Here I am in the Northeast for a little Autumn road trip—what the locals call “leaf peeping.” We’re starting out in Boston and then taking a loop route across Massachusetts to Lenox, up to Burlington, Vermont, over to North Conway and the White Mountains in New Hampshire and then back to Boston for some good food and museums and quality family time. Late September proves to be a little early for the primo Fall colors and the Northeast is suffering from record heat which means I’m happy to be in an air conditioned car for the few hours we’re driving each day. That said, I’m loving this part of the world. It’s beautiful!
Our first stop out of Boston and off the beaten path is The Book Mill, a great used bookstore near Montague, Massachusetts. The old mill here has been transformed into a bookstore, an art store and a music store. There is also a cafe with seating along the river. It’s a record-breaking eighty-nine degrees when we arrive so we find a shady spot away from the river instead and are happy to sit and sip something cold. The local beers offered make my mouth water but we have more driving to do so we opt for the lemonade instead, along with a brie and apple Panini. While I wait for my sandwich to be prepared, I browse the book shop and see several books that I love featured on one shelf. I feel at home. I’m disappointed to leave without a new book and also pleased with my restraint. Lugging my bag up three flights of stairs in our Jamaica Plain, Boston Air BnB taught me something about packing light which I’m hoping to remember next time.
Our next stop and where we’ll spend the night is Lenox—famous for the Tanglewood Music Festival. In the summer the streets are jammed with tourists and the inns are crowded. In late September though, it is quiet and peaceful. Our first stop is The Mount, Edith Wharton’s summer home. I love poking around famous authors’ homes to see how they lived and maybe hear a story or two about how they wrote. I’m not disappointed. We take a guided tour of the house and I love how light-filled and open it feels. There are a lot of fabulous French touches—large Palladian windows and with brass knobs imported from France, high ceilings and light colors. I’m reminded by our guide that Wharton did not have a very happy marriage. Her husband suffered from mental illness(probably bi-polar disease) which meant that he did not treat her well. Wharton had one long-time close male friend whom she described as “the love of her life” and whose letters she destroyed after his death. I’m hoping that was happy. She also had a passionate affair with a man who turned out to be a notorious philanderer. But enough about that. What about her writing?
According to our guide, Edith Wharton got up around eight in the morning and spent three hours or so writing on a lap desk in her bed. Instead of piling pages up on her pillow or nightstand, Wharton let each page float to the floor so the ink would dry. Once she finished writing and while she got dressed and had breakfast, her secretary collected the pages from the floor and typed them up. Nice, right? I doubt that this technique will work for me. Alas. No secretary. And I find it necessary to get dressed before heading to my writing desk. Writing in bed would be weird. I can’t imagine getting anything done.
I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the view out Edith Wharton’s bedroom window for inspiration. Maybe I’ll print it for inspiration after I get home. The other tidbit that I learned was that even though the Whartons sent their sons to Yale, Edith was self-taught because, as a girl, formal schooling was not necessary. Sad. She did, apparently, have full access to her father’s extensive library.
Waverly Fitzgerald says
Fascinating stuff about Wharton. I had no idea. I just heard this morning at my writing group that recent studies show that writing by hand produces different results than writing on a keyboard. So this is the perfect combination. Now to find my secretary.
Life (and writing) would sure be different with a secretary, right? I can only imagine that if I wrote in longhand my writing would be slower .. possibly more thoughtful? Hmmm.