The Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton
On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine
Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of
Music in New York.
Though there was already talk of the erection, in
remote metropolitan distances "above the Forties," of
a new Opera House which should compete in costliness
and splendour with those of the great European capitals,
the world of fashion was still content to reassemble
every winter in the shabby red and gold boxes of
the sociable old Academy. Conservatives cherished it
for being small and inconvenient, and thus keeping out
the "new people" whom New York was beginning to
dread and yet be drawn to; and the sentimental clung
to it for its historic associations, and the musical for its
excellent acoustics, always so problematic a quality in
halls built for the hearing of music.
It was Madame Nilsson's first appearance that
winter, and what the daily press had already learned to
describe as "an exceptionally brilliant audience" had
gathered to hear her, transported through the slippery,
snowy streets in private broughams, in the spacious
family landau, or in the humbler but more convenient
"Brown coupe" To come to the Opera in a Brown
coupe was almost as honourable a way of arriving
as in one's own carriage; and departure by the same
means had the immense advantage of enabling one
(with a playful allusion to democratic principles) to
scramble into the first Brown conveyance in the line,
instead of waiting till the cold-and-gin congested nose
of one's own coachman gleamed under the portico of
the Academy. It was one of the great livery-stableman's
most masterly intuitions to have discovered that Americans
want to get away from amusement even more
quickly than they want to get to it.
When Newland Archer opened the door at the back
of the club box the curtain had just gone up on the
garden scene. There was no reason why the young man
should not have come earlier, for he had dined at
seven, alone with his mother and sister, and had lingered
afterward over a cigar in the Gothic library with
glazed black-walnut bookcases and finial-topped chairs
which was the only room in the house where Mrs.
Archer allowed smoking. But, in the first place, New
York was a metropolis, and perfectly aware that in
metropolises it was "not the thing" to arrive early at
the opera; and what was or was not "the thing" played
a part as important in Newland Archer's New York as
the inscrutable totem terrors that had ruled the destinies
of his forefathers thousands of years ago.
by Edith Wharton
A girl came out of lawyer Royall's house, at the end of
the one street of North Dormer, and stood on the
It was the beginning of a June afternoon. The
springlike transparent sky shed a rain of silver
sunshine on the roofs of the village, and on the
pastures and larchwoods surrounding it. A little wind
moved among the round white clouds on the shoulders of
the hills, driving their shadows across the fields and
down the grassy road that takes the name of street when
it passes through North Dormer. The place lies high
and in the open, and lacks the lavish shade of the more
protected New England villages. The clump of weepingwillows
about the duck pond, and the Norway spruces in
front of the Hatchard gate, cast almost the only
roadside shadow between lawyer Royall's house and the
point where, at the other end of the village, the road
rises above the church and skirts the black hemlock
wall enclosing the cemetery.
The little June wind, frisking down the street, shook
the doleful fringes of the Hatchard spruces, caught the
straw hat of a young man just passing under them, and
spun it clean across the road into the duck-pond.
As he ran to fish it out the girl on lawyer Royall's
doorstep noticed that he was a stranger, that he wore
city clothes, and that he was laughing with all his
teeth, as the young and careless laugh at such mishaps.
Her heart contracted a little, and the shrinking that
sometimes came over her when she saw people with
holiday faces made her draw back into the house and
pretend to look for the key that she knew she had
already put into her pocket. A narrow greenish mirror
with a gilt eagle over it hung on the passage wall, and
she looked critically at her reflection, wished for the
thousandth time that she had blue eyes like Annabel
Balch, the girl who sometimes came from Springfield to
spend a week with old Miss Hatchard, straightened the
sunburnt hat over her small swarthy face, and turned
out again into the sunshine.
"How I hate everything!" she murmured.
The young man had passed through the Hatchard gate, and
she had the street to herself. North Dormer is at all
times an empty place, and at three o'clock on a June
afternoon its few able-bodied men are off in the fields
or woods, and the women indoors, engaged in languid
Lawyer and socialite Newland Archer is about to enter a loveless marriage with a well-to-do bride, when her cousin, the exotic Ellen Olenska, enters the picture. Olenska is stuck in a bad marriage with a Polish count, and Archer finds himself in the awkward position of persuading her to save her family’s reputation by staying with her husband, even though Archer himself has fallen in love with her.
