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Old New York by Edith Wharton

Old New York (original 1924; edition 1985)

by Edith Wharton

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4591122,646 (4.05)60
Title:Old New York
Authors:Edith Wharton
Info:Virago Press (1985), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library, Virago Modern Classics
Tags:Fiction, 20th Century, American, Virago Modern Classic

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Old New York by Edith Wharton (1924)

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Old New York is a collection of four novellas set in 19th century New York in the 1840s, ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, which reveal varying sides of upper class New York society at the time. Each of the four novellas digs deep below the surface of society. False Dawn chronicles the relationship between a father and son, the latter of whom goes off to Europe on a Grand Tour and brings home “unsuitable” artwork; in The Old Maid, a young woman’s daughter is adopted by her cousin; The Spark, the shortest of the four, is about a young man’s encounter with Walt Whitman during the Civil War; and the last, New Year’s Day, is about a young woman’s alleged adulterous affair.

Edith Wharton is skilled at describing people and her motivations; she’s especially adept at seeing the way her characters really are. There’s no “real” link between these stories, but the overarching theme of all of them, as with her novels, is the class system, and how these characters fit—or don’t fit—into that system. The stories also focus heavily on women’s roles in society: expectations versus reality, as well as familial relationships. By far the best of the four stories was The Old Maid; it’s much longer and the characters are much more well rounded. The weakest story in the collection is The Spark; Wharton had a good idea, but she didn’t explore it fully enough.

Edith Wharton has a habit of including recurring characters in her short stories; Mrs Manson Mingott, Sillerton Jackson, Mrs. Struthers, and Henry Vander Luyden from The Age of Innocence appear here as well. Although I didn’t think this collection of stories was particularly even, I did enjoy it. ( )
1 vote Kasthu | Mar 2, 2013 |
In these four novelettes of Edith Wharton we see the inner struggles of characters who are bound by unwritten and rigid codes of conduct prevalent in New York society in the late 19th century. The selec tion of novelettes includes one from the 1840s, the 1850s, the 1860s and the 1870s. Wonderful character development as we watch how the mores play out in individual lives over the course of time. ( )
  seoulful | Feb 5, 2013 |
Wharton is in delightful form in these four thematically-linked novellas. Each is set in a different decade - the 1840s, '50s, '60s, and '70s - and evokes the particular codes that dominated upper class 'old New York' society.

'False Dawn' is about a young man who fails to meet his father's expectations. Their differences are highlighted when the son brings home from Europe a set of paintings that fall foul of his father's very conventional tastes. The shock is too much for this father, who cuts from his will the son who spends the rest of his short life trying to make his relatives and neighbours appreciate something they don't understand, and inevitably failing.

In 'The Old Maid', a very respectable 'young matron' discovers that her cousin has an illegitimate child. Initially shocked, there are indications that Delia isn't quite at ease in her society or with her role. "And then, the babies; the babies who were supposed to 'make up for everything', and didn't - though they were such darlings, and one had no definite notion as to what it was that one had missed, and that they were to make up for." Delia makes it possible for Charlotte to live with her daughter, but at the expense of the man Charlotte had wanted to marry. The child, Tina, thinks of Delia as her mother, and it is Delia's adoption of the girl that allows her to make a 'good' marriage and enjoy respectability.

'The Spark' gives us a portrait of Hayley Delane, a man regarded as a bit of a fool by most people. In some ways Delane is rather impressive - he provides a home for his disreputable father-in-law, even though New York society thinks this 'queer' and even his wife leaves him. At the end of the story, though, the portrait is somewhat deflated, when Delane dismisses the poetry of Walt Whitman - whom he had once met, and which meeting seems to have made a profound spiritual impact upon Delane - as "all that rubbish".

The final story, "New Year's Day", introduces Lizzie Hazeldean in the guise of an adulteress. Much later, though, we learn that she regarded herself as an 'expensive prostitute', who used her lover as a source of money to make comfortable the final months of her ailing invalid husband.

What links these stories and makes them special is Wharton's precise pin-pointing of the conventions, foibles, idiocy and hypocrisy - and attractions - of this society of 'wealth and ease' - a society she knew well, and which she is able to portray with a kind of affectionate irony.
1 vote startingover | Feb 1, 2011 |
Wharton, one of America's best authors. This book contains 4 novellas that show Wharton at her best - writing about the social life of Old New York in the 1840 - 1890. She does a brilliant job of capturing the personalities of her characters, even the walkons. I loved it. The only reason I gave it an 4 rather than a 5 is that one of the novellas didn't "spark" me. ( )
  MarysGirl | Sep 7, 2010 |
Years ago I had read “False Dawn” and was unaware it was actually the first story in this short story collection by Edith Wharton. Each story represents a decade from the 19th century – from the 1840’s to the 1870’s – although some of the storylines actually take place later in that timeline with references to the timelier events. This technique allowed Wharton to use her patent analysis of social mores, with both hindsight and “contemporary” analysis. Reading it from even further along the time line, I was amazed to see how well her commentary held up through the 20th century.

I enjoyed “False Dawn” just as much this time around (a son invests his fortune on “worthless” paintings during his Grand Tour), but would echo the thoughts of others that “Old Maid” stands out as both an interesting narrative of social expectations in the 19th century and the lengths one will go to live within them. Both “The Spark” and “New Year’s Day” were strong stories – sharing their underlying “twist” with “Old Maid”, but neither were particularly memorable, simply “more of the same.” But the anthology is well worth the short time needed to check off another “Classic” from your bucket list. ( )
6 vote pbadeer | Apr 24, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edith Whartonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
French, MarilynIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Hay, verbena and mignonette scented the languid July day. (False Dawn)
In the old New York of the 'fifties a few families ruled, in simplicity and affluence. (The Old Maid)
"You idiot!" said his wife, and threw down her cards. (The Spark)
"She was bad...always. They used to meet at the Fifth Avenue Hotel," said my mother, as if the scene of the offence added to the guilt of the couple who past she was revealing. (New Year's Day)
Old New York is a set of four short novels treating the untitled aristocracy of New York in the nineteenth century. (Introduction)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0020383142, Paperback)

The four novellas collected here, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Age of Innocence, brilliantly capture New York of the 1840s, '50s, '60s, and '70s. Originally published in 1924, this outstanding quartet includes False Dawn, about a rocky father/son relationship; The Old Maid, the best known of the four, in which a young woman's hidden illegitimate child is adoted by her best friend, with devastating results; The Spark, involving a young man and his moral rehabilitation -- "sparked" by a chance encounter with Walt Whitman; and New Year's Day, an O. Henryesque tale of a married woman suspected of adultery. Each reveals the codes and customs that ruled society of the time, drawn with the perspicacious eye and style that is uniquely Edith Wharton's.

Pocket Books' enriched Classics present the great works of world literature enhanced for the contemporary reader. This valume reprints the orginal New York Times Book Review feature on Old New York, a piece that helps fix the stories in the contemporary critical landscape. Also included are critical perspectives, suggestions for further reading, and a visual essay composed of authentic period illustrations and photographs.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:53:28 -0400)

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