“She was bad . . . always.” Old New York (1924) now Public Domain

290px-FifthAvenueHotel1860_framecrop.jpg“She was bad . . . always. They used to meet at the Fifth Avenue Hotel.”

–Edith Wharton, New Year’s Day, 1924

As of today, January 1, 2020, Wharton’s quartet of novellas Old New York is in the public domain. To celebrate this, here’s New Year’s Day (the Seventies), courtesy of Project Gutenberg Australia.

Here are PG Australia’s texts of the novellas:

The Spark, False Dawn, New Year’s Day, The Old Maid

Links to the other novels and novellas available online are being updated today and are available here: https://edithwhartonsociety.wordpress.com/works/novels-and-novellas/

NEW YEAR'S DAY
(The 'Seventies)

I

"She was BAD...always. They used to meet at the Fifth Avenue 
Hotel," said my mother, as if the scene of the offence added to the 
guilt of the couple whose past she was revealing. Her spectacles 
slanted on her knitting, she dropped the words in a hiss that might 
have singed the snowy baby-blanket which engaged her indefatigable 
fingers. (It was typical of my mother to be always employed in 
benevolent actions while she uttered uncharitable words.)

"THEY USED TO MEET AT THE FIFTH AVENUE HOTEL"; how the precision of 
the phrase characterized my old New York! A generation later, people 
would have said, in reporting an affair such as Lizzie Hazeldean's 
with Henry Prest: "They met in hotels"--and today who but a few 
superannuated spinsters, still feeding on the venom secreted in their 
youth, would take any interest in the tracing of such topographies?

Life has become too telegraphic for curiosity to linger on any given 
point in a sentimental relation; as old Sillerton Jackson, in 
response to my mother, grumbled through his perfect "china set": 
"Fifth Avenue Hotel? They might meet in the middle of Fifth Avenue 
nowadays, for all that anybody cares."

But what a flood of light my mother's tart phrase had suddenly 
focussed on an unremarked incident of my boyhood!

The Fifth Avenue Hotel...Mrs. Hazeldean and Henry Prest...the 
conjunction of these names had arrested her darting talk on a single 
point of my memory, as a search-light, suddenly checked in its 
gyrations, is held motionless while one notes each of the unnaturally 
sharp and lustrous images it picks out.

At the time I was a boy of twelve, at home from school for the 
holidays. My mother's mother, Grandmamma Parrett, still lived in the 
house in West Twenty-third Street which Grandpapa had built in his 
pioneering youth, in days when people shuddered at the perils of 
living north of Union Square--days that Grandmamma and my parents 
looked back to with a joking incredulity as the years passed and the 
new houses advanced steadily Park-ward, outstripping the Thirtieth 
Streets, taking the Reservoir at a bound, and leaving us in what, in 
my school-days, was already a dullish back-water between Aristocracy 
to the south and Money to the north. (continued at the link above)

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