Feeling Fall: Lily Bart in Grand Central Station
In New York, the change from summer to fall is marked distinctly in strong and subtle ways. The portent of change comes in late July with back-to-school banners in shop windows. Ugh. By tradition, really big changes still happen at the beginning of September. There is more focus on work. Dress, even in this age of the t-shirt, becomes more formal. Social life returns to the city.
Before I lived in New York, I knew about this change from Edith Wharton’s description in “The House of Mirth” of the novel’s heroine, Lily Bart, arriving in Grand Central. Of course, today we are more aware of the seasons and their relationship to the built environment. For me, this quote serves as a reinforcement of that awareness.
“Selden paused in surprise. In the afternoon rush of the Grand Central Station, his eyes had been refreshed by the sight of Miss Lily Bart.
It was a Monday in early September, and he was returning to his work from a hurried dip into the country – but what was Miss Bart doing in town at that season? If she had appeared to be catching a train, he might have inferred that he had come on her in the act of transition between one and another of the country-houses which disputed her presence after the close of the Newport season; but her desultory air perplexed him. She stood apart from the crowd, letting it drift by her to the platform or the street, and wearing an air of irresolution which might, as he surmised, be the mask of a very definite purpose…
…He led her through the throng of returning holiday makers, past sallow-faced girls in preposterous hats, and flat-chested women struggling with paper bundles and palm-leaf fans…”
Image from Walking Off the Big Apple.