'Edith Wharton's Lenox' is a fascinating look at Gilded Age society


"Edith Wharton's Lenox" by lifelong Berkshire resident Cornelia Brooke Gilder of Tyringham is the wholly encompassing and in-depth history of the cottage era of Lenox in the decade Wharton created the Mount and when she was "an emerging celebrity author."

This is the story of society in The Berkshires when Lenox was graced by the very wealthy and elite who sought escape from the cities and a more elegant resort environment. Lenox once rivaled Newport, R.I., as a favorite resort area to build grand homes. The historic "cottages" of the Gilded Age, that are now some of our most grand homes, inns and schools in Lenox, were a neighborhood of fascinating and historic stories.

This exciting new book includes a much more focused and personal account of Wharton's literary breakthrough successes with the novels, "The House of Mirth" (a bestseller in 1905), "Ethan Frome," "The Fruit of the Tree" and "Summer." There are several references to Berkshire scenes and events that make up the structures of these novels. One of the most famous being a most heart-rending and detailed account of "The Court House Hill Coasting Accident," the story of a very fast toboggan run by a group of Lenox youth that ended in tragedy and was the inspiration for the novel, "Ethan Frome."

Looking back on the lives of some of the most illustrious people of that era is enlightening for our current times and a wonderful chronology. This book details the whole background of Wharton's literary career, which was enriched by the Berkshire Hills when she built and lived in high style at The Mount. When Wharton arrived in Lenox in 1900 from her salon life in European culture, she already possessed the highest degree of aestheticism, intellect and a whole host of world-class literary friends, such as Howard Sturgis, Walter Barry and Henry James. Here, she cultivated her life as a great American author with energy and resolve.

Anyone interested in the literary heritage of Lenox and Berkshire County will delight in chapters of this book that include such gems as who Century Magazine editor Richard Watson Gilder of Tyringham was and how he "recognized Edith Wharton's talent early and helped her emerge from literary obscurity." There are chapters on mansions and gardens, motor cars, the sporting life and even love affairs. The chapter on very chic and Japanese Yuki Morgan, who was wooed by and married J. P. Morgan's nephew and "scion of Ventfort Hall," George Denison Morgan, "was the talk of Lenox in Edith Wharton's day." The book is full of really wonderful historic images that will delight anyone at all interested in Lenox and Wharton, and her novels.

Colin Harrington is the events manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. He welcomes reader comments at charrington686@gmail.com

Read it ...

"Edith Wharton's Lenox"

By Cornelia Brooke Gilder

Publisher: The History Press

171 Pages


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