Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Academy of Music

From the New York Sun:

When the rich families moved away, Union Square became the fancy shopping district. Such stores as Tiffany's and Brentano's Literary Emporium, and restaurants like Delmonico's and L├╝chow's, were there. In Edith Wharton's "The Age of Innocence," which is set in the 1870s, society ritually congregates at the Academy of Music, on the northeast corner of 14th Street and Irving Place. (It was torn down for the Consolidated Edison Building, and shouldn't be confused with the much later movie theater called the Academy of Music on the other side of 14th Street.) Theaters abounded around Union Square in the late 19th century, making it the forerunner to today's Times Square theater district.

Monday, August 28, 2006

An allusion to "False Dawn"

From the New York Daily News: Now you see 'em at museums

'Moonlight' by Ralph Blakelock is one of many American paintings now on view that until recently were consigned to storage.

In an Edith Wharton novella set in the mid-19th century, the scion of an aristocratic New York family - a young man who has studied art history - travels to Europe to buy "pictures" (what we today would call paintings).

Unfortunately, the young man has acquired taste and a serious eye.

Instead of buying the opulent, bright - and huge - canvases his relatives imagined adorning the walls of their mansion, he acquires small, exquisite early Renaissance works. The family is mortified. For the rest of his life he is an outcast. Not until after his death, decades later, does the value, both esthetic and financial, of his collection become apparent.

The story was one of many in which Wharton deplored the materialism and philistinism of the wealthy, dull people among whom she had grown up.

Like wealthy families, museums sometimes acquire things whose value becomes clear only with time.

Monday, August 21, 2006

From 2004 (see also all the NYTimes pieces on Wharton at; registration is required, but some articles are free)

Edith Wharton: A Manhattan Literary Giant Who Didn't Love New York


Published: September 12, 2004

EDITH WHARTON, whose deft portraits of the upper class are taken as definitive accounts of the late 19th century, remains one of the most potent names in the literature of New York. Not that she was a partisan of the city. Her portraits of New York were almost uniformly negative, and she left the city as soon as she could. That's why, in part, the physical traces of the author of "The Age of Innocence" and "The House of Mirth" are few and far between. Edith Newbold Jones, as she was called at birth, was born in 1862 to George Frederic Jones and his wife, the former Lucretia Rhinelander, both from genteel families with roots in 18th century New York. In 1857 they built a brownstone at 14 West 23rd Street. The house as the family knew it is long gone, but an early photograph shows a wide, Anglo-Italianate-style brownstone mansion four stories high, with rusticated stone on the ground floor and simple window moldings on the floors above. The Jones house had a certain repose about it — it might have been designed by a master builder, or perhaps even a real architect. (Go to NYT for more)