What was or was not "the thing" played a part as important in Newland Archer’s New York as the inscrutable totem terrors that had ruled the destinies of his forefathers thousand of years ago.
If asked to provide one quotation that I thought would best represent the work, I would no doubt cite the one above. After completing Book One, I’m so glad to have picked this title for a read-along; its pages encourage the reader to amorously continue flipping the pages, and also discuss the many intricacies of New York society. It’s been quite fascinating thus far and I’m hoping everyone is enjoying it as much as I am.
Because this is my first read-along and I wanted to make the experience unique, I haven’t created a list of questions to press to the readers. Feel free to pose your own questions for the blogging community to answer, list any qualms you have with what you’ve read so far or mention anything you particularly like about the novel.
At this point, I’m very much intrigued by the many rules that govern this budding New York society. I say budding, because New York’s society is nothing more than an infant in comparison to the great and learned cities of the world. The author makes several references to the frailty of purity and how it is easily broken. New York society thrives on the purity of their crowd, and is handled with utmost care by these rules and regulations in the hope that this carved out upper crust remains unbroken.
The protagonist, Newland Archer, is very much a lover of the thinking man (and woman to an extent), enjoying literature and the arts. However, the society surrounding him is very much disinterested in these habits. New York society shuns most activities that encourage any individual to question the rules that govern this essentially unstable set.
One of my favorite quotations:
“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 the English speaking audiences.”
This quotation not only helps to elucidate the stringent rules of society, but also contains Wharton’s flair for such sly wit.
Another fascinating aspect is Archer’s view of women. He strongly wishes that May think for herself and develop habits much like his own. He admires these qualities in Countess Olenska, and is most likely the source of attraction. He frequently voices his disagreeable opinion that women be able to experience, for the most part, the same freedoms as men. However, Archer, himself, does not always recognize that he wishes to shape his women even though he disdains this treatment in larger society. Archer explains that women are blindly led through life, retaining their purity, and leading a life generally uneducated to the trials of the real world until a man suddenly removes the veil and creates meaning. Furthermore, frailty plays an even larger role as women, who may remain pure their entire lives, can be reduced to nothing with the faintest hint of misconduct. Archer specifically states in one particular instance, “when 'such things happened' it was undoubtedly foolish of the man, but somehow criminal of the woman.” It’s really unclear for me how much Archer truly believes his own proclamations of the status of women, as his motivation might strictly be for the benefit of the Countess.
With the conclusion of Book One, I’m really anticipating the events that will occur in Book Two. When I first picked up reading I was feeling hesitant, but after finishing off Book One last night, I can’t wait to pick it up again.
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