Age of Innocence – relevant quotes

I need to return my copy of Age of Innocence to the library today so I’m putting the passages I felt most useful here for safekeeping. My edition is Signet Classics 2008.

“When I was a girl,” Mrs. Archer used to say, “we knew everybody between the Battery and Canal Street; and only the people one knew had carriages. it was perfectly easy to place anyone then; now one can’t tell, and I prefer not to try.” (86)

(Always nice to see a phenomenon you’ve read about reflected in primary sources!)

That evening he unpacked his books from London. The box was full of things he had been waiting for impatiently; a new volume of Herbert Spencer, another collection of Guy de Maupassant’s incomparable tales, and a novel called Middlemarch, as to which there had lately been interesting things said in the reviews. (117)

Something something intertextuality something something we have never been modern.

It was wonderful that–as he had learned in the Mission garden at St. Augustine–such depths of feeling could co-exist with such absence of imagination. But he remembered how, even then, she had surprised him by dropping back to inexpressive girlishness as soon as her conscience had been eased of its burden; and he saw that she would probably go through life dealing to the best of her ability with each experience as it came, but never anticipating any by so much as a stolen glance. (159)

I thought this was the modern (or Victorian) version of that scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen interviews the Happy Couple.

“The little Frenchman? Wasn’t he dreadfully common?” she questioned coldly; and he guessed that she nursed a secret disappointment at having been invited out in London to meet a clergyman and a French tutor. The disappointment was not occasioned by the sentiment ordinarily defined as snobbishness, but by old New York’s sense of what was due to it when it risked its dignity in foreign lands. If May’s parents had entertained the Carfrys in Fifth Avenue they would have offered them something more substantial that a parson and a schoolmaster. (170-171)

Always interested in snobbishness in literature. But why isn’t this snobbery? I don’t understand.

“Our boat?” She frowned perplexedly, and then smiled. “Oh, but I must go back to the hotel first: I must leave a note–”

“As many notes as you please. You can write here.” He drew out a notecase and one of the new stylographic pens. “I’ve even got an envelope– you see how everything’s predestined! There–steady the thing on your knee, and I’ll get the pen going in a second. They have to be humoured, wait”–he banged the hand that held the pen against the back of the bench–“it’s like jerking down the mercury in a thermometer: just a trick. Now try–”

She laughed, and bending over the sheet of paper which he had laid on his notecase, began to write. Archer walked away a few steps, staring with radiant unseeing eyes at the passerby, who, in their turn, paused to stare at the unwonted sight of a fashionably dressed lady writing a note on her knee on a bench in the Common. (198)

For future reference when discussing the history of diary writing and travel journals. Diaries wouldn’t exist as they do today without the invention of a pen and bookbinding that allowed writing on the go. Still in a transitional phase here.

Archer looked back to the President of the United States, and then down at his desk and at the papers scattered on it. For a second or two he could not trust himself to speak. During this interval he heard M. Riviere’s chair pushed back, and was aware that the young man had risen. When he glanced up again he saw that his visitor was as moved as himself. (215)

What has this book to do with nationalism? I hadn’t thought of it until this moment, then it was glaring. Also funny to think of my own experience with national identity — I ponder this on the train sometimes — because New Yorkers see themselves as an island in spirit as in reality, floating separately from the rest of our country. I probably identify as a New Yorker first, American second, because Americans (“continental Americans”?) don’t make much sense to me– but neither do Europeans (or, obviously, any other continent or nation). For instance whenever I see Americans from outside the city I notice how fat they all are.

“Ah, Jane Merry is one of us,” said Mrs. Archer sighing, as if it were not such an enviable thing to be in an age when ladies were beginning to flaunt abroad their Paris dresses as soon as they were out of the customhouse, instead of letting them mellow under lock and key, in the manner of Mrs. Archer’s contemporaries.

“Yes, she’s one of the few. In my youth,” Miss Jackson rejoined, “it was considered vulgar to dress in the newest fashions; and Amy Sillerton has always told me that in Boston the rule was to put away one’s Paris dresses for two years. Old Mrs. Baxter Pennilow, who did everything handsomely, used to import twelve a year, two velvet, two satin, two silk, and the other six of poplin and the finest cashmere. It was a standing order, and as she was ill for two years before she died they found forty-eight Worth dresses that had never been taken out of tissue paper; and when the girls left off their mourning they were able to wear the first lot at the symphony concerts without looking in advance of the fashion.” (217)

I didn’t know this was a thing, but it jibes with what I’ve read about Victorian fashion. Clothing history is so lovely.

