The personal library of Edith Wharton, the aristocratic novelist and confidant of Henry James, has been purchased from a British bookseller by her estate for $2.6 million.
The 2,600-volume library includes a first edition of “Alice in Wonderland” with pages worn by Wharton’s fingers as a child, and works with personal inscriptions from James and Theodore Roosevelt.
“Nothing informs us more of the extraordinary genius of this woman than these books,” said Stephanie Copeland, director of the Mount, Wharton’s estate and 48-acre gardens in Lenox. “What they will bring to Wharton scholarship is beyond value.”
A benefactor who wants to remain anonymous financed the purchase Monday from George Ramsden, a British bookseller who has cared for the collection since 1984, Copeland said.
The Mount hopes to use the acquisition as a fundraising tool by encouraging admirers to “adopt a book” for fees ranging from $1,000 to $1 million. Proceeds will help restore Wharton’s home and gardens.
The most expensive book up for adoption will be Wharton’s copy of “The Decoration of Houses,” her first published work. Others include James’ “The Golden Bowl,” with an inscription by the author that reads, “To Edith Wharton — in sympathy.”
There is also a copy of Roosevelt’s “America and the World War,” in which he wrote, “To Edith Wharton from an American-American.” Roosevelt gave Wharton the book in Paris, when she hosted a party to raise support for France during World War I.
The books will be displayed in Wharton’s original library, where the shelves are currently empty. The collection will be on public display when the Mount opens for the season in May.
Wharton, whose best-known work is “Ethan Frome,” died in France in 1937.