The Valley of Decision: A Novel, Volume 2

C. Scribner's Sons
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C. Scribner's Sons
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Dec 31, 1902
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The Age of Innocence

by Edith Wharton

Book I


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.
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