Combining a romantic tragedy with artful descriptions of aristocratic life in New York City, Edith Wharton’s twelfth novel is now available with a new introduction.
The young men of our American Relief Corps are beginning to come back from the front with stories.
There was no time to pick them up during the first months--the whole business was too wild and grim. The horror has not decreased, but nerves and sight are beginning to be disciplined to it. In the earlier days, moreover, such fragments of experience as one got were torn from their setting like bits of flesh scattered by shrapnel. Now things that seemed disjointed are beginning to link themselves together, and the broken bones of history are rising from the battle-fields.
I can't say that, in this respect, all the members of the Relief Corps have made the most of their opportunity. Some are unobservant, or perhaps simply inarticulate; others, when going beyond the bald statistics of their job, tend to drop into sentiment and cinema scenes; and none but H. Macy Greer has the gift of making the thing told seem as true as if one had seen it. So it is on H. Macy Greer that I depend, and when his motor dashes him back to Paris for supplies I never fail to hunt him down and coax him to my rooms for dinner and a long cigar.
Greer is a small hard-muscled youth, with pleasant manners, a sallow face, straight hemp-coloured hair and grey eyes of unexpected inwardness. He has a voice like thick soup, and speaks with the slovenly drawl of the new generation of Americans, dragging his words along like reluctant dogs on a string, and depriving his narrative of every shade of expression that intelligent intonation gives. But his eyes see so much that they make one see even what his foggy voice obscures.
Some of his tales are dark and dreadful, some are unutterably sad, and some end in a huge laugh of irony. I am not sure how I ought to classify the one I have written down here.
Professor Joslin, who, as our readers are doubtless aware, is engaged in writing the life of Mrs. Aubyn, asks us to state that he will be greatly indebted to any of the famous novelist's friends who will furnish him with information concerning the period previous to her coming to England. Mrs. Aubyn had so few intimate friends, and consequently so few regular correspondents, that letters will be of special value. Professor Joslin's address is 10 Augusta Gardens, Kensington, and he begs us to say that he"will promptly return any documents entrusted to him."
Glennard dropped the Spectator and sat looking into the fire. The club was filling up, but he still had to himself the small inner room, with its darkening outlook down the rain-streaked prospect of Fifth Avenue. It was all dull and dismal enough, yet a moment earlier his boredom had been perversely tinged by a sense of resentment at the thought that, as things were going, he might in time have to surrender even the despised privilege of boring himself within those particular four walls. It was not that he cared much for the club, but that the remote contingency of having to give it up stood to him, just then, perhaps by very reason of its insignificance and remoteness, for the symbol of his increasing abnegations; of that perpetual paring-off that was gradually reducing existence to the naked business of keeping himself alive. It was the futility of his multiplied shifts and privations that made them seem unworthy of a high attitude; the sense that, however rapidly he eliminated the superfluous, his cleared horizon was likely to offer no nearer view of the one prospect toward which he strained. To give up things in order to marry the woman one loves is easier than to give them up without being brought appreciably nearer to such a conclusion.
John Durham, while he waited for Madame de Malrive to draw on her gloves, stood in the hotel doorway looking out across the Rue de Rivoli at the afternoon brightness of the Tuileries gardens.
His European visits were infrequent enough to have kept unimpaired the freshness of his eye, and he was always struck anew by the vast and consummately ordered spectacle of Paris: by its look of having been boldly and deliberately planned as a background for the enjoyment of life, instead of being forced into grudging concessions to the festive instincts, or barricading itself against them in unenlightened ugliness, like his own lamentable New York.
But to-day, if the scene had never presented itself more alluringly, in that moist spring bloom between showers, when the horse-chestnuts dome themselves in unreal green against a gauzy sky, and the very dust of the pavement seems the fragrance of lilac made visible—to-day for the first time the sense of a personal stake in it all, of having to reckon individually with its effects and influences, kept Durham from an unrestrained yielding to the spell. Paris might still be—to the unimplicated it doubtless still was—the most beautiful city in the world; but whether it were the most lovable or the most detestable depended for him, in the last analysis, on the buttoning of the white glove over which Fanny de Malrive still lingered.
IT rose for them--their honey-moon--over the waters of a lake so famed as the scene of romantic raptures that they were rather proud of not having been afraid to choose it as the setting of their own.