Also that pesky nationalism popping up again. Now that I think of it, I usually identify non-New Yorkers by their clothes, because in New York many of us are immigrants with strong accents so that if, for instance, a Black man has a French accent my best guess at whether he’s a New Yorker or French/Haitian is his clothing, not his speech. (Does he look a little frou frou with a scarf and capris? Probably a French tourist.) Spanish and French are easiest to spot by their clothing. The other European countries are a bit harder because more often than not they simply look rich. It’s easiest to tell by women with children because American mothers look terrible yet coiffed (tackily) and European mothers look more like New York children: casually assembled but with a little something extra.

“Do you know– I hardly remembered you?”

“Hardly remembered me?”

“I mean: how shall I explain? I–it’s always so. Each time you happen to me all over again.” (241, italics in original)

Cataloguing love. Also like how much “each time you happen to me all over again” sounds like something out of Barthes.

Top 40

I love the way people in their 40s+ love
my generation’s television. Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar on Girls, Emily Nussbaum
on Broad City, the latter employing
a too complicated metaphor for the program
in THE NEW YORKER involving Red Hots, Plan B
and marijuana snickerdoodles, I paused there having
to evaluate the image: Red Hots, yes,
but contraceptives and cinnamon butter downers?
well yeah, okay. I wanted to say
something in protest, but what? I wanted
to release my catchment of reservations
about youth, these show’s youth, our young
blissing out on frozen sugar water cocktails
and 48-minute brunch sonatas in the major key of toddler-soigné.
Toothsome in the vellum well of sunset,
the sun drinking its tipsy summer draught and wobbling down–
well what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with drinking
from the well of living
tearing your stockings on bottle caps
and performing a glorious sitcom of mistaken ID?
I just realized
at bottle caps what I love about research: its quietness. Maybe its loneliness too
when one’s confederacy is a confederacy of geniuses who all died over 40.
What love there is in no contest.
I’ve fled journalism, academia, poetry
there are many ghosts of myself in the other people
research is quieter. I’m dreaming everyone
wants me to come back, come back
even going so far as to generate crass surrealist dreams
most recently a larger-than-life Garfield head
hauntingly transposed to a grandfather clock face
and the circular grounds of a church
the gist being some kind of mental-spiritual revanchism
and that is what the TV critics want too, come back come back
they are alight in the joy of youth
they’re suppurating salad dew,
like Susan, who says you write better when you’re excited
what I was excited about in this instance
was a four inch brass policeman’s badge I helped her sell
and I was embarrassed by my latent identification with the state,
power, nostalgia, conser-
vatism, the old guard which had apparently
burnt through me and shone like a bistro candle in
a vellum well while I rhapsodized on the badge– I thought of that
when I read Nussbaum’s beautiful writing about Red Hots spilling over
and the cinnamon butter and the pills,
the too complicated metaphor for my generation’s television
loved lovably by top 40.

Blog Post 10:15pm

Doing a bad job of staying off twitter in the last few days. Maybe because I’ve been having dreams about work, which is unusual for me. Got into a bad mood while I did laundry this morning, already a dreary task in the damp gray that’s characterized most of our April middays so far. Thought about my difficulty finding somewhere I feel I belong. Oh, I know that’s a human universal, but recently I’ve felt it more acutely as many of my attempts at conversation are falling flat — I’ve a sense of missing the foothold I use to gauge how best to flirt platonically. It doesn’t weigh on me heavily, I tell myself. I’ve always believed my behaviors and feelings are the most natural and sensible in the world and other people are the aberration. But now that my socializing isn’t circumscribed by school I can see I must come off a little odd to others.

From that train of thought it was just a skip and a jump to angsting about The Price of Salt and Age of Innocence (which I finished this afternoon). Don’t want to repeat myself so I’ll copy-paste this paragraph on the subject from an email I sent to a friend: “Price of Salt/Carol and Age of Innocence are unexpectedly similar (children as a final obstruction to already-forbidden love) and I was very conscious of Highsmith and Wharton both being bitter about love and marriage late in life, but that Carol was the object of a prelapsarian mind and Age of Innocence its aftermath.”

