Friday, April 18, 2008

Five best books about New York society

For the Wall Street Journal, Frances Kiernan named a five best list of books that helped her understand "the ways of New York society."

The second title on the list:
The Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton
D. Appleton, 1920

I was starting as a receptionist at The New Yorker when I picked up this novel, in which Wharton looks back half a century, to a time when leaders of a proudly parochial society were intent on maintaining standards while fending off new millionaires. My job left me plenty of time to read. Fortunately, Countess Olenska, in flight from a dissolute husband, was a heroine very much to my liking, while Newland Archer, trapped between duty to his innocent young fiancée and love for the countess, his betrothed's glamorous but badly compromised older cousin, was a hero out of Henry James. That duty trumped love wasn't surprising. What startled me was a detail mentioned in passing: Paris gowns had been fitted and then put away for a season, apparently to avoid the appearance of undue haste. I chose to make no use of this revelation, even as I noted that, for most of my New Yorker co-workers, there was such a thing as being too fashionable.
Read about Number One on Kiernan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue