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Age of Innocence: Countess Olenska arrives at the van der Luydens'

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Uploaded on Mar 22, 2009

It was generally agreed in New York that the Countess Olenska had "lost her looks."

She came rather late, one hand still ungloved,
and fastening a bracelet about her wrist; yet she entered
without any appearance of haste or embarrassment
the drawing-room in which New York's most
chosen company was somewhat awfully assembled...

In the middle of the room she paused, looking about her with a grave mouth and smiling eyes; and in that instant Newland Archer rejected the general verdict on her looks.

The van der Luydens had done their best to emphasise the importance of the occasion. The du Lac Sevres and the Trevenna George II plate were out; so was the van der Luyden "Lowestoft" (East India Company) and the Dagonet Crown Derby. Mrs. van der Luyden looked more than ever like a Cabanel, and Mrs. Archer, in her grandmother's seed-pearls and emeralds, reminded her son of an Isabey miniature. All the ladies had on their handsomest jewels, but it was characteristic of the house and the occasion that these were mostly in rather heavy old-fashioned settings; and old Miss Lanning, who had been persuaded to come, actually wore her mother's cameos and a Spanish blonde shawl....

As Mrs. Archer remarked: when the van der Luydens chose, they knew how to give a lesson. The wonder was that they chose so seldom.

from "The Age of Innocence", chapter 8, by Edith Wharton (1920)

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