The Age of Innocence. by Edith Wharton pdf download

Book: The Age of Innocence
Author: Edith Wharton
Posting Date: August 12, 2008 [EBook #541]
Release Date: May, 1996
Language: English.

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Among New York City’s upper class of the 1870s, before the advent of electric lights, telephones or motor vehicles, there was a small cluster of aristocratic families that ruled New York’s social life. 
To those at the apex of the social world one’s occupation or abilities were secondary to heredity and family connections, and one’s reputation and outward appearance was of foremost importance. At the center of the highest circles is Newland Archer, a lawyer set to enter into a socially safe marriage with the sheltered and beautiful May Welland — a decision Archer is forced to re-consider after the appearance of Countess Ellen Olenska, May’s exotic and beautiful cousin, recently returned from a lengthy stay in Europe.
beneath the rose- trees; and here and there a daisy grafted on a rose- branch flowered with a luxuriance prophetic of Mr. Luther Burbank’s far-off prodigies.
In the centre of this enchanted garden Madame Nilsson, in white cashmere slashed with pale blue satin, a reticule dangling from a blue girdle, and large yellow braids carefully disposed on each side of her muslin chemisette, listened with downcast eyes to M. Capoul’s impassioned wooing, and affected a guileless incomprehension of his designs whenever, by word or glance, he persuasively indicated the ground floor window of the neat brick villa projecting obliquely from the right wing.
“The darling!” thought Newland Archer, his glance flitting back to the young girl with the lilies-of-the- valley. “She doesn’t even guess what it’s all about.” And he contemplated her absorbed young face with a thrill of possessorship in which pride in his own masculine initiation was mingled with a tender reverence for her abysmal purity. “We’ll read Faust together.
Front Page Of This Book_______________
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.
The second reason for his delay was a personal one. He had dawdled over his
cigar because he was at heart a dilettante, and thinking over a pleasure to come
often gave him a subtler satisfaction than its realisation. This was especially the
case when the pleasure was a delicate one, as his pleasures mostly were; and on
this occasion the moment he looked forward to was so rare and exquisite in
quality that—well, if he had timed his arrival in accord with the prima donna’s
stage-manager he could not have entered the Academy at a more significant
moment than just as she was singing: “He loves me—he loves me not—HE
LOVES ME!—” and sprinkling the falling daisy petals with notes as clear as
She sang, of course, “M’ama!” and not “he loves me,” since an unalterable
and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German text of
French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the
clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences. This seemed as natural to
Newland Archer as all the other
conventions on which his life was moulded:
such as the duty of using two silver-backed brushes with his monogram in blue
enamel to part his hair, and of never appearing in society without a flower
(preferably a gardenia) in his buttonhole.
“M’ama … non m’ama …” the prima donna sang, and “M’ama!”, with a final
burst of love triumphant, as she pressed the dishevelled daisy to her lips and
lifted her large eyes to the sophisticated countenance of the little brown Faust-
Capoul, who was vainly trying, in a tight purple velvet doublet and plumed cap,
to look as pure and true as his artless victim.
Newland Archer, leaning against the wall at the back of the club box, turned
his eyes from the stage and scanned the opposite side of the house. Directly
facing him was the box of old Mrs. Manson Mingott, whose monstrous obesity
had long since made it impossible for her to attend the Opera, but who was
always represented on fashionable nights by some of the younger members of
the family. On this occasion, the front of the box was filled by her daughter-in-
law, Mrs. Lovell Mingott, and her daughter, Mrs. Welland; and slightly
withdrawn behind these brocaded matrons sat a young girl in white with eyes
ecstatically fixed on the stagelovers. As Madame Nilsson’s “M’ama!” thrilled out
above the silent house (the boxes always stopped talking during the Daisy Song)
a warm pink mounted to the girl’s cheek, mantled her brow to the roots of her
fair braids, and suffused the young slope of her breast to the line where it met a
modest tulle tucker fastened with a single gardenia. She dropped her eyes to the
immense bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley on her knee, and Newland Archer saw

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