Friday, March 14, 2008

Such an Influence, Such a Site of Memory

A supporter in Arkansas writes:

In 1993 I was a newly married (just a few weeks!) young woman visiting The Mount with my husband and mother before my husband and I set off to begin our new lives as Ph.D. literature students in Louisiana. Even then, before many of the renovations had been undertaken, I was captivated by the exquisite "bones" of the Mount, by the information I learned on the tour about interior design and Wharton's life. I loved the symmetry, the "wedding cake" moldings, the efforts to replicate paint colors to the original -- I feel sure that tour and the time in my life when it occurred set me off on a lifelong love of good interior design, of devouring shelter magazines like House Beautiful and Home and Garden, appreciating all that is simple and beautiful. I also set off on a love of Wharton's work, writing many essays about The House of Mirth, The Decoration of Houses, and The Age of Innocence (which, as a film, is also a visual feast of which Wharton certainly would have approved) and enjoying many of her biographies.

Last summer, I visited the Mount a second time, on a "girlfriends getaway" in the Berkshires in which several old college friends and I celebrated our fortieth birthdays. Imagine my delight at the renovation, in finding The Mount had in some ways become a "designer house" where I could actually see, in person, a room designed by long-admired icon Charlotte Moss. I could hardly believe my eyes. But that was not all! Next, I discovered I could actually see Wharton's library reconstituted -- an immensely fascinating prospect to this writer -- to see the very volumes that had inspired a truly great writer! Finally I was able to visit an exhibit based on one of Wharton's stories and then enjoy a truly special lunch with my girlfriends on the terrace, sharing, encouraging, the way old friends do. The Mount has been such an influence for me, such a site of memory, as I'm sure it has been for so many others. It would be a tragedy for it to disappear.