The Big Read Blog (Archive)

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February 5, 2009
Washington, DC

With New York "Fashion Week" a mere 10 days away, here?s a stylish snippet from that most soigné of Old New York chroniclers, Edith Wharton. We join the action just a couple of paragraphs into Chapter 12 of The Age of Innocence, when Newland Archer pays a visit to Countess Olenska who is already (scandalously) being visited by Julius Beaufort . . .

It was usual for ladies who received in the evening to wear what were called "simple dinner-dresses" a close-fitting armor of whale-boned silk, slightly open in the neck, with lace ruffles filling in the crack, and tight sleeves with a flounce uncovering just enough wrist to show an Etruscan gold bracelet or a velvet band. But Madame Olenska, heedless of tradition, was attired in a long robe of red velvet bordered about the chin and down the front with glossy black fur. Archer remembered, on his last visit to Paris, seeing a portrait by a new painter, Carolus Duran, whose pictures were the sensation of the Salon, in which the lady wore one of these bold sheath-like robes with her chin nestling in fur. There was something perverse and provocative in the notion of fur worn in the evening in a heated drawing room, and in the combination of a muffled throat and bare arms; but the effect was undeniably pleasing.

Massillon Museum in Massillon, Ohio kicks off its Big Read of The Age of Innocence February 28 with an exhibition of visual art from "The Gilded Age" and an Age of Innocence Ball. Find out more at The Big Read Web site.