The Age of Innocence: Chapters 1-13
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"On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York."
And we're off! Please keep in mind that this is a spoiler thread. Read at your own risk!
***The thread for discussion of Chapters 14 - 24 can be found here.***
I thought I was so clever to see this as an anthropological study of the New York tribe It probably wasn't until at least the second mention of anthropology that I realized the idea was not my own but had been perfectly planted by Wharton and continued through to the end of the book.
I found this information online and thought it was interesting enough to post. I especially liked the comparison of vehicles to modern days...
The social importance of opera-going plays an especially significant role in The Age of Innocence. Wharton notes that New York City's Metropolitan Opera House was intended to "compete in costliness and splendor with those of the great European capitals." The type of carriage waiting outside signified the owner's wealth and social position. Traveling in a private brougham, a landau, or a Brown coupé can be compared to driving a luxury sportscar, a minivan, or a jeep—the mode of transport indicating economic status and family size as well as personal taste.
During the Gilded Age, social classes in New York City became increasingly stratified. Money mattered, but the way a family made its fortune—and how long they had possessed it—counted most of all.
A strict dress code applied to both men and women for evening engagements. For women, even the colors and textures of their dresses were coded. Ellen Olenska's clothes and accessories reflect her unconventional European taste. At the opera, she wears a diamond headdress and a dark blue velvet gown with a clasp under her bosom. This "Josephine look" or Empire waist contrasted with the plunging necklines covered by lace that most fashionable American women wore.
I hope this isn't too much information!
Yes she does Joyce, on the novel's first page: "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."
What struck me from the very first page was how easily (and well) Wharton established time and place. I felt very much as if I knew these people and this era right from the beginning. And yes Donna, I think Ellen's dress make her stand out immediately to the rest of the opera goers. You just didn't wear that kind of thing in NYC in 1870. At least not if you were part of the upper crust. It's interesting how Wharton deftly skewers the class and people she grew up as a part of.
>7 LauraBrook:: Hi Laura, I'm glad the link worked. Let us know if you find your notes. It would be fun to see what you thought of it then compared to now.
>2 Citizenjoyce: Ha ha Joyce, I love that the opera talking annoys you even though you aren't there. That's truly entering the world of the novel.
I agree the role of the opera is just another example of how the arts are a way to establish status and not valued for their own sake. (maybe a little like the way some people nowadays buy "the right" books with no intention of ever reading them. Not LTers, of course, we intend to read them all.) Later on Wharton describes how the people who are socially daring enough to consort with writers and artists, like Catherine Mingott and Julius Beaufort, are iliterate and uninterested in the arts, whereas the Archers value art and literature but are afraid of mixing with actual artists and writers.
This sentence about the opera cracked me up.
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 around which his life was moulded..."
I have now finished the first 13 chapters and am enjoying it immensely. This is a reread for me--I read it for the first time back in early 90s either just before or just after seeing the film version. At the time it was the only Edith Wharton I had ever read.
Cushla, the chapters are short. You'll be caught up in no time.
Please note: I've posted a thread to the continued discussion for chapters 14 -24 in message #1 to make it easier to find.
I have been meaning to read this book for a long, long time. Thanks, Donna, for setting this up! :)
And yes, I guess it does show my total immersion that I was so annoyed by the talking. It's very easy to be immersed in this Wharton.
>14 Soupdragon: - I'm finding The Age of Innocence to be very similar to Austen as well - different time and country, obviously, but that same critique of customs and class, and the same sarcastic sense of humour.
And the other is the irony that in all the discussion of NY society's indifference, if you will, to artists, that that is what Wharton became and did with her life, so her discussion of it here is certainly double-edged.
I will also add that I am reading the New Riverside Edition which suffers from a surfeit of footnotes. While I appreciate information about artists and writers mentioned, to footnote such words as "cameo" and "satin" seems a little extreme and not a little injurious to the smooth proceeding of the story.
I'm getting back into The Age of Innocence after reading Summer for my class. It is a very different type of read which I also recommend... more on the order of Ethan Frome with a clueless female protagonist.
I'll be posting on the next thread after finishing Chapter 24.
I'm still at the beginning of the book (although at least I have finally started reading now!) and I was a bit confused by the second sentence:
"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."
I had to read this through several times - what does the phrase "above the Forties" mean? I've googled it, but it just brings up the above sentence. Sorry if I'm being dim.
Anyway, back to the book.
"The immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middle life like a flood of lava on a doomed city had changed her from a plump active little woman with a neatly-turned out foot and ankle into something as vast and august as a natural phenomenon."
What a visual image that is! Poor woman.
Wharton can certainly come up with a great turn of phrase. I liked the description of Twenty Third street as an area of "small dress-makers, bird-stuffers and people who wrote".
"The battles for social dominance also took place in the cultural realm. The Age of Innocence, set in the early 1870's, anticipates the supplanting of the old Academy of Music, founded in 1854, with its eighteen carefully guarded boxes for the "aristocracy," by the new Metropolitan Opera House on 39th Street, with its three tiers of thirty-six boxes each, funded by the powerful new rich. Two years after the Metropolitan opened in 1883, the Academy closed its doors."
>23 souloftherose:: Poor woman indeed. I love EW's intricate way of saying that the family matriarch had gotten fat in her old age!
Here is what Sparknotes had to say about Catherine (Singer) Mingott:
"Chapter 4 opens with one of the most humorous character sketches in the novel. The immensely large Mrs. Manson Mingott is an intriguing character to Archer because of her slightly unorthodox living arrangement and her candid way of speaking. Because of her impeccable moral character and high societal status, her free style of conversation does not scandalize others or disrupt the given social standards. As such, she can easily get away with making some perceptive and occasionally critical insights into the society of Old New York."
ETA: I knew someone would come to the rescue while I was checking my sources. Thank you Dee and Luci.
Resentful of the small number of boxes at the Academy of Music, newly moneyed New Yorkers built the Metropolitan Opera House in 1883. Its opening dealt a serious blow to the Academy of Music. No longer able to compete, the latter closed its doors in 1886, the manager lamenting his inability "to fight Wall Street." By mentioning both opera houses, Wharton suggests the extraordinary transformation of New York in the 1870s. Society changed from a closely knit and modestly wealthy group of New Yorkers who could trace their ancestry to the first Dutch settlers of Manhattan to the "new people," such as the Vanderbilts, Goulds, Morgans and Rockefellers, who were made fabulously rich by industry, commerce, and finance.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, apropos the Wall Street quote, right?
#26 & 27 And thank you Donna and Roni for the extracts from the biography, Sparknotes and footnotes.
I'm caught up to the end of chapter 13 now. I feel for Newland and Ellen, both seemingly trapped by society in different ways.