Outside design circles, not many people know that Edith Wharton's first publication was a decorating manual. It's a perplexing fact. Our own American grande dame, author of more than 40 books, friend of Henry James and Theodore Roosevelt … bothered herself with wallpaper and sconces? (Actually, she loathed wallpaper.) But after the initial shock, perhaps you'll remember reading The Age of Innocence or seeing Martin Scorsese's film adaptation of it and realize that Wharton is fused in your mind with masterfully described interiors—at which point, your confusion will click into a satisfied "Huh!" If so, you might be moved, as I was, to rent a car and go visit the Mount, the only one of Wharton's many residences remaining. But act fast: If the Mount doesn't somehow acquire $3 million by April 24, the bank is going to shut it down. The interiors you're about to see may be lost to the public forever.
Update, April 24, 2008: Thanks in part to contributions from Slate readers, the Mount was able to get its foreclosure deadline extended from today to May 31. Susan Wissler, acting executive director of the Mount, wrote, "Slate had much to do with the extension. The uptick in web contributions from the day the Slate piece appeared was immediate and significant." Keep up the good work. The official site of the Mount has all the details.
Click here to read a slide-show essay about the Mount.