Look Book: Edith Wharton Era Elegance
By Jennifer DeMeritt
The violence of a well-placed whisper” is how novelist Dennis Lehane describes the tension and intrigue in the novels of Edith Wharton, one of America’s most celebrated and insightful chroniclers of high society. Born to a wealthy New York family in 1862, she was every inch a member of that society. But like many great writers, she had the mind-set of an outsider, thanks to her exposure to the more liberal, cosmopolitan culture of Europe and the preternatural intelligence that distinguished her from her peers.
Her keen insight, ironic humor, and compassion for her characters earned Wharton a Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence, and her influence is still felt today. Julian Fellowes, creator of the hit TV series Downton Abbey, cites her as inspiration. As our own tribute to Edith Wharton and the 150th anniversary of her birth, Boston Common reimagines scenes from The Age of Innocence in the formal gardens of The Mount, the beautiful estate Wharton designed for herself in Lenox. We retrace the steps of Newland Archer and Countess Ellen Olenska, who sacrificed their love for each other to maintain their places in society, walking the tightrope between desire and duty, spontaneity and scandal. Updating these characters in this season’s most luxurious fashions, we honor their timeless story and their creator’s enduring legacy.
Wharton was a writer’s writer. Novelist Jennifer Egan, also a Pulitzer Prize winner, counts Wharton’s The House of Mirth as one of her favorites, and Jonathan Franzen admires “how modern and refreshingly unashamedly dark she is,” though she was no sulking malcontent. She thoroughly enjoyed her wealth and social position, including the ability to cultivate her passion for design and architecture. Her book The Decoration of Houses was a best seller and is still read by interior designers for its advocacy of design based on comfort, practicality, and balance. And at The Mount she brought these principles to life. “There’s a wonderful dialogue between the architecture of the house and the landscape features of the garden, almost like a musical piece,” says Susan Wissler, executive director of The Mount, which survives today as a cultural institution dedicated to Wharton’s legacy.
To celebrate the sesquicentennial year, The Mount is hosting a series of lectures and events, including a literary festival September 14 to 16, featuring Adam Gopnik, Claire Messud, and many other acclaimed writers.
Photography by Tim Geaney
Stylist Viviana Rodriguez at Ford Artists New York
Photography assistance by Joseph Alvarado and Keith Ketwaroo
Styling assistance by Amber Stolec
Hair and makeup by Nevio Ragazzini at Ford Artists New York using MAC
Female model: Erica Rosen/Major Model
Male model: Paul Kelly/Q Shot on location at the The Mount, edithwharton.org
Accommodations provided by Blantyre, blantyre.com
Special thanks to Rebecka McDougall and Simon Dewar