Another killer book by the redoubtable Ms Wharton. You know, I always hear this stuff about Jane Austen as the original mean girl, cracking wise as s Another killer book by the redoubtable Ms Wharton. You know, I always hear this stuff about Jane Austen as the original mean girl, cracking wise as she lifts the teacup to her lips at the party of superbly dressed dullards, and I'm sure it's true (haven't yet read her enough to find out). But for me, the acid laurels have to go to the privileged Old New Yorker.
Wharton knows she's to the manner born, of course, but like all great writers she knows the world she inhabits intimately enough to loathe it, demurely, eloquently, and with incisive observation:
The case of the Countess Olenska had stirred up old settled convictions and set them drifting dangerously through his mind. His own exclamation: 'Women should be free- as free as we are' struck to the root of a problem that it was agreed in his world to regard as non-existent. 'Nice' women, however wronged, would never claim the kind of freedom he meant, and generous-minded men like himself were therefore- in the heat of argument- the more chivalrously ready to concede it to them. Such verbal generosities were in fact only a humbugging disguise of the inexorable conventions that tied things together and bound people down to the old pattern. But here he was pledged to defend, on the part of his betrothed's cousin, conduct that, on his own wife's part, would justify him in calling down on her all the thunders of Church and State. Of course the dilemma was purely hypthetical; since he wasn't a black-guard Polish nobleman, it was absurd to speculate what his wife's rights would be if he Were.
But Newland Archer was too imaginative not to feel that, in his case and May's, the tie might gall for reasons far less gross and palpable. What could he and she really know of each other, since it was his duty, as a 'decent' fellow, to conceal his past from her, and hers, as a marriageable girl, to have no past to conceal? What if, for some one of the subtler reasons that would tell with both of them, they should tire of each other, misunderstand or irritate each other? He reviewed his friend's marriages- the supposedly happy ones- and saw none that answered, even remotely, to the passionate and tender comradeship which he pictured as his permanent relation with May Welland. He perceived that such a picture presupposed, on her part, the experience, the versatility, the freedom of judgment, which she had been carefully trained not to possess; and with a shiver of foreboding he saw his marriage becoming what most of the other marriages about him were: a dull association of material and social interests held together by ignorance on the one side and hypocrisy on the other.
Lawrence Lefferts occurred to him as the husband who had most completely realized this enviable ideal. As became the high-priest of form, he had formed a wife so completely to his own convenience that, in the most conspicuous moments of his frequent love-affairs with other men's wives, she went about in smiling unconsciousness, saying that 'Lawrence was so frightfully strict'; and had been known to blush indignantly, and avert her gaze, when some one alluded in her presence to the fact that Julius Beaufort (as became a 'foreigner' of doubtful origin) had what was known in New York as 'another establishment.'
Archer tried to console himself with the thought that he was not quite such an ass as Larry Lefferts, nor May such a simpleton as poor Gertrude: but the difference was after all one of intelligence and not of standards. In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs; as when May Welland, who knew exactly why Archer had pressed her to announce her daughter's engagement at the Beaufort ball (and had indeed expected him to do no less), yet felt obliged to simulate reluctance, and the air of having her hand forced, quite as, in the books on Primitive Man that people of advanced culture were beginning to read, the savage bride is dragged with shrieks from her parents' tent.
The result, of course, was that the young girl who was the centre of this elaborate system of mystification remained the more inscrutable for her very frankness and assurance. She was frank, poor darling, because she had nothing to conceal, assured because she knew of nothing to be on her guard against; and with no better preparation than this, she was to be plunged overnight into what people evasively called 'the facts of life.'
The young man was sincerely but placidly in love. He delighted in the radiant good looks of his betrothed, in her health, her horsemanship, her grace and quickness at games, and the shy interest in books and ideas that she was beginning to develop under his guidance. (She had advanced far enough to join him in ridiculing The Idylls of the King, but not to feel the beauty of Ulysses and The Lotus Eaters.) She was straightforward, loyal and brave; she had a sense of humor (chiefly proved by her laughing at His jokes); and he suspected, in the depths of her innocently- gazing soul, a glow of feeling that it would be a joy to waken.
But when he had gone the brief round of her he returned discouraged by the thought that all this frankness and innocence were only an artificial product. Untrained human nature was not frank and innocent, it was full of the twists and defenses of an instinctive guile. And he felt himself oppressed by this creation of factitious purity, so cunningly manufactured by a conspiracy of mothers and aunts and grandmothers and long-dead ancestresses, because it was supposed to be what he wanted, what he had a right to, in order that he might exercise his lordly pleasure in smashing it like an image made of snow."
And just like that, a whole century of manners and mores crumbles to ashes and dust........more
Absolutely terrified me. In an exhilarating way. I was trembling as I turned the pages, dreading my caught-breath anticipation of what would come nex Absolutely terrified me. In an exhilarating way. I was trembling as I turned the pages, dreading my caught-breath anticipation of what would come next. Horror movies ain't nothin.......more