I love finding new memes and new-to-me blogs.
Thanks to Hamlette’s Poetry Month, I’ve been visiting quite a few new-to-me blogs and discovering lots of hidden gems.
One of those little gems is Heidi’s Sharing the Journey blog and her meme, Inkling Explorations.
Each month, Heidi posts a literary subject for us to explore on our own blogs.
Some of the previous topics have included a gripping opening scene, a scene at a train station, a scene involving a letter, package or post office and violets.
This month the subject is – a description of a lady in literature.
I immediately thought of the two main ladies in one of my all-time favourite books, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.
The initial description of the two young ladies, May Welland and her cousin, Countess Olenska tell us a lot about Newland Archer and even more about the social mores of old New York.
Archer does not “wish the future Mrs Newland Archer to be a simpleton.” He plans to “read Faust together…by the Italian Lakes…“
At the theatre, Archer spies May Welland across the room,
slightly withdrawn behind those brocaded matrons sat a young girl in white with eyes ecstatically fixed on the stagelovers. As Madame Nilsson’s “M’ama!” thrilled out above the silent house (the boxes always stopped talking during the Daisy Song) a warm pink mounted to the girl’s cheek, mantled her brow to the roots of her fair braids, and suffused the young slope of her breast to the line where it met a modest tulle tucker fastened with a single gardenia. She dropped her eyes to the immense bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley on her knee, and Newland Archer saw her white-gloved finger-tips touch the flowers softly.
Soon after “poor Ellen Olenska” enters the box. She is the black sheep of the family, returned from an unhappy marriage in Europe. Her appearance creates a sensation.
Newland Archer, following Leffert’s glance, saw with surprise that his exclamation had been occasioned by the entry of a new figure into old Mrs Mingott’s box. It was that of a slim young woman, a little less tall than May Welland, with brown hair growing in close curls about her temples and held in place by a narrow band of diamonds. The suggestion of this headdress, which gave her what was then called a “Josephine look”, was carried out in the cut of the dark blue velvet gown rather theatrically caught up under her bosom by a girdle with a large old-fashioned clasp. The wearer of the dress, who seemed quite unconscious of the attention it was attracting, stood a moment in the centre of the box.
The classic ‘good girl’ in bashful white versus the ‘fallen women’ dressed confidently and wantonly in diamonds and velvet. Or so we believe!
Part of the enjoyment of course, in reading The Age of Innocence, is how Wharton plays with these conventional ideas about the role of women not only in old New York, but in literature, and turns them on their head.