I am not usually one to follow much of what goes on within the pages of Vogue, I was however instantly taken with their recent spread that was done to recreate the world of Edith Wharton. The images are the work of the fabulous Annie Leibovitz, photographer extraordinaire. The series is called "The Custom of the Country" after the book of the same name written by Wharton in 1913 about a girl, Undine Spragg (great name isn't it), a Midwestern girl who attempts to ascend in New York City society. It is one of my favourite Wharton books and well worth a read.
The series is absolutely stunning in every detail. Instead of models, save Natalia Vodianova, Leibovitz used actors to portray the cast of characters to great effect. The shoot took place over 4 days at The Mount, Wharton’s summer residence in Lenox, Massachusetts. I hope you enjoy the images as much as I do. The text accompanying the images are from Vogue unless they are in green.
Wharton (model Natalia Vodianova, left) and Anna Bahlmann (actress Juno Temple, right) was Wharton’s faithful secretary and lifelong confidante.
To escape the heat, Wharton, accompanied by intimates Henry James (novelist Jeffrey Eugenides, far left) and Morton Fullerton (actor Jack Huston, far right, from one of my favourite shows Boardwalk Empire), motored over the hills and valleys, her loyal chauffeur, Charles Cook (actor Elijah Wood) at the wheel.
Nearby Chesterwood was the country home and studio of dear friend and sculptor Daniel Chester French (artist Nate Lowman, center), who would go on to design the statue for the Lincoln Memorial.
With Fullerton, Wharton revealed a side of herself—vulnerable, passionate—that she usually reserved for characters in her fiction. Despite his personal feelings, James encouraged the affair, writing to her, “Live it all through.”. Love this iamge, it reminds me of Manet's painting The Luncheon on the Grass.
Wharton’s starry, intellectual circle included, from left, her niece, Beatrix Farrand (actress Mamie Gummer); James; diplomat Walter Berry (writer Junot Díaz); Fullerton; architect Ogden Codman, Jr. (writer Jonathan Safran Foer); and painter Maxfield Parrish (actor Max Minghella).
Although accustomed to battles of the drawing-room—not battlefield—variety, Wharton shared with her friend Theodore Roosevelt (actor James Corden, center) a personal vigor, self-discipline, and fighting spirit that seemed uniquely American.
Nothing would have interested James more than watching his two friends Wharton and Fullerton as they circled each other. How wonderful is this room? And that dress? "Extremely" being the only acceptable answer of course.
So there you have it, the beauty of Edith Wharton's world. Wharton has always been one of my favourite authors. One of my prized possessions is a first edition copy of The Decoration of Houses from 1897, a book she wrote with architect Ogden Codman as a manual for interior design. The Mount, which was designed and built by Edith Wharton in 1902, embodies the principles outlined in the book. I hear she also wrote something about the age of the innocent or something.