New Year’s Day, by Edith Wharton

After having read three of Edith Wharton’s books; I now realize she had a certain style of taking you down one path dead ending your thinking and totally re-arranging it again.  All three books which I have now read, Ethan Frome; which I still have to write up on, Madame de Treymes and now New Year’s Day, all follow this pattern.

Published in 1924 I am again reading from an original copy from the library.  As you can see from the above photographs.

It starts of with a New York family at the turn of the twentieth century gathered together in New York City for New Year’s Day.  The narrator at that time a boy of twelve.

“…the New Year’s Day ceremonial had never been taken seriously except among families of Dutch descent, and that that was why Mrs. Henry van der Luyden had clung to it…”

Across the street a fire breaks out in The Fifth Avenue Hotel, all the family rush to the window, laughing and making unpleasant remarks about the people rushing out, when they see Lizzie Hazeldean with Henry Prest.

“It was typical of my mother to be always employed in benevolent actions while she uttered uncharitable words.”

“The hotel, for all its sober state, was no longer fashionable.  No one, in my memory, had ever known any one who went there; it was frequented by “politicians” and Westerners,” two classes of citizens whom my mother’s intonation always seemed to deprive of their vote by ranking them with illiterates and criminals.”

Lizzie Hazeldean is worried that she has been seen coming out of the Hotel, she walks home to find out that her invalid husband Charles has gone out to see where the fire was.

“Mistress and maid exchanged a glance of sympathy. and Susan felt herself emboldened to suggest;  “Perhaps the outing will do him good,” with the tendency of her class to encourage favoured invalids in disobedience.”

Lizzie is distort that possibly even her husband saw her coming out of the Hotel.  She goes up to her bedroom.

“It was a rosy room, hung with one of the new English chintzes, which also covered the deep sofa, and the bed with its rose-lined pillow-covers…”

Later Charles comes home but has not changed in his manner towards her at all.  They sit and have tea together.

“She had been one of the first women in New York to have tea every afternoon at five, and to put off her walking-dress for a tea-gown.”

Charles urges her to go to a dinner that evening although he is too ill to attend.  She does and so does Henry Prest, they exchange words and part, although not until she has been snubbed by Mrs Wesson.

“It was the first time in her life that she had ever been deliberately “cut”; and the cut was a deadly injury in old New York.”

Lizzie gets home from the dinner, Charles comes into her room and they share a close intimate moment until his illness takes over and within two weeks he is dead.  After which Lizzie goes to Europe for six months to be with a newly married father.

Lizzie Hazeldean’s humble beginnings reminded me a tad of Becky Sharpe, Vanity Fair.  Lizzie’s father had been a vicar of some repute in New York City, but had fallen with some scandal and taken himself and Lizzie off to Europe, to grow up.  Here as a young woman she was befriended by a Mrs Mant, who often did good works, but didn’t know how to follow though on them.  So having brought Lizzie back into New York society she didn’t know what to do with her.  Right at the time when Lizzie sees that she has no means and no friends in comes Charles and using her beauty, perception and whit, within a week they are engaged.

This is the stage for the book and if I told you anymore I would give the plot away, if you could say there was a plot.  But there is a distinct twist in where this goes.

Do read it, it is a novella so will not take long to read.



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