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Edith Wharton's New York - Day 1

By MPL Staff on May 16, 2014 3:38 PM

MPL Library Director Paula Kiely has sent her first missive back from the Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library tour of Edith Wharton's New York City:

We arrived safely in Manhattan, ready to discover all it offers and to peek into the world in which Edith Wharton and her characters lived. First on our agenda, the beautiful Beaux-Arts New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.

In route from our hotel, we walked south along 5th Avenue. Passing the southwest corner at 44th Street, we paid homage to "Sherry's," which stood on this site in Wharton's novel, The House of Mirth. It was here that Lily Bart and Lawrence Seldon were to have tea before they detoured to Lawence's room, the first of several examples of Lily's poor judgement.

The streets Wharton and her characters walked led us to the library where we were met by Denise Hibay, collections director of the research libraries. Ms. Hibay led us on a private tour through the periodical reading room, which is lined with carved wood and original paintings of New York landmarks by Milwaukee artist Richard Haas.

Denise Hibay greets MPL tour group
Denise Hibay, collections director of the research libraries, greets our group


NYPL Periodicals Reading Room
NYPL Periodicals Reading Room


No visit to the 1911 Library would be complete without a visit to the Rose Reading Room, with its beautiful murals. Nearly every seat was filled in this quiet space as researchers scribbled notes on paper or typed them on their laptops.

NYPL Rose Reading Room ceiling mural
NYPL Rose Reading Room ceiling mural


NYPL Rose Reading Room
NYPL Rose Reading Room


Next on our tour was a special presentation by rare books librarian Isaac Gerwitz. Among the rarities was a "performance copy" of A Christmas Carol.  This was Dickens' own copy that he annotated, edited, and read from before paying audiences. We also saw T.S. Elliot's manuscript of The Wasteland, with handwritten edits by Ezra Pound and a first folio of William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies.

NYPL Isaac Gerwitz rare books
NYPL rare books librarian Isaac Gerwitz (far right, gesturing) shows highlights of the collection


Dickens' public reading copy of A Christmas Carol
Performance copy of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens


Shakespeare - first folio
A first folio of Shakespeare


Our final stop was a private meeting with Ann Thornton, Director of the Research Libraries. Director Thornton gave us an update on the change in the library's renovation plans and talked about the future of libraries. She hosted us in her office, where we admired the paintings on her walls - originals by N.C. Wyeth, illustrations for Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped and Treasure Island. Beautiful!

Wyeth painting in NPYL Director of Research Libraries office
N.C. Wyeth painting in office of NYPL Director of the Research Libraries


Wyeth paintings in NYPL Director of Research Libraries office
N.C. Wyeth paintings in office of NYPL Director of the Research Libraries


We finally said goodbye to Patience and Fortitude as we headed back to our rooms to freshen up before a great dinner at Trattoria dell'Arte on 7th Ave and 57th Street.

Tomorrow: the Frick Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a walking tour of Edith Wharton's upper east side. Can't wait!

P. Kiely

Corrections: This post originally attributed the paintings in the office of the NYPL Director of the Research Libraries to famed 20th century artist Andrew Wyeth. They are, in fact, by that artist's father, N.C. Wyeth. The post has been corrected to credit the proper artist.

[Read: Day 2]

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