Serendipity on Route 7

My drive continued south from Bennington, Vermont, via RT 7 to Williamstown, Massachusetts. There I stayed for the night. I knew Williams College was located there. But while exploring the town, I came to this building and saw the huge banner. Upon further investigation, I was excited to discover the campus of Shakespeare & Company:

The Miller BldgDSC_0337 (1)Later I found out that the actor Christopher Reeve met his future wife Dana in Williamstown where they later married. Reeve began as an apprentice at age 15 with the Wiliamstown Theater Festival right in those venues and eventually performed there for fourteen more seasons.

I had the chance to talk to a woman who was working on the grounds and learned that, lo and behold, she was born in Alberta, Canada, my home province! Imagine a chance encounter with an Alberta born American thousands of miles away.

The Berkshires region is beautiful and cultural. I made a mental note to come back to Williamstown for its annual Theater Festival.

My original plan was just to drive south on RT 7 from Williamstown to Lenox to see the Edith Wharton House at The Mount, when another serendipitous find came upon me: Tanglewood Music Center. So here I was at the famous summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra on my way to Edith Wharton House.

The Koussevitzky Music Shed was named after the Russian-born conductor, composer and double-bassist, long-time music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1924 to 1949:

TanglewoodI lingered at Tanglewood for quite some time, for the grounds were beautiful and offered magnificent views. Another mental note: I must come back for the Tanglewood Festival in the summer. :

viewAcross the road from Tanglewood, fall foliage began to emerge. That was October 7. I can imagine how beautiful it is now:

across from TanglewoodAnd finally, to The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home from 1902 – 1911. I knew she was a prolific novelist and short-story writer, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize (The Age of Innocence, 1921); later I learned too that she had been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature three times.

So I was a little surprised to find out from the tour guide at The Mount that she was also a house and landscape designer in her own right. Her book The Decoration of Houses is still used today by architects and designers.

Built as a writers retreat, The Mount reflects Wharton’s fondness of symmetry:

SymmetryWhat happened to the left side of the building? That makes it not symmetrical, you might ask. That’s the servants quarter which Wharton was willing to compromise her design principle.

Here’s another view why it’s called The Mount:

The MountI took a tour of both the inside as well as her gardens. Here’s one wall of her library:

One wallWell read in several languages since she was young, Wharton left these books behind  when she moved away to live in Paris the latter part of her life after the demise of her marriage. Her husband Edward had fallen into a state of dementia after lengthy bouts of depression and mental illness. The writer’s years at The Mount had not been as happy as its surroundings could offer her.

The Drawing Room:

The Drawing RoomDining Room, where Henry James was one of several usual guests:

Dining RoomBut where did she write? Not in the library, or at the desk in her room, but right in her bed. She had an assistant who would take her handwritten pages and type them up after her six hours of continuous writing every morning before she got out of bed. I’m sure Wharton would love to have a laptop:

Writing bed (1)And these other items I found interesting. Downton images conjured up in my mind. Typewriter, telephone, telegram:

DSC_0347
An original 1902 ice box, Daisy would love it but maybe not Mrs. Patmore. Give her some time to warm up:

Ice Box
A luggage lift. Definitely would be a fave among the footmen:

Luggage lift

And only after the tour did I find out, The Mount had given a Life Time Achievement Award to Julian Fellowes. The Downton creator had attributed Wharton as a major influence on his works, first Gosford Park (Oscar Best Original Screenplay, 2002) and then Downton Abbey. Speaking upon receiving the Award at the Harvard Club, Fellowes noted that he was particularly inspired by Wharton’s “… ability to judge without feeling the need to condemn.”

I bought the book The Custom of the Country in the gift shop and only just now did I learn that it is being adapted into a TV mini-series, with Scarlett Johansson playing the anti-heroine, Undine Spragg. This will mark Johansson’s first TV role.

As for Julian Fellowes’ new work? I eagerly await. After visiting The Mount, I can see what a natural shift it is for him to create an American version of Downton. The Gilded Age should be a smooth sequel.

From Lenox, I began the last leg of my New England Road Trip. I headed east on I90, a breezy 2.5 hrs. drive back to Wayland, the suburb outside Boston, thus completing the loop and a memorable journey. An item checked off my bucket list.

***

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Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

21 thoughts on “Serendipity on Route 7”

  1. Thank you for posting this blog. Williamstown and the surrounding area has a lot worth visiting. I am fond of the area since my husband worked for 5-6 years at Williams College coaching ski racers on their university ski team. I love the Clark Art Museum. Wonderful collection and grounds.

