Not many venture into the vast, shadowy front rooms, which are kept as a shrine to previous generations — a practice that irritates some members of the younger generation — and the French wallpaper is pocked with moisture stains and peeling off in sheets. In the shuttered, paneled Gothic library, Teddy Roosevelt’s photograph sits on a shelf thick with dust (Roosevelt was a pal of great-uncle Wintie Chanler); in a parlor, a bust of Julia Ward Howe, the abolitionist, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and a great-aunt, is propped on a chipped radiator. A marble plaque in the front hall is “in memoriam” to Stanford White, a family friend, who orchestrated a series of additions to the house in 1894.
Real life occurs in the rabbit warren of kitchens, pantries and servants’ bedrooms, and the small village of outbuildings — barns, cottages and carriage houses — through which family members, friends and tenants career like characters in a French farce.
What a fascinating way to live, in a crumbling house on a vast estate with a rotating cast of relatives from a really, really extened family. It makes me want to write a novel about it, but didn't John Irving already do that?