Pages read: 6 - 66
Pages read of the Beast! Right. And...moving right along. This book is about Newland Archer (Yes, you read that right. Newland.), a young New York socialite who has just been affianced to May Welland, another young New York socialite. Ms. Welland's cousin, Ellen Olenska, has recently come to town. Ellen, it turns out, is a disgraced woman who is still married to her estranged Russian husband, but left him with the aid of his (male) secretary because he was abusive. As a result of her checkered past, New York society, and, initially, Newland himself, try to reject her. However, upon rumination, Newland decides that women shouldn't be shackled by their misfortunes, and so moves to include her in society by exerting his personal influence. So far, he has introduced her to some Old Families and given her a lot of attention at parties. He finds himself dwelling on her and her situation and comparing her to his fiance.
Gee, do you think he'll fall in love with her? Do you think he might realize that he's straitjacketed by social convention? Do you think it'll end in tears? I do. It always ends in tears. Anyway, the point is this is shaping up to be a pretty classic early 19th-century novel about the pressures of class and society. Wharton's a fairly dense, but also fairly decent writer, though. It takes a long time to read her prose, but you get lovely little gems of imagery along the way:
"The bare vaulting of trees along the Mall was ceiled with lapis lazuli, and arched above snow that shone like splintered crystals. It was the weather to call out May's radiance, and she burned like a young maple in the frost."Ceiled! How awesome is that? I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff.