Posted by: jeannineatkins | August 27, 2012

The Inner House: The Life of Edith Wharton

Yesterday was one of those warm but not steamy days that led Edith Wharton to spend summers in a home she called the Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts. My friend Ann, a first grade teacher, took a break from looking for caterpillars and putting up monarch displays to go with me to see a play called The Inner House.  The Wharton Salon one woman play was beautifully performed by Tod Randolph, who truly seemed to channel Wharton’s grace and strength. It was adapted by Dennis Krausnick from Wharton’s memoir, A Backward Glance, with occasional quotations from her fiction. The title comes from a short story in which the narrator compares a woman’s nature to “a great house, full of rooms… full of treasures and wonders.”

The play was performed in the shadow of a grand house and gardens that we’re told Wharton loved more than any other place: yet she lived there only about five years. It seems to be at least partly a mystery why she left. Some things we’ll never know, and perhaps some things are revealed that she wouldn’t have chosen for us to know. The play begins with silence and looking that suggests the life of a writer, then the actress recounts Edith Wharton’s youth, speaking of a girl who loved books before she could read them, holding them sometimes upside-down as talismans that let her tell stories. I don’t think her mother was ever described without the word cold before her name. We hear of marriage to a man who was sweet but troubled, and with little in common except for a love of animals. We hear of the affair Edith had in her mid-forties, and the pain riddled through both these relationships.

Edith Wharton was sensual, stoic, and tragic, no surprise to anyone who’s read The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome. or one my favorites, Summer, which shows the richness and pleasures of that season followed by the harshness of a New England winter.  The play quotes from a letter to Edith from a reader imploring that if she knows of even one contented woman, couldn’t she write about her?  It seems those weren’t her stories to tell. Rather she often concentrated on the tragedies brought about by a society she considered frivolous, in good part because of the narrow choices then offered to women.

Yesterday was the last scheduled performance of this play at the Mount, celebrating the 150th year of the novelist’s birth, but the Wharton Salon will perform elsewhere,

so please check out their website!  After the play, Ann and I walked through the magnificent gardens, then strolled around picture perfect Lenox, stopping for quiche, coffee, and meringues (I want to use the word magnificent again) at Patisserie for a taste of Paris where Wharton lived for many years.






  1. Thank you for this.

  2. Hi, Jeannine. I enjoyed the review. It sounds like a rich play.

    • Yes, rich and daring for one woman to hold the stage for 75 minutes, mostly talking of the inner life.

  3. What a perfect day! Wonderful post, thanks for all the details, impressions, insights. Sigh. Plus quiche and meringues. . .

  4. Walking by ferns under the pines, catching up with a friend before her school year starts, speculating about Mrs. Wharton; and while Lenox is full of lovely places to eat, this little place with its porch and lace curtains seemed perfect. And Ann brought home a brownie that looked packed with more chocolate in a square than I may ever seen.

  5. “…the narrator compares a woman’s nature to “a great house, full of rooms… full of treasures and wonders.”
    Ah, there’s something so satisfying about that comparison!
    The house and gardens look amazing! I’m so glad you gave us a peek into your outing–it sounds like a wonderful day.

    • Of course she’s not the first person to compare people to houses, but I agree it’s a most satisfactory analogy. It’s quite something to peek into her bedroom where she wrote most every morning, allegedly scattering pages to the floor for her secretary (editor?) to type.

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