Reading with Rose: In the Valley of Wharton

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Edith Wharton. Courtesy The Mount.

On Wednesday, March  8th, 2017, the Nichols House Museum joined the world in celebrating International Women’s Day–a day devoted to celebrating women and affirming our intention to further their progress. This year,  the theme was “Be Bold for Change.” In honor of celebrating women’s history, this month’s book blog will take a look at Rose Nichols’ Edith Wharton collection, which consists of three novels and one non-fiction work.

Edith Wharton was born Edith Newbold Jones in New York in 1862. As a child, she traveled Europe with her parents and two brothers, which cultivated a lifelong passion for literature, architecture, and art. In 1885, at the ‘old’ age of 23, she married Edward Robbins Wharton, thirteen years her senior. Their unconventional marriage ended in divorce in 1913. Her experience during this time led to her therapist suggesting that she focus on fiction writing as a way to cope with stress. In 1902, Wharton and her husband settled in Lenox, Massachusetts. Today, their estate, known as The Mount, is open to visitors.[1]

Today, Edith Wharton’s is remembered as the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and as the quintessential author of American high society. [2] What is less well-known is that Wharton’s first love was not fiction, but architecture. Her first novel explored a theme my regular readers might recognize: Italian villas.

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Cover of Edith Wharton’s Italian Villas and Their Gardens.

Italian Villas and Their Gardens was first published in 1897. Rose’s 1904 edition features illustrations by Maxfield Parrish, a renowned American illustrator. The illustrations (examples below) featured in this book make up for the fact that the other three Wharton novels in Rose’s library do not include illustrations.

The three novels in Rose’s library are eclectic. The Valley of Decision (1902) pays homage to her fascination with eighteenth-century Italy. Next to this novel in Rose’s library is Hudson River Bracketed (1929), a lesser-known novel featuring protagonist Vance Weston, a writer, and his lover, Halo Spear. Critics believe this novel divulges Wharton’s own personal and professional experiences. [3] The third Wharton novel in Rose’s library is notable as one of Wharton’s most popular and enduring works. Ethan Frome (1911) features the longing and desire explored in many of Wharton’s novels, as well as a Massachusetts setting—forging another connection between Wharton and our matriarch Rose Standish Nichols.

 

Notes

[1] The Mount. Edith Wharton: A Biography. http://www.edithwharton.org/discover/edith-wharton/

[2] Dwight, Eleanor. Edith Wharton: An Extraordinary Life. Abrams, 1994.

[3] Ibid.

By Victoria Johnson. Visitor Services and Research Associate.

 

 

 

 

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