A Visual Writer
In high school I was encouraged by a brilliant teacher to read more Wharton. "Her vivid imagery, her visual nature, and her passion for houses will appeal to you," the teacher said.
I never forgot the advice, and I recently began reading the new reprint of Edith Wharton's 1904 book, Italian Villas and Their Gardens. It includes numerous lovely illustrations by Maxfield Parrish -- art that apparently frustrated Wharton because she deemed it to be too disconnected from her text. (Parrish refused to travel with her or collaborate.) But critics think Wharton's descriptions steal the show.
It's a bit like a travel book, although Wharton shares no details on how to find the gardens. And it is not a practical gardening manual. Really the focus is what Wharton calls "garden-magic." The beautiful relationship between those not-so-flowery Italian gardens, historic houses, and art. She explores in great detail villas throughout the country -- Florence, Rome, Genoa, Lake Como, Siena. Residences surrounded by "enchanting" clipped greenery and stone.
The 1904 edition was published without a dust jacket, so, true to Wharton's interest in decoration, an Italian 18th century brocade was used as background for the reissue jacket.
Originally, a portion of the proceeds from sales of this edition were slated for ongoing restoration of Wharton's beloved Massachusetts estate, The Mount. Unfortunately, The Mount is now facing foreclosure. A blog has been established as part of the Save The Mount Campaign.