May the roof above us never fall in
And may we good companions beneath it never fall out.

~Irish blessing

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Rooms of Edith Wharton

I started reading Edith Wharton's 'Ethan Frome' last night and couldn't stop. It's a hypnotic, haunting, richly detailed portrait of love and tragedy in rural New England. As with the ending of House of Mirth, which I read not long ago, I was so gripped by the final scenes that I lay awake for hours pondering Edith Wharton and what her life must have been like to poetise such vivid desolation.

Edith Wharton 1905

Something that really appeals to me about Edith Wharton's characters is their sensitivity to the decorations of their environment and the way rooms reflect individual dispositions. So much meaning can be extracted from the way Ethan looks at his shabby farmhouse kitchen and recalls the way his mother used to keep it gleaming and inviting, or from Mattie cheering the gloomy room Zena has assigned her with a few colourful flourishes, and how Lily Bart bristles against her aunt's dowdy, oppressive New York apartment.

Gillian Anderson as Lily Bart in The House of Mirth

Little did I know though, that in addition to creating expressive interiors in her novels, Edith Wharton was both a landscape gardener and interior designer and co-wrote the influential The Decoration of Houses.

In 1901 she designed and decorated 'The Mount', her famous house and garden at Lenox, Massachusetts which is open daily for tours. I would love to visit it.

I love this open-shelved library. It reminds me of Newland's library in The Age of Innocence which he insists on decorating in his own style despite the protests of his in-laws. Again, it's a great example of the way her characters style their rooms to express themselves, whether it be what they covet or are rebelling against.

Makes me look around and wonder, what do our rooms say about us?

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