Firstly, read the following with care. I have tried not giving out spoilers but to talk about the language and the characters do give out a whiff. So, there is the disclaimer and, now, proceed if you must.
Or, you can skip my addendum and jump directly to the quotes.
Edith Wharton is said to have written the book in response to “The House of Mirth” as it was more critical and brutal in its criticism of New York’s Society in general. The following are extracts from a few of the exemplary writings that I noticed in the book. Wharton was, apparently, very critical of the bigotry of the society and wrote with a pen full of vengeance. The shades existing in her writing label everyone as a part of the mechanics of the world that they lived in. The best part is the grey shadings that everyone is painted with. Even May, who is an easy to like character, has insidious moves that exfoliate and darken the grey shades.
I loved her character the most because she has the best face in public and as well as in her private life. She lived the character of her expectancy with such clarity that she started believing in the dichotomy of the society as a good. Her action is an underhanded move that hits the reader in a wave of understanding and you cannot help but applaud her perseverance and patience. Reading this book was an experience that I enjoyed for two reasons. One, the society’s self correcting mechanism. Two, the determination and strength of a woman even when she is down and broken.
- Untrained human nature was not frank and innocent; it was full of the twists and defences of an instinctive guile. And he felt himself oppressed by this creation of factitious purity, so cunningly manufactured by a conspiracy of mothers and aunts and grandmothers and long-dead ancestresses, because it was supposed to be what he wanted, what he had a right to, in order that he might exercise his lordly pleasure in smashing it like an image made of snow.
- Her first exclamation was: “Newland—has anything happened?” and it occurred to him that it would have been more “feminine” if she had instantly read in his eyes why he had come. But when he answered: “Yes—I found I had to see you,” her happy blushes took the chill from her surprise, and he saw how easily he would be forgiven, and how soon even Mr. Letterblair’s mild disapproval would be smiled away by a tolerant family.
- She flushed with joy and lifted her face to his; as he bent to it he saw that her eyes were full of happy tears. But in another moment she seemed to have descended from her womanly eminence to helpless and timorous girlhood; and he understood that her courage and initiative were all for others, and that she had none for herself. It was evident that the effort of speaking had been much greater than her studied composure betrayed, and that at his first word of reassurance she had dropped back into the usual, as a too-adventurous child takes refuge in its mother’s arms.
- Archer had reverted to all his old inherited ideas about marriage. It was less trouble to conform with the tradition and treat May exactly as all his friends treated their wives than to try to put into practice the theories with which his untrammelled bachelorhood had dallied. There was no use in trying to emancipate a wife who had not the dimmest notion that she was not free; and he had long since discovered that May’s only use of the liberty she supposed herself to possess would be to lay it on the altar of her wifely adoration. Her innate dignity would always keep her from making the gift abjectly; and a day might even come (as it once had) when she would find strength to take it altogether back if she thought she were doing it for his own good. But with a conception of marriage so uncomplicated and incurious as hers such a crisis could be brought about only by something visibly outrageous in his own conduct; and the fineness of her feeling for him made that unthinkable. Whatever happened, he knew, she would always be loyal, gallant and unresentful; and that pledged him to the practice of the same virtues.
- He had no fear of being oppressed by them, for his artistic and intellectual life would go on, as it always had, outside the domestic circle; and within it there would be nothing small and stifling—coming back to his wife would never be like entering a stuffy room after a tramp in the open. And when they had children the vacant corners in both their lives would be filled.
- He was weary of living in a perpetual tepid honeymoon, without the temperature of passion yet with all its exactions. If May had spoken out her grievances (he suspected her of many) he might have laughed them away; but she was trained to conceal imaginary wounds under a Spartan smile.
- She was not a clever needle-woman; her large capable hands were made for riding, rowing and open-air activities; but since other wives embroidered cushions for their husbands she did not wish to omit this last link in her devotion.
- As she sat thus, the lamplight full on her clear brow, he said to himself with a secret dismay that he would always know the thoughts behind it, that never, in all the years to come, would she surprise him by an unexpected mood, by a new idea, a weakness, a cruelty or an emotion. She had spent her poetry and romance on their short courting: the function was exhausted because the need was past. Now she was simply ripening into a copy of her mother, and mysteriously, by the very process, trying to turn him into a Mr. Welland.
- A woman’s standard of truthfulness was tacitly held to be lower: she was the subject creature, and versed in the arts of the enslaved. Then she could always plead moods and nerves, and the right not to be held too strictly to account; and even in the most strait-laced societies the laugh was always against the husband. But in Archer’s little world no one laughed at a wife deceived, and a certain measure of contempt was attached to men who continued their philandering after marriage. In the rotation of crops there was a recognised season for wild oats; but they were not to be sown more than once.
That’s all folks!