How does the author of The Age of Innocence portray New York society in Book 1, Chapter 3?

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In this passage from The Age of Innocence: American Literature, Edith Wharton describes New York society through the characters and setting. In the passage from Book 1, Chapter 3, Wharton alludes to many aspects of New York that help present it in context for the reader.

  • In line 6, the author hints at the importance of wealth in New York society. Wharton first introduces the idea of "common" people and then goes on to describe Mrs. Beaufort as "a penniless beauty."
  • Line 14 describes Mr. Beaufort as " important person in the world of affairs," after presenting him as agreeable, handsome, and witty. In fact, this part is extremely important in communicating what the author thinks the ideal man would look like: an Englishman.
  • Lines 18-20 describe another critical component of New York society, which is evident in the importance of housing as a social statement. The author wrote, "...she had the most distinguished house in New York," which alludes to the weight the society placed on prestige and presentation.
  • Lines 20-22 describe the ideal woman according to the author: blonde, wearing pearls, young, and "jeweled." These lines mirror the description of Mr. Beaufort.
  • Lines 24-26 offer the reader a look into the lifestyle of the New Yorkers in this passage--they train servants, hire chefs and gardeners, and hosted parties with guests. This is another critical point that the author hones in on to describe a life in a New York society (at this level of wealth).
  • Finally, the last paragraph hints at the secrecy behind New York's wealth and the complicated relationship between the social world (rumors) and social status (money).

Throughout this passage, the author presents New York lifestyle as something beautiful, wealthy, prestigious, sought after, and cunning. Of course, this is just one view of New York society--had the author focused on people in poverty-stricken areas, this story would look entirely different. In fact, the way the author presents this story may reveal quite a bit about her own perspectives or bias toward this time frame in New York and/or the romanticism of New York society.

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The Age of Innocence

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