"It required a total lack of humour, or as great a gift for it as ours, to risk the experiment," Susy Lansing opined, as they hung over the inevitable marble balustrade and watched their tutelary orb roll its magic carpet across the waters to their feet.
"Yes--or the loan of Strefford's villa," her husband emended, glancing upward through the branches at a long low patch of paleness to which the moonlight was beginning to give the form of a white house-front.
"Oh, come when we'd five to choose from. At least if you count the Chicago flat."
"So we had--you wonder!" He laid his hand on hers, and his touch renewed the sense of marvelling exultation which the deliberate survey of their adventure always roused in her.... It was characteristic that she merely added, in her steady laughing tone: "Or, not counting the flat--for I hate to brag--just consider the others: Violet Melrose's place at Versailles, your aunt's villa at Monte Carlo--and a moor!"
She was conscious of throwing in the moor tentatively, and yet with a somewhat exaggerated emphasis, as if to make sure that he shouldn't accuse her of slurring it over. But he seemed to have no desire to do so."Poor old Fred!" he merely remarked; and she breathed out carelessly:"Oh, well--"
by Edith Wharton
"Unexpected obstacle. Please don't come till thirtieth.
All the way from Charing Cross to Dover the train had
hammered the words of the telegram into George Darrow's
ears, ringing every change of irony on its commonplace
syllables: rattling them out like a discharge of musketry,
letting them, one by one, drip slowly and coldly into his
brain, or shaking, tossing, transposing them like the dice
in some game of the gods of malice; and now, as he emerged
from his compartment at the pier, and stood facing the windswept
platform and the angry sea beyond, they leapt out at
him as if from the crest of the waves, stung and blinded him
with a fresh fury of derision.
"Unexpected obstacle. Please don't come till thirtieth.
She had put him off at the very last moment, and for the
second time: put him off with all her sweet reasonableness,
and for one of her usual "good" reasons--he was certain that
this reason, like the other, (the visit of her husband's
uncle's widow) would be "good"! But it was that very
certainty which chilled him. The fact of her dealing so
reasonably with their case shed an ironic light on the idea
that there had been any exceptional warmth in the greeting
she had given him after their twelve years apart.
They had found each other again, in London, some three
months previously, at a dinner at the American Embassy, and
when she had caught sight of him her smile had been like a
red rose pinned on her widow's mourning. He still felt the
throb of surprise with which, among the stereotyped faces of
the season's diners, he had come upon her unexpected face,
with the dark hair banded above grave eyes; eyes in which he
had recognized every little curve and shadow as he would
have recognized, after half a life-time, the details of a
room he had played in as a child. And as, in the plumed
starred crowd, she had stood out for him, slender, secluded
and different, so he had felt, the instant their glances
met, that he as sharply detached himself for her. All that
and more her smile had said; had said not merely "I
remember," but "I remember just what you remember"; almost,
indeed, as though her memory had aided his, her glance flung
back on their recaptured moment its morning brightness.
Certainly, when their distracted Ambassadress--with the cry:
"Oh, you know Mrs. Leath? That's perfect, for General
Farnham has failed me"--had waved them together for the
march to the diningroom, Darrow had felt a slight pressure
of the arm on his, a pressure faintly but unmistakably
emphasizing the exclamation: "Isn't it wonderful?--In
London--in the season--in a mob?"
A girl came out of lawyer Royall's house, at the end of the one street of North Dormer, and stood on the doorstep.
It was the beginning of a June afternoon. The springlike transparent sky shed a rain of silver sunshine on the roofs of the village, and on the pastures and larchwoods surrounding it. A little wind moved among the round white clouds on the shoulders of the hills, driving their shadows across the fields and down the grassy road that takes the name of street when it passes through North Dormer. The place lies high and in the open, and lacks the lavish shade of the more protected New England villages. The clump of weeping-willows about the duck pond, and the Norway spruces in front of the Hatchard gate, cast almost the only roadside shadow between lawyer Royall's house and the point where, at the other end of the village, the road rises above the church and skirts the black hemlock wall enclosing the cemetery.
The little June wind, frisking down the street, shook the doleful fringes of the Hatchard spruces, caught the straw hat of a young man just passing under them, and spun it clean across the road into the duck-pond.
As he ran to fish it out the girl on lawyer Royall's doorstep noticed that he was a stranger, that he wore city clothes, and that he was laughing with all his teeth, as the young and careless laugh at such mishaps.