Went to watch a musical as palliative to all the love-is-hopeless serious novels I’ve been reading. Ended up with a wacky French musical called The Young Girls of Rochefort that appeared on the “Classics” page on Netflix. Is this a classic? Its pacing feels all wrong. Musicals are so American. (Do other countries have vaudeville?) Romantic novels and musicals both extend moments so exquisitely– as if love were too strong to be given wholesale and needed to be drawn out in time for safety, just as it must be shared, extended in consciousness, or else turn rancid. (Always thinking about the biological metaphor introduced by Ms. Kessler in 9th grade. Why use ATP? Because more efficient metabolism would disable the organism with its suddenness.)

Anyway, this musical is weird.

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The Thomas Crown Affair

I can never remember the title of this movie. I always want to call it “To Catch A Predator.”

Saw the 1968 version for the first time yesterday spilling over into this morning. Steve McQueen makes me want to fall asleep. What does he talk about, what does he think about, does he have any self expression without the aid of a dune buggy and a cigar?

I can’t imagine Steve McQueen’s character existing in 2016. We’d just call him an abuser. Exhibit A: cheats on Faye Dunaway as “a way of putting you in touch with yourself.”

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Exhibit B: Sets up deliberately painful trials for Faye Dunaway to prove her love to McQueen. Though that reading is undercut by the telegram at the end– McQueen knew Dunaway would fail and forgives her. Like grace.

I saw part of an episode of “The Catch” about what I think is also a high powered insurance femme fatale in search of her thief lover at the gym on Thursday and noticed the show was edited with a lot of showy split screen effects. Thought it might be an homage to TTCA but lo and behold– the 1968 version has almost nothing to do with art. So who knows.

Friday 10:39pm

I quit Twitter almost a month ago and my brain’s finally beginning to switch into a new gear. Read a review in NYRB of Eileen Myles’s latest greatest hits which made her sound pretty good. I’ve never been a fan before. Dan Chiasson quoted a bit that had a putative “I lean”/”Eileen” pun I liked, it reminded me of a Jorie Graham poem with a fridge in it (Eileen is leaning against a fridge, you see), and I also loved that I didn’t see the pun at all, I just thought, oh, isn’t that like a poet to lean on things. I didn’t know she’d cared for a dying James Schuyler either. And apparently I’m on this whole elder lesbian statesman kick. So I got a copy from the library and wow! that early stuff is great. I miss the New York school so much. I’m seeing Ashbery at Columbia on Wednesday, maybe relatedly. The other day I read through some of my old poems and found one, which is perfectly searchable on this blog, that had the phrase “vigorous as chewing gum” and thought it was nice and New York-y even though it also suffers from Ben Lerner syndrome, or sophistry maybe I should call it, which is when you produce good poetry formulaically without soul. Leave that to the computers. So now I’m reading early Myles on women with pussies that look like a plate of spaghetti and wanting to be rich and anticipatory disdain and it’s stimulating all the poetry parts of my brain. And I’ve realized all those tweets could’ve been poems. I’m not I do this I do that so much as I do this, I think that. Well, that’s fine. So I’m writing a poem about how much I love watching the ugly and hot women on the subway.

Problem is, it made me manic. Calmed down overnight and haven’t cracked the book since, but just writing about poetry is keying me up again. For a good six hours it was perfectly clear to me that my destiny was to be a professional poet, I’d have died for it, etc. I’ve been wanting to be better at R29, too, wanting to be better in general. I always do want to be better, what’s different about it this time? Who knows. Reversion to old aims as a form of progress, I guess.

I actually went back on Twitter twice today, first to promote Susan’s essay I helped write and second because when I got home from Joe’s birthday drinks on Christopher Street I had a news alert from the NYT that Gawker had lost their case against Hulk Hogan and had been fined $115 million and I wasn’t about to miss out on the online commentary on THAT. (Weirdly, there’s not that much. I expected worse.)

Also began entering footnotes into the Claude Shannon book today, which also means today’s the first day I’m reading the finished-ish product of months and months of research.