Edith’s Vivid Imagination

Edith Wharton had a vivid imagination. As a child, she loved to play a game she called “Making up” which involved  inventing  stories as, book in hand,  she walked around feverishly chanting as if in a trance. This caused her parents much consternation. When friends came to play, she asked her mother to entertain them as she was “too busy making up”.




Her mother, obviously worried about the affect of fiction on the impressionable girl, forbade her from reading novels until she married. She agreed to this. It must have been interminable for her, because she married at the ripe old age of 23, which, in those days, precariously bordered on being an old maid. Although she wrote 40 books in 40 years time, she did not write a novel until she was actually in her 40’s.

There is a saying: “Keeping up with the Joneses”.  The family being alluded to  was Edith Jones Wharton’s.  Her parents, George Frederik and Lucretia Rhinelander Jones were from “Old Money”. This wealth afforded Edith a first class education composed of extensive travel, a talented governess and the books in her father’s library.


Charley on the Back Porch

As with all upper class girls of the time, Edith was expected to marry well and toward that end, she “came out”  into New York Society at age 17. She married Edward Wharton in 1885 and became part of Newport Society for the next sixteen years. To escape the oppressiveness of Newport social life, she bought land in the Berkshires on which to build The Mount, a home she personally designed.  It was here that she honed her skills as a designer, a gardener and writer.

To say the least, marriage to Teddy had its trials.  He didn’t work, “loved” the ladies, and found ways to fritter away his bride’s inherited wealth. They shared one thing in common and that was a love of travel. But his increasing mental instability put an end to that. (So much for “marrying well”.)

They lived at The Mount only for ten years, but it was in this magnificent environment that she created her greatest works. During this time, her marriage to Teddy disintegrated. After eleven years, she sold The Mount, moved to France, and eventually divorced him.

Her first published work was a collaboration with architect, Ogden Codman entitled The Decoration of Houses. When she began to write her novels, her talent for describing detail made them coveted editions. She was the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for her novel, The Age of Innocence. 

Within her books can be seen a reflection of the people and times of the era, partiularly the elite and the world in which they inhabited. She could be quite judgmental on the manner in which they lived their entitled lives. It was, perhaps, best for her that she chose to settle in France away from the New York and Newport Society dams of the day.

During World War I, she remained in Paris to support the French war effort with her humanitarian projects. She dedicated herself to aiding those  suffering most from the war, establishing sanctuaries for refuges, schools for children, and homes for people diagnosed with tuberculosis. She was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature three times. She was one of only a small number of journalists allowed on the front lines and in 1916 she received The French Legion of Honor for her work during the war.

Wharton’s loves included literature, architecture and travel and she developed a strong kinship for France and Italy. While at The Mount this July, I took some photos of the French and Italian Gardens.

Edith’s beloved home has been restored over the years and is now a reminder of that long ago time and a center for the arts. There are performances of plays and music and lectures and during the summer, children can listen to stories being told in the Italian Garden thanks to Books and Blooms.

I was invited by Kelly Bevan Mcllquham, editor of Berkshire Family Focus, to read the January story from my book,   A Berkshire Tale.  Because of an early morning rain shower, we decided to have our reading on the porch overlooking the gardens. Little visitors came in and out with parents to hear the story, chat with me and to do a craft which involved making an invitation for a person (or a pet, in some cases) to read with them. There were also pages of kittens and alpacas to color and decorate thanks to Rebecca McBrien.  A family visiting from Paris stopped by to join in the fun and brought a book back home with them to France to share with cousins. I think Edith would have liked that.


