Sunday, July 3, 2011

Blogging from National, Part 2

Pray forgive the lateness of this missive, my dears. Friday was the last day of our conference in NY, and Saturday we traveled by train and automobile from the city out to Cape Cod. I adored saying this all conference long: “Yes, Dahling, I’m going to the Cape for the Fourth!”

And of course Marissa and I could not pass up the opportunity for some historical research on the way, in Newport, Rhode Island, to be exact. I know little about the Gilded Age, turn-of-the-century East Coast. I was surprised to find that it wasn’t so far off from the nineteenth-century England I love.

We’ve talked about the way the aristocracy left London in the summer for their country houses, which were often far more magnificent than their London residences. The same might be said for Newport, where the summer “cottages” are multi-room mansions with manicured grounds.

Take the one above, for example. This is The Elms, patterned after a French chateau outside Paris. This picture looks at the rear of the place, facing the grounds. And down the lawn is a delightful folly that could well have graced one of the designs of the famous landscape artist Capability Brown in England. Don’t Marissa and I just look as if we belonged here?

Farther down the island is The Breakers, a 70-room mansion overlooking the ocean. This view from the veranda tells you how it got its name.
And I have never seen such tall wrought-iron gates even in England.

Ornate does not begin to describe the rooms. Anything that can be made of marble is, as is anything that can be gilded (including the marble!). Marissa was rather fond of a fireplace that was mottled in red and gray, looking a bit like flames. She thought that was much better than the columns on the stairs at another house, which she said looked like someone had eaten a buffalo mozzarella pizza and then thrown up.

A few things I noted that surprised me:
  • The servants’ stairs, though narrow, were also made of marble, with fine wood banisters and wrought-iron paneling.

  • They actually did appreciate the view, as evinced by the many windows and verandas overlooking the sea as well as this charming lawn chair with the porthole windows on either side.

  • They made use of earlier fine materials. I saw a fireplace that had been taken from an 18th century French chateau and cushions on which Marie Antoinette had once sat.

It was fun trying to imagine ourselves here, among the emerald lawns, the tall frescoed ceilings, the marble stairs ascending to private bedrooms papered in silk. We decided we liked this particular house, which was built on a much more modest scale, until we realized it was the children’s playhouse!

Look for more on our travels next week, and don’t forget to comment on any post through July 12 to be entered in a drawing for an Irresistible Earl prize packet. Happy Independence Day!


Jessica said...

I love visiting Newport and pretending for just a little while that I have ever known that kind of opulence. Then, I stop to think how I could summer quite cozily in that "Children's playhouse" and it snaps me back to reality and my jaw drops. I cannot even conceive of having enough money to live the lifestyle that those Newporters did... (but I love to visit!!)

PQR said...

The sheer luxury in these houses is incredible. I like touring the servants areas, myself. Trying to conceive of the army of people who made the house their lives work is humbling.

A traveller in time said...

Please tell me you took photos of the cushions on which Marie-Antoinette sat!!!! Cos then you could post them! Please! There is so little extant that has a connection with her I would love to see what they looked like.
And love the gates!

Bethany said...

WOW! I always wanted my own playhouse, but dad would always say "How in the world would we move that!"

Regina Scott said...

Jessica, that "playhouse" definitely snapped me back to reality too. And no one would be moving it, Bethany. It's about the size of the first real house I owned!

PQR, I loved the servants areas--two stories, walls of crystal and china. I think I'd probably be fired, though, as I'd walk around with my mouth hanging open in awe.

Traveller, alas, no one is allowed to take pictures inside the houses. And I must say I was disappointed by the few postcards available on the houses. Never enough of the details we love!

Littly City Growers said...
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QNPoohBear said...

Welcome to our little corner of the world. Newport is always a fun time. Did you walk the cliff walk? Seeing the grounds of the "cottages" is always jaw-dropping. Even driving past the mansions is fun. It's too bad Astors' Beechwood is closed. You would have loved being part of a living history tour as guests of the Astors. Mrs. Astor had very strict rules about who was allowed to visit (the Fortune 500 club only no NEW money people) but us common folk were allowed to pretend to be part of that world for awhile.

I want to know how Cape Cod compares to Scarborough. Your descriptions in the Irresistible Earl make Scarborough sound like the Cape.

Regina Scott said...

Thank you for the welcome, QNPoohBear! We did not get an opportunity to walk the cliff walk, alas! Perhaps another time.

Scarborough is much more densely populated than what I've seen of Cape Cod. While my Earl has rented a house, that was not the norm. People from the aristocracy down to the common folk stayed in the hotels, and the society was remarkably open, especially for England at that time. The fishing fleet and light house definitely remind me of Chatham, though! And I haven't seen a single bathing hut. :-)

Marissa Doyle said...

QNPoohBear, the story I'm working on now is partially set in Newport in 1901, so I was doing a little research as well as having fun showing Regina a little piece of New England.

Mrs. Astor's Four Hundred were actually a blend of the old Knickerbocker families and new money--she herself was born Caroline Schermerhorn of an old family descended from the Dutch settlers, but the Astors were new money, as were the Vanderbilts and Berwinds and Oelrichses and so on--just like in the aristocracy, new money often married into old blood.

Ladybrinx said...

beautiful pictures, I can't imagine that little house being a child's playhouse...I think my house isn't much bigger than that.

Looks like a great place to visit, never been there.