The Age of Innocence


Word