Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*New York City

*New York City. The novel’s city is the “Old New York” of the second half of the nineteenth century, comprising affluent old families who descended from earlier settlers and revolutionaries. Presided over by well-off bankers, lawyers, businessman, and their fashionable wives, this community was situated in lower Manhattan, in areas such as Lafayette Street or Washington Square, rarely venturing north of Thirty-fourth Street. The social lives of these Old New Yorkers was governed by church-going, dinner parties and balls in individual homes, and ritual attendance at the Academy of Music, a luxurious opera house on Fourteenth Street. Children were reared to a strict standard of manners and morals, which allowed for little independence or originality. Although narrow-minded and exclusive, this society lived well, with the women attired in impeccable dresses, jewels, and elaborate hairstyles, and the men exuding an aura of affluence and entitlement. Fearful of innovation or change, this dignified society was engaged in forestalling the future and secured their power by encouraging conservative views and marriages only within their established social set. This “Old New York” background is a deep subject in this novel; the power of this particular place is overwhelming, and individuals are often defeated in their efforts to overcome its influence on their personal lives and choices. At the end of the novel, however, after World War I, it is clear that Old New York has lost its power and prestige. What had seemed inalterable...

(The entire section is 640 words.)