61 thoughts on “Edith’s Vivid Imagination

  1. Great post Claremary. We’ve hear the expression countless times but never knew its history. We just know we have tried through the years to not try and keep up with another’s dream but rather do what you are doing so wonderfully and that is pursuing your dream.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I heard the saying during my childhood and just thought it was referring to wanting what your neighber had – the grass is greener. Of course, I never had rich neighbors like Edith’s family. It’s true, money has never been important to me and this whole book “thing” is a blast! Thanks for stopping by during your travels. The journey of your own dreams!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Clare, I had no idea that Edith Wharton is your inspiration. What a wonderful bio you’ve written here – she was a formidable person, not surprised you admire her. You had an excellent day at the Mount and it looks like everyone else did as well. I love success stories like this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Herb, you never know who jis reading a blog or a Face Book post. I “liked” the Berkshire Family Focus publication on FB and they got in touch with me about Books and Blooms. It’s such a good idea for bringing children to this beautiful home and its gardens. You’d like it because there were lots of butterflies to chase.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This was a delightful read, Clare. Edith Wharton was a writer—and a woman—of extraordinary strength and talent. I was first introduced to her work in an Ethics class in college—not in the English department, but in the Philosophy Department. After that, I devoured her books. This summer, as part of the Seattle Library’s reading challenge, among the many books to read was one written in the year one of my parents was born. I came across Custom of the Country, written in 1913—and a Wharton book I had somehow missed earlier. It was exceptionally good—luminous writing, vivid characters, and a timeless, thought-provoking theme. Your post reminded me that I want to dig around for more Wharton books I may have missed—or reread some of the ones I have. How lovely to have visited her beautiful home!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, Donna. Wharton felt she was a better home and garden designer than a writer. But the same keen qualities evident in her descriptions of decorating rooms and gardens served her well with her descriptive writing style. I often taught Ethan Frome to my high school classes and never tired of it. Thank you.


    1. Bernadette! I’m so happy to hear from you. I’ve noticed you’ve been on Face Book recently and I hope when I vistit your blog, you’re back to writing. I think about Andrew and hope his memories are consoling you as you adjust to your days without him. Take care and again, I’m so happy to see you here. Love, Clare


  4. I am certain Edith would have liked that the Parisien family bought a book to take home and I am equally certain that Edith would have been delighted to have you on her beautiful veranda reading your lovely tales to captivated children. I knew a little of her before, I feel I know a lot more having read this piece which to me is the sign of a piece of work well done and well received. She was an amazing woman and such an example of how fortunate we are now not to have to enter into a ‘good marriage’ (though two weeks with my mother wittering away about the answer to the conundrum facing my daughters who will probably never be able to buy a house in England because property is so expensive being to marry well spiraled me back into just why I have found it hard to see eye to eye with her all my life 😔). It is a fact that life is not necessarily easy for those born into the greatest privilege. Your pot pourri of anecdotes of Edith Wharton prove that point. And I rather think she would have loved you. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello, Osyth. I must get to your blog to find out where you are in France and how your abode is coming along. You’re designing your own beautiful space like Edith. She loved France, too, just like you, and you both write so beautifully.
      I chuckle about your mom’s worry about the girls. They’ll be just fine without having to marry in order to be successful and more important, to be happy. But we know that, don’t we? Although, we both agree that marriage to the right person can bring such joy. I really hope when you travel back to New England, we’ll meet and talk. So much to talk about! Roxie sends her best to L’haricot verte. Love, Clare

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is a huge compliment. My blog has been stuttering the past few weeks but I think I’ve got the engine chugging again! My mother is priceless… it’s generational of course and an upbringing thing. I have a book in my head that deals with the difficulties of that particular divide in expectations. As her only daughter I always felt I was letting her down. But the gift she has given my daughter’s because I will NOT let them be anything but themselves and will not countenance any thought that they can if they will comes directly from being dogged by her antiquated disapproval. Of course now that I am married to the right man I would have it no other way. As with you and Charlie later really was greater for us. The Bean is in the finest fettle and we remain positive that we WILL be back in New England. Don’t start me on Green Cards and immigration 😉 l’haricot dit salut à Roxie and I send liv e to you all x

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Mary, she was a prolific writer and I haven’t read everything whe wrote. I hope to take time out from Last Rose on the Vine to re-read House of Mirth. But, as you know, it isn’t so easy to take time off from writing. I must get up to speed on The Goldfish and your writing. I see the tweets about the short stories and you seem to be truly busy. Charley and I golfed this afternoon and it was humid. (probably not so much at St. Andrews where I’m sure we’ll play some day)Take care and have a lovely weekend. Clare

