Être la bougie ou le miroir

imageRecently, my husband and I visited The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox, Massachusetts. The author of books such as The House of Mirth, Age of Innocence, and Ethan Frome, and my favorite short story ever “Roman Fever,” built The Mount based on design principles she set forth in The Decoration of Houses. Wharton used the knowledge she gained as an insider in the highest New York social circles to write books that showed the weaknesses and failings of that society.

imageWharton and her husband lived in the house for just ten years. Their marriage was marred by their lack of suitability and her husband’s increasing mental health issues. Wharton left for France, where she continued to live until her death. She was very active in charities to ease the suffering caused by war, including work with refugees. She was allowed to travel to the front more than once to report on conditions there. She received the French Légion d’Honneur, a Pulitzer prize, and an honorary Doctorate from Yale University. She is buried in Versailles.

imageThe house and grounds are beautiful, but they’ve gone through some rough times. In 2002, the centenary of The Mount, they hosted a designer Show House. Although no furniture from Wharton’s time was currently in the house, there were many, many photographs and letters describing how things were. Designers were given enormous latitude, provided that what they did was in keeping with how things looked in 1902. The living room, dining room, library, Wharton’s suite of bedroom, boudoir, and bathroom are the most fully decorated spaces. Other rooms are used for educational displays about Wharton and her era.

imageIn the forty works that she wrote in her forty years as an author, Wharton had many a bon mot. One of her sayings has become rather well known: On peut répandre la lumière de deux façons : être la bougie, ou le miroir qui la reflète (ohn puh ray-pan-druh lah loom-e-air duh deuh fass-ohn: et-ruh lah boo-zhee, ooh luh meer-warh key lah ref-let), which means “There are two ways of spreading light:  be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” I think Wharton was a candle, illuminating the good, the bad, and the ugly of privileged New York society. If you get a chance to visit The Mount, I would heartily recommend it.


About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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7 Responses to Être la bougie ou le miroir

  1. Ellen A. says:

    It looks a magnificent place. I’m a great fan of hers too. Must visit one day, though I prefer to visit her spirit in Paris!

  2. Sadly, I haven’t read any Wharton… yet. They are all on my TBR list. However, I did download that Roman Fever short story you suggested to my phone. I like to have something short and sweet to read while waiting in lines. 🙂 Besides, I’ll be in Lenox next month for a yoga retreat. Looks like a beautiful residence. I’ll see if we get time to stop by!

  3. ddoosterhoff says:

    How I enjoy your posts! Thank you for giving some human shape to one of my favourite authors.

  4. Pingback: What I’ve Been Reading… | Season It Already!

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