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Lectures on the Mount

Lectures on the Mount

by KATHRYN BOUGHTON

The 2018 summer lecture series at The Mount, the home of Gilded Age author Edith Wharton, has stirred serious interest with all Monday night lectures already fully subscribed and Tuesday sessions rapidly filling.

The series features broad-ranging subjects, a number of which would resonate with Wharton, herself, who explored the social and financial inequalities of the Gilded Age in The House of Mirth and the disparities between proper public behavior and the private machinations in Victorian society in The Age of Innocence. Wharton won the Pulitzer Prize, the first awarded to a woman, for The Age of Innocence.

A new exploration of 19th-century life and its effect on a beloved author has won this year’s Pulitzer for Caroline Fraser. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder takes a clear-eyed look at the life forces that shaped Wilder, writer of the ever-popular Little House on the Prairie series. Wilder, who died in 1957 at age 90, this week suffered the ignominy of having her name stripped from a prestigious children’s literary award because characters in her book voice the pervasive racism of her day. Her books, nevertheless, have enthralled generations of young readers as she recounts her life as a pioneer girl who survived blizzards and near-starvation on the Great Plains.

Fraser looked past the myth-making and self-transformation of Wilder’s books to draw on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries and land and financial records, filling in the gaps in Wilder’s biography. She will speak July 9th at 4PM.

The lecture series further explores, the life of Lucy Parsons, the formidable, militant writer, orator and agitator. Parsons, born in 1851 to an enslaved Virginia woman, and raised in Texas, was a fearless advocate for First Amendment rights, a champion of the working class and one of the most prominent figures of African-American descent of her era. She, nevertheless, was full of contradictions—unabashedly advocating violence, identifying herself as Hispanic and Indian, and ignoring the plight of African-Americans.

In Goddess of Anarchy, Jacqueline Jones, a Bancroft Prize Winner, and twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, draws on a wealth of new sources to explore not only Parsons’ life, but her times, from slavery through the Great Depression. She will speak July 31st at 4PM.

Victorian-era women and their influence on their age is examined in three other books in the series: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux; Proust’s Duchess: How Three Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin-de-Siecle Paris by Caroline Weber, and Sargent’s Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas by Donna M. Lucey.

Rioux, who will speak July 23rd at 4PM, examines why this tale of family and community ties, set while the Civil War tore the country apart, has resonated through later wars, the Great Depression, and times of changing opportunities for women.

Caroline Weber, a specialist in 18th-century French literature, culture, and history, speaks August 20th at 4PM on Proust’s Duchess. She looks at the three superstars of the glittering world of fin-de-siècle Paris used as the basis for his fictional character, the Duchess de Guermantes in The Remembrance of Things Past. All three women were well, but unhappily, married, and sought freedom and fulfillment by reinventing themselves through their salons, inspiring several generations of writers, artists and composers.

Finally, Lucey delves into the lives of four American heiresses portrayed empathetically by famed society portraitist John Singer Sargent. Lucey spent eight years researching original letters and diaries illuminating the women’s lives, all of whom defied expectations, had illicit love affairs, and, in one case, created her own art museum despite the stifling conventions and road blocks they faced.
Lucey speaks August 27th at 5PM.

Lynne Olsen turns her attention away from women’s lives to look at largely unheralded forces at work in World War II in Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War. When the Nazi blitzkrieg rolled over continental Europe in the early days of World War II, the city of London became a refuge for the governments and armed forces of six occupied nations who escaped there to continue the fight. As the only European democracy still holding out against Hitler, Britain became known to occupied countries as “Last Hope Island.”

She will speak about this perilous period in 20th-century history July 16 at 4PM.

Three lectures—A Tokyo Romance by Ian Buruma on August 6th; Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson by Gordon S. Wood on August 13th and 14th, and Theodore Roosevelt: A Literary Life by Thomas Bailey and Katherine Joslin, July 2nd and 3rd—are completely sold out.

The lectures will be presented at The Stable at The Mount, 2 Plunkett Street, Lenox MA and cost $30 for general admission and $25 for Mount members. Call 413-551-5100 or e-mail info@edithwharton.org.



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