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Jo, when will we have our next chat? So much is happening. Another Grand Jury today in DC! Whoa!
      At least this week has been nice and “normal” in South County as I continue to write the second book in the mystery series and to help Zack with the illustrations for Carnivore Conundrum. I actually wrote this post two weeks ago and never got to the edits until last night.I hate it when I lose contact with other bloggers, so it’s nice to sit here tonight and answer comments. I’ll spend the weekend visiting blogs. I love catching up with friends, so let’s set a time to talk politics, etc. Hugs to Doug. Love, Clare


  5. I didn’t know that much about Wharton before, thank you for the lesson! I’m impressed she was able to keep her creativity and spark, in spite of how much her parents or marriage must have hampered it.
    Love the pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. C.J. – the Gardens were amazing and volunteer gardeners were sitting on the paths, working in the rain deadheading the spent buds. I wanted to sit down and help. What a marvelous way to spend a morning. But I did have little ones moving in and out for Books and Blooms waiting for me to read with them.
      I think Wharton was a natural writer because of her over-active imagination and her incredible ability to use her amazing vocabulary in a keenly perceptive way. Once she married, she was free of parental authority and Teddy had no real power to impose himself in her life. This enabled her to read and write to her heart’s content. There’s even a question as to whether the marriage was ever consummated.
      Now,although she used her time and money to help others less fortunate, she was unfortunately known to be anti-Semitic. I found that so not in keeping with her life.
      Taking the photos was a pleasure and I think they came nicely after apping them. I may frame some of them. I’ll stop by to visit with you this weekend. Take care.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. How wonderful to finally know who the “Joneses” are that we are all supposed to be keeping with up! Thanks! I had no idea of Edith ‘s upbringing, and all her accomplishments either!! Gorgeous gardens, thanks so much for sharing the views!! How exciting that you are sharing your stories, where she wrote hers!!
    Hugs to all, and cuddles to Roxie!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Arti, I must drop by and visit. I’m so glad to see your comment and I hope all is well and you are getting ready for another busy semester. Thank you. I’m going to continue with the last post by talking about the daughters of the rich back in the Gilded Age.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A lovely story, Clare. I knew nothing of Edith Mary Wharton, but I’m glad to have met this talented woman via your blog and to see how her inspiration is alive and well in your writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What an interesting story Clare. I must confess I knew little of Edith Wharton. The photos of her house and garden are magnificent. I wonder what it felt like to wander through? And even on the veranda – did you try to imagine her life there? I feel an historical novel coming on!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been to The Mount on a few occasions for the tours and I find her life fascinating.
      I’m writing another post about the Gilded Age and the daughters of the rich American tycoons who were bartered off for royal titles. I’m not sure I have a novel in me – just simple little mysteries with some historic info thrown in.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. AAGH!! Why don’t I get alerts any more when you write Blogs. I had been thinking about you all week and now see I have missed loads. Anyway, I love, just LOVE, the account on Miss Jones (!) That is so interesting and I love the photos as well. I read it a couple of times I so enjoyed it. And now I can stop being a sycophant and read the other Blogs I have missed. BTW – was in Hairdo country last week, I didn’t see him amongst the Hippies of Glastonbury, but he assures me he was there, just washing his hair :-0

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve missed you and have read most of your older posts a few times to get a chuckle. I always wonder what is happening in your “neighborhood”. I haven’t been posting much because I launched a local mystery book in July and am working on getting a children’s verse book published in December. So, all my literary energy is going into these projects. And I’ve been terribly remiss in reading other’s blog posts. I try to catch up, but some bloggers are a bit prolific and I can just about get to their most recent posts. I hope everything is going well and am sorry you missed Hariod. He has not posted much lately either, but I always read his older posts and still do not understand half of what I’ve read. And forget about the comments! Are all his friends swamis and philosophers?
      We need to have an email chat soon. I’m good about that at least.

      Liked by 1 person

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