Summer evenings on the terrace: Writing lives at The Mount


LENOX >> The poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke and Stephen Dunn, storytelling workshops and performances, histories from the Underground Railroad to the Wright Brothers — writers will come to novelist Edith Wharton's house.

She lived here as her writing career took off, and she sat on the terrace with friends like Henry James, reading Walt Whitman's new poems on summer evenings.

This summer the Mount wants to bring back that kind of talk, the kind that keeps friends awake until 2 a.m.

"We want to continue with our progress as a literary hub, a literary center, "with conversations that are relevant now," said Rebecka McDougal, communications director. "We're hoping these conversations will expand and evolve, inform us and guide future projects."

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"What is the role of fiction in our lives today?" asked Kelsey Mullen, director of public programs and education.

Kate Bolick, who opened the season with a book launch in May, will return in September with her Touchstones series of conversations with novelists and writers of creative nonfiction. And through the summer two new exhibits will explore Wharton's work and the work that went on around her. A new show will consider Edith Wharton's writing, Mullen said. Visitors can leaf through a collection of books that inspired her and that she inspired — George Eliot, Tolstoy.

The second, an addition to the Backstairs spaces that began with the kitchen last year, re-creates a sewing room, a place where women worked and talked, with a sewing machine and sewing box, Wharton's travel case and a chest displaying objects from the collection of her belongings.

The Preservation Society of Newport County in Newport, R.I., has the Mount loaned furnishings to bring into Wharton's rooms, more than 100 pieces from settees to artwork, and some of the first will make an appearance in the new sewing room.

"People can sit and read period newspapers, touch a corset, try the sewing machine," Mullen said.

Outdoors, people can listen to the free Music on the Terrace series, including New Orleans jazz saxophonist Charles Neville, and the Wharton on Wednesdays series, local actors reading aloud Wharton short stories.

They can also explore in new tours about writing, about the garden, about the house, about life below stairs — tickets will now last for seven days, to encourage people to come back and feel the life of the place.

Even the people who work her find their understanding of the life of the place keeps growing, McDougal and Mullen said. They recently learned a family-owned butcher shop on Cliffwood Street in Lenox had sold meat to the Whartons, and they found an entry in the ledger for the day of Henry James' first visit here — so now they know what Wharton served him for dinner.


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