Saturday, 16 June 2007

Some Names I Understand, But... Following on the heels of yesterday's inquiry: Almost all these young Americans gave each other pet names or short names. Edith was "Lily," and sometimes "John," as well as Puss or Pussy. (60) "Lily" and "Pussy" I understand, but "John"? Why would she have been nicknamed "John"? This hammers home something I've thought since I started working on Wharton: the rich really are different. I know nothing about their society, and the research I've done on American culture in Wharton's time (as well as the moments she represents in her novels) bears little to no relation to the culture of the circles in which she moved. For example: I have absolutely no idea why every wealthy family in New York aired out their mansions on 15 October. Not a clue. This type of what Wharton will call "tribal" behavior pertains to a tribe about which I know nothing. Another example: Ward McAllister. Seems like I should've run across the name before—and I probably have, but so removed are he and his from the concerns I've been researching, the name never stuck. As for who McAllister was, this note on him from The Musical Times (1 November 1894) captures him nicely: A case of give and take! My. Ward McAllister, autocrat of New York "society": "I like Wagner in a good box at the Opera in New York or Paris, with a house brilliantly lighted up and full of handsome women in opera dress, where one can while away Wagner's long and stupid recitals by whispering pleasant things to charming women."

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