cottages" in Lenox.

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