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Monday, January 16, 2006

Edith Wharton's library at The Mount

I’m not sure how I missed this other than to say it was pre-Christmas and I fell way behind on my daily reading.

In an age when greed rules and libraries are pulled apart, one lovely English gentleman sought to pull a noteworthy library together. George Ramsden, a British bookseller, bought the bulk of the 2,600-volume Edith Wharton Library in 1984 for around $80,000. The library, however, was incomplete and he set about completing and cataloging it over the next 20 years.

Last month, an anonymous benefactor stepped forward to offer $2.6 million for the complete collection to reside in the custody of The Mount, Wharton’s estate in Lenox, Mass.

According to the Times article:

”The unique thing about this library is that she wrote about it in her autobiography,” Mr. Ramsden said. “She really tells you what books really meant to her. Even before she could read, she could be found alone with a book upside down in her hands. The physical presence of books continued to mean a lot to her.”

And this is from
The Mount’s
press release:

Edith Wharton’s library is a window on her life as a writer and the friendships she forged with other great intellects and artists of her time. In her autobiography, she wrote that “The core of my life was under my roof, among my books and my intimate friends.” Her library belongs to all periods of her life, from when she was a girl of ten up until a few weeks before her death at the age of seventy-five, and reflects both her deep American roots and her life as an expatriate in Europe.

The books have great value for scholarship in what they reveal about Wharton’s thoughts, the influences on her writing, and her intellectual development through the many annotations and firm pencil-strokes she made in the margins. In a letter to Sara Norton where she returned a copy of George Santayana’s Sonnets and other Verses, she wrote: “I send you back the little book with a faint scratch here and there to show you the detached things that struck me…this is the nearest approach to talking over a book together.”

And to top all of this wonderful news about my favorite 20th-century author, it seems that Hermione Lee, author of great biographies on Virginia Woolf and Willa Cather, is writing a new biography of Edith Wharton.

I must confess, however, that the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography by the late R.W.B. Lewis will be hard to top. It was masterfully written. I’ve read it twice.

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