Yesterday was a very lovely, very literary day. Hobgoblin and I spent the day with four friends (three of whom have blogs, here, here, and here), eating in restaurants, visiting bookstores, and making our way to our final destination: Edith Wharton’s home, The Mount, in Lenox, MA. She lived there from 1902 to 1911, when she moved to Europe for the rest of her life.
We started off meeting for lunch (well, some of us did — others were out running in races and joined us later) in one of those railroad diners filled with locals. We aren’t locals, but we were made to feel welcome anyway. And then we were off to a used bookstore, the Berkshire Book Company, an absolutely fabulous place that has a surprisingly varied selection of books for its size. We entered the place thinking it would be a quick stop, but all of us were sucked in and didn’t made it out of there without spending more time and money than we had intended. It’s the kind of place where you will find your favorite obscure author and be utterly charmed to see not only one but several books by that person. The store had, for example, three or four books by Rose Macaulay, whom I haven’t yet read, but whom I recognized because of Emily’s enthusiasm for her. I also found a great selection of Barbara Pym and Mary McCarthy. I forgot to look for books by Josipovici, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find him there — a writer whom I never seem to find anywhere.
So here’s what I came home with: two nonfiction books by Mary McCarthy, her collection of essays On the Contrary and Ideas and the Novel, a book of literary criticism. Also I found Jeanette Winterson’s novel Sexing the Cherry which I’ll be reading for Slaves of Golconda in January. And then I grabbed Barbara Pym’s No Fond Return of Love, and finally (for something completely different), Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual. I could easily have come home with many more books, but the time came to move on.
Next we were on to the highlight of the day, Edith Wharton’s house. It’s a lovely place on beautiful grounds; it’s got gardens and lawns, but what I liked most about it was that the deep, dark, and fragrant Massachusetts forest was never very far away. The house is elegant and fashionable, but I’m realizing as I think about it now that it’s also a good place for a nature lover. Not only is the forest — and also a creek and a small lake — right nearby, but the house is designed to let as much light and air in as possible. There are a number of rooms where you can open doors to terraces outside so that indoors and outdoors mix.
It’s a summer home, which meant that it was designed to house the Whartons and only a few guests, but that doesn’t mean the place is small — there is an entire wing devoted to servants’ quarters. But it has a comfortable, simple feel to it, even with its classical Italian and French influences, as the website says. Interestingly, Wharton herself designed the place; she was a devotee of architecture and gardens and knew precisely what effect she wanted to create.
Unfortunately, the house is in danger of closing as the organization that maintains it is deep in debt. It would be a real shame for the place to close; it’s interesting for Wharton fans but also for anybody who likes to tour houses and gardens; really, it’s such a charming spot I think anybody would enjoy a visit there.
After strolling around the gardens for a while, we said goodbye to two of the people in our group and headed out to dinner with the others. We stopped in Great Barrington, one of those very cute, very New Englandy towns and almost got ourselves in trouble when on our way to a restaurant we found another used bookstore. Fortunately the place was about to close or we might have come home with even more books. Dinner conversation was all about books and bicycles — perfect, right? — and then we all went home.
I was tempted to take the day off of work today, just to stay in the happy mellow mood I enjoyed yesterday, but I was dutiful and went to class. It was great, though, to have the kind of day that makes me forget all the usual work and life worries for a while. I need those kinds of days now and then.