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    1. Sue,

      I drove by Clark Art Museum but didn’t have time to go in. Definitely will keep that in mind the next time I visit. Thanks for stopping by Ripple Effects and leaving your comment.

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    1. Michelle,

      Haha! Glad you’ve enjoyed the series. Yes, The Gilded Age should be wonderful under Julian Fellowes’ hands. Also, sad to see Downton calling it a wrap too.

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  2. If you go to Williamstown again, you really should spend a couple of hours at the Clark Institute of Art. Williamstown is hard enough to get to (from anywhere) that you should maximize you tme there. The Clark has a fairly strong (for a non-urban museum) collection of European Impressionists as well as well as the Americans who were first influenced by them.

    Cheers/

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    1. DK Fennell,

      Definitely. And it’s likely that I’ll go back to the Berkshires to explore more some time in the future. Like to revisit Williamstown and see The Clark. I love European Impressionists so this one is on my list. Thanks for stopping by Ripples and sharing your recommendation! Hope to hear from you again. 😉

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    1. nikkipolani,

      Not just in landscape but in house design and interior decorations. The Mount is her collaborative work with the architect. She was fully involved in the design of the whole complex, inside and out.

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  3. I live maybe 1.5-2 hours south of The Mount and visited it once a few years ago (okay, maybe 5,6? Can’t remember….). It was so fun to explore. I love the Berkshires and have a particular fondness for Great Barrington. I’m glad your trip was fun!

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    1. Rebecca,

      You’re lucky to be living so close to The Mount. I’m sure you must have biked there too. The Berkshires is such a beautiful region. I’d love to revisit and explore more of the area, some day. Now I know where your inspiration comes from. 😉

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  4. What an interesting visit. I had to refresh myself on Edith Wharton a bit (are there connections to the Wharton School of Business? I’ll have ot look, as that just occured to me.) I found this obituary and was delighted by many of the details. One of the stories that I think I’ll read is “The Hermit and the Wild Woman”. What an interesting title!

    I can’t imagine writing in bed — not even for a half-hour. Of course, I don’t read in bed, either. I mean — “writing desk” is a familiar phrase, as is “reading chair.” But “writing bed”? I rest my case! 🙂

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    1. Linda,

      I love to read in bed, and write using my laptop, but not for long. Can’t imagine six hours straight (and with her fave pooch by her side too, the tour guide told us). Anyway, Edith Wharton is one author I’d like to explore more. Am reading The Custom of the Country now, the book that I bought from the gift shop there. What an interesting satire. This is what I got from my trip: some wrote in Spartan conditions (Thoreau), others wrote in luxury (Wharton) and still others in between (Frost). There’s really not one formula for writing success. What I could take from all these visiting was maybe this sensible tip, write where you are. 😉

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  5. I’ve started reading some Wharton this summer. Ethan Frome (done); Old New York (TBR). Rick’s brother, as you know, lives in Pittsfield and Lenox is just about 10 minutes away. I’ve never been to the Mount, though. Our visit is always too short but I think next winter I will push for it! I loved every photo, every view. And of course the back story. Who knew she wrote in her bedroom?! And indeed, very Downton!

    I liked Wiliamstown very much during our too brief visit. I’m glad you got to see the Shakespeare & Company — I missed that. It’s a wonderful area. While I don’t see myself packing up and moving there, that area IS one region that has always called to me. I am so enjoying traveling along with you!

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    1. Jeanie,

      We drove past Pittsfield while driving south on Route 7. My cousin told me the tidbit that Christopher Reeve and Dana sometimes would ride their bikes to Pittsfield from Williamstown. I’d love to go back to the Berkshires region. I must. And isn’t that a coincidence that I discovered that Julian Fellowes got a lifetime achievement award from The Mount, and that Edith Wharton was his major influence. I so look forward to The Gilded Age. Not that I love the affluence, but the satire and the sad stories of the rich. That makes us all equal. 😉

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  6. Beautiful places – Wharton’s house looks unbelievably sumptuous, it is funny how she used to satirise the rich in her books (but they were also delicious descriptions.)

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    1. Denise,

      Good point, and this is how I see it. It takes someone from the upper crust to know enough so to satirize her own. Mind you, Wharton had used her influence and resources well. After she had moved to France, and as WWI broke out, she poured herself in the war efforts “creating a complex network of charitable and humanitarian organizations.” She ultimately received honor of recognition from France for her contributions. Here, check this out. Interesting read.

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