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Summary

Spanning four decades in the mid-19th century, the interconnected novellas of Old New York lay out in vivid detail the complex and inscrutable codes, customs, and taboos of New York society in classic Wharton style.

In False Dawn (1840s), Mr. Halston Raycie sends his son, Lewis, to Europe to buy art, as Mr. Raycie aims to ascend to the upper crust of society by means of a well-respected art collection. But when Lewis returns from Europe with daring pieces by artists unknown to the New York socialites and tastemakers, his appalled father disinherits him, only to discover, too late, the wisdom of his son’s intuition.

The Old Maid (1850s), the best known of the four novellas, follows the life of Tina, a young woman caught between the mother who adopted her - the beautiful, upstanding Delia - and her true mother, her plain, unmarried “aunt” Charlotte, who gave Tina up to provide her with a socially acceptable life. The three women live quietly together until Tina’s wedding day, when Delia’s and Charlotte’s hidden jealousies rush to the surface.

Then in The Spark (1860s), Mr. Hayley Delane recounts how his life has turned out since he was wounded in the Civil War, where, during his rehabilitation, he chances to meet a certain American poet whose memory stays with him all his life.

And finally in New Year’s Day (1870s), Mrs. Lizzie Hazeldean’s suspected affair with the unmarried Henry Prest is the center of scandal and gossip in the city, but the true nature of the relationship is not what it may seem.

Originally published in 1924.

Public Domain (P)2021 Blackstone Publishing

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  • Martina L. Brockway
  • 10-07-22

Sublime

I’m a huge fan of Edith Wharton. The narrators were excellent. I enjoyed it all.

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  • Tom R
  • 19-01-22

Old New York Society

A captivating peek into New York society near the turn of the 20th century populated with a host of well drawn characters.