Laura Bush to show off return of Wharton collection to Berkshires

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LENOX, Mass. (AP) – The home of one of America’s best-known authors finally has its library back, and one of the country’s best-known librarians is helping to show it off.

First lady Laura Bush, a former librarian and public school teacher in Texas, planned a visit Monday afternoon to this bucolic town in the Berkshire hills to mark the homecoming of Edith Wharton’s personal book collection.

“As a librarian and a lover of literature I believe it’s important for Americans to visit the homes of our most loved and renowned writers,” Bush said.

Before the first lady delivered her remarks she took a brief tour of the mansion and stopped in Wharton’s library to admire the recently returned volumes.

Caretakers of The Mount – the 35-room mansion Wharton built in the early 1900s – purchased the author’s library in December for $2.6 million from a British bookseller. The bookseller, George Ramsden, has cared for the collection since 1984.

“Books that Edith Wharton said were the core of her being came home,” said Stephanie Copeland, the president of The Mount. The Mount was able to purchase the library thanks to a gift from Robert Wilmers, chairman of the M&T Bank Corp., and his wife, Elisabeth Wilmers.

The 2,600-volume library includes a first edition of “Alice in Wonderland” and works with personal inscriptions from the author Henry James and Theodore Roosevelt.

The Mount plans to use the library acquisition as a fundraising tool by encouraging admirers to “adopt a book” for fees ranging from $1,000 to $1 million. Proceeds will help restore Wharton’s home and gardens.

The most expensive book up for adoption will be Wharton’s copy of “The Decoration of Houses,” her first published book. Others include James’ “The Golden Bowl,” with an inscription by the author that reads, “To Edith Wharton – in sympathy.”

There is also a copy of Roosevelt’s “America and the World War,” in which he wrote, “To Edith Wharton from an American-American.” Roosevelt gave Wharton the book in Paris, when she hosted a party to raise support for France during World War I.

Wharton, who was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for her 1920 novel “The Age of Innocence,” left The Mount in 1911 to move to France. Her husband sold the property when she left, and the couple divorced a year later.

“The Mount was her refuge and her inspiration,” Bush said.

Wharton returned to the United States only to accept the Pulitzer. She died in France at the age of 75.

From 1942 until 1972, The Mount was a girl’s school. It had fallen into disrepair by the time it caught the eye of Tina Packer, artistic director of Shakespeare & Co., which established a separate board of directors to oversee and acquire the National Historic Landmark in 1980.

For the next 20 years, the theater group, which moved into new quarters last year, staged its performances on the grounds and in some of the mansion’s rooms.

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