The Mount: Edith Wharton and the American Renaissance






 

Kay Davis
University of Virginia
© 2001-2003

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Edith Wharton: Novelist, Humanitarian...Architect?


E
dith Wharton is perhaps best known for her novels and short stories about social class and gender in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Less known, but equally important, are her nonfiction works on American interior decoration and architecture.

Wharton co-wrote The Decoration of Houses—one of the first American historical studies of interior design—and contributed numerous articles to nineteenth-century magazines on domestic and landscape architecture.

The Mount, Edith Wharton's summer home in Lenox, Massachusetts, is an example of the renaissance in American art and architecture that began in the 1870s and extended into the early 1900s.

The Mount demonstrates a return to classical simplicity in American home design. The home also illustrates the evolution of American interior design and landscape architecture at the turn of the twentieth century.

Wharton's years at The Mount (from 1902 to 1911) were among the most productive of her career. She wrote her best-selling novel, The House of Mirth, and several short stories there. She also completed her travel books, Italian Villas and Their Gardens and Italian Backgrounds.

Wharton's productivity was facilitated by the design of The Mount as a writer's retreat, which allowed her to work uninterrupted.

Wharton was involved in the decoration of all of her homes throughout the years. But The Mount was the first home to be commissioned, designed, and built according to her design philosophies. These philosophies were shared by the artists and architects of the American Renaissance movement.

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