... [Henry] James had been living abroad, and the past several years had been professionally fruitful ones for him. In that time, he had published such novels as The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl. These followed the success of titles such as The Turn of the Screw, Portrait of a Lady, and Daisy Miller. ... When he arrived at Biltmore, the weather, his mood, and his health combined to make a very gloomy experience. Keeping mostly to his room at Biltmore House, he wrote both to his nephew, Henry 'Harry' James III, and to [Edith] Wharton.
James arrived during a snowstorm -- 'The land all buried, and the dreariness and bleakness indescribable,' he wrote Harry. Soon after arrival he had what he described as a 'sharp explosion of gout in my left foot.' He was adhering to a regime of bran footbaths and aspirin in hopes to stop the gout short. As to the house, he found little solace in its 'huge freezing spaces' and thought the creation to be 'based on a fundamental ignorance of comfort and wondrous deludedness (though now, I think, on poor George Vanderbilt's part, waked up (from) ...'
'Pity the poor Biltmorean!' he wrote Harry, complaining that he was lonely, that his room was freezing -- with 'a hideous plate glass window like the door of an ice-house' --and devoid of curtains. James rung his bell in vain, but no servant came to call on him. He hobbled on his gout-ridden foot down the long hallways in search of hot water and a bath. But he was determined to see his visit through before heading south to the warmer climes of Charleston, South Carolina.
'I shall weather through even the tortures of Biltmore.'
from The Last Castle: the epic story of love, loss and American
royalty in the nation's largest home, by Denise Kiernan
Poor Henry. Poor Vanderbilts!
Oh, poor Henry! I'm looking forward to this book. We visited Biltmore in the early spring two or three years ago. Such splendor! The gardens were magnificent, too... my only disappointment was being too early for wisteria.
I think you'll really enjoy it, especially since you've been there. It's very readable, with lots of cameo appearances like this one. Thank you for pointing it out to me!
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