The Mount: Edith Wharton and the American Renaissance


Kay Davis
University of Virginia
© 2001-2003


Edith Wharton > Wharton's Homes > Ogden Codman Jr. > The Decoration of Houses >
Life in the Berkshires

Edith Wharton

Like the artists and architects of the American Renaissance, Edith Wharton admired European history.

Wharton's appreciation for America's Western heritage came from her frequent travels to Europe and her study of European art and architectural histories.

Childhood Travels

Edith Wharton, born Edith Newbold Jones in 1862, was the youngest child of George Frederic and Lucretia Jones. The Jones family lived at 14 West Twenty-Third Street in New York City. (21)

After the Civil War, the family left New York for an extended stay in Europe. Edith Wharton spent six years of her childhood in Paris, Rome, and Florence. She learned Italian, French, and German; played with her friends among the Italian Renaissance villas and gardens; and admired statues in the Villa Borghese and fountains in the villas at Frascati. (22)

Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton

Father's Library
Wharton was also influenced by several books about world art and architectural history that she found in her father's library.

Gwilt's Encyclopaedia of Architecture, and John Ruskin's Modern Painters and The Seven Lamps of Architecture, were favorites.

Wharton called Fergusson's History of Architecture "one of the most stimulating books that could fall into a young student's hands" because "it shed on my misty haunting sense of the beauty of old buildings the light of historical and technical precision." (23)

In later years, she enjoyed Vernon Lee's Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy and Bernard Berenson's Venetian Painters of the Renaissance. (24)

As an adult, Wharton recreated this Italian landscape on her estates and in her writing.

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