Thursday, August 26, 2004
The 1920s saw the literary emergence of Evelyn Waugh, Aldous Huxley, Graham Greene and Anthony Powell, but among these titans of the English comic and tragicomic, novelist William Gerhadie was the brightest star. Greene would later say, "To those of my generation he was the most important new novelist to appear in our young life. We were proud of his early and immediate success, like men who have spotted the right horse."
Yet for all Gerhardie's early success — his first novel was extravagantly praised by the likes of Edith Wharton and Katherine Mansfield, while Gerhardie was hailed by Waugh with the il miglior fabbro touch of "I have talent, but he had genius" — Gerhardie would die in obscurity and poverty in 1977.
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
WASHINGTON — Susan Mary Alsop, 86, the grand dame of Washington society whose Georgetown dinner parties epitomized the nexus of political power and social arrival in the 1960s, died Wednesday of complications from pneumonia at her home.
Mrs. Alsop's dining room was considered the absolute center of Georgetown's social scene at a time when President Kennedy's arrival energized the once-sleepy capital.
. . .
As a teenager, she had tea with Edith Wharton and was disappointed that the great writer was "a gossipy old girl," she told a visitor 11 years ago. As the young wife of an embassy official in Paris, she was often seated beside British Prime Minister Winston Churchill when she wasn't drinking champagne with Noel Coward and the Duke of Windsor.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
The Cathedral of Monreale, with Spalato and Athos, had been the chief object of my pilgrimage, and I must confess to a feeling of disappointment when I found myself face to face with it. The exterior I had not expected to like; for that exotic mingling of Saracenic and northern invention, which has produced such wonderful interiors, never, as far as I know, created a façade that really satisfied the eye. The curious blending of the two styles is always interesting, and there are beautiful effects of detail in the flat wall arcades of Monreale, but the effect of the whole shows the lack of what the Germans call a Grundidee.
The interior is, of course, magnificent, but to eyes accustomed to St Mark's, it lacks depth and variety of colour; it seems to me that for this bright climate it is too much lighted. Of course I know that in saying this I am running counter to the opinion of the highest authorities; but this Journal is written not to record other people's opinions, but to note as exactly as possible the impression which I myself received. The clerestory windows of Monreale are very large and high, and pour down a flood of light upon the beautiful columns and the gorgeous mosaics; but I longed for a little shadow and mystery to break in upon the blaze of colour.
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.
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
But the garden restoration, which began two years ago, already comes close to replicating Wharton's original design and appearance.
There are a few nods to modern inconveniences. A deer fence now rings the property to keep out unwanted, four-legged dinner guests. In Wharton's time, deer had plenty of open woodlands to munch on. And the hemlock hedge surrounding the central garden has been replaced with two species of arborvitae because a pest has scourged hemlocks in the region recently.
Wharton liked symmetry and, as she did in the house, used little tricks to give her gardens the illusion of balance where true symmetry was impossible.The staircase leads to a gravel walkway lined with linden trees. The corridor, called the Lime Walk because lindens are known as lime trees in England, serves as a boulevard connecting her two major gardens.
Facing the house and walking left, the path leads to a walled garden inspired by the beloved secret gardens of Italy. Sunken and enclosed by vine-covered walls, the garden feels peaceful and secluded.
Hostas line the paths, where Wharton once used baby's breath. There is a legend that Wharton snuck into her neighbor's yard to dig up the ferns interspersed among the hostas, but nobody knows for sure.
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
One of Lenox’s most famous summer residents was George Westinghouse, who built Erskine Park. Westinghouse, as Blalock will point out, built his own electric generator on the property. There is the possibility that his next-door neighbor, Edith Wharton, had electrical power at her estate, The Mount, connected to that generator.