She lived in Rome, when she was four years old. She was the first woman to win the Pultizer Prize. She moved from Newport RI to Lenox MA. She lived the last quarter of her life in two different houses in France. She took 1,000 photos with her brownie camera. She wrote 40 books of fiction and non-fiction. Her book Italian Villas and Their Gardens is still influential. She was Edith Wharton.
CeCe Haydock gave a workman-like, if uninspired, talk on Edith Wharton and The Villas of Rome at The LIbrary of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesman last night. Haydock began with the obstacles of finding the villas mentioned in Wharton’s book. Even with 21st century GPS, it’s still a gruelling task. I can testify to the exasperating adventure of locating these properties. Wharton had no such difficulties.
In a rare moment of personal reflection, Haydock spoke about the importance of a driveway in landscape design. She characterized the driveway in America, specifically referencing The Mount, Wharton’s home in Lenox, MA, as the element that sets the stage for what comes next. The driveway as the precursor to the house and the garden.
Where to go on a hot day in the 16th century if you were part of the Pope’s retinue? The Nymphaeum. Surrounded by water, plant material and stone; it was the place to cool off.
I’ve often ascended and descened the stairways in these villas: low risers and deep treads. They throw off my rhythm, but according to Haydock they have a distinct purpose. They are meant to slow you down…they demand the visitor walk leisurely and reflectively.
Haydock ended the evening with this quote: “…leading her, till they passed through a glass doorway at the end of the long suite of rooms and stood suddenly in the fragrant hush of a garden.” Wharton, House of Mirth