The Age of Innocence
Every year on the fifteenth of October Fifth Avenue opened its shutters, unrolled
its carpets and hung up its triple layer of window-curtains.
By the first of November this household ritual was over, and society had begun to
look about and take stock of itself. By the fifteenth the season was in full blast,
Opera and theatres were putting forth their new attractions, dinner-engagements
were accumulating, and dates for dances being fixed. And punctually at about
this time Mrs. Archer always said that New York was very much changed.
Observing it from the lofty stand-point of a non- participant, she was able, with
the help of Mr. Sillerton Jackson and Miss Sophy, to trace each new crack in its
surface, and all the strange weeds pushing up between the ordered rows of
social vegetables. It had been one of the amusements of Archer's youth to wait
for this annual pronouncement of his mother's, and to hear her enumerate the
minute signs of disintegration that his careless gaze had overlooked. For New
York, to Mrs. Archer's mind, never changed without changing for the worse; and
in this view Miss Sophy Jackson heartily concurred.
Mr. Sillerton Jackson, as became a man of the world, suspended his judgment
and listened with an amused impartiality to the lamentations of the ladies. But
even he never denied that New York had changed; and Newland Archer, in the
winter of the second year of his marriage, was himself obliged to admit that if it
had not actually changed it was certainly changing.
These points had been raised, as usual, at Mrs. Archer's Thanksgiving dinner. At
the date when she was officially enjoined to give thanks for the blessings of the
year it was her habit to take a mournful though not embittered stock of her world,
and wonder what there was to be thankful for. At any rate, not the state of
society; society, if it could be said to exist, was rather a spectacle on which to call
down Biblical imprecations-- and in fact, every one knew what the Reverend Dr.
Ashmore meant when he chose a text from Jeremiah (chap. ii., verse 25) for his
Thanksgiving sermon. Dr. Ashmore, the new Rector of St. Matthew's, had been
chosen because he was very "advanced": his sermons were considered bold in
thought and novel in language. When he fulminated against fashionable society
he always spoke of its "trend"; and to Mrs. Archer it was terrifying and yet
fascinating to feel herself part of a community that was trending.
"There's no doubt that Dr. Ashmore is right: there IS a marked trend," she said,
as if it were something visible and measurable, like a crack in a house.
"It was odd, though, to preach about it on Thanksgiving," Miss Jackson opined;
and her hostess drily rejoined: "Oh, he means us to give thanks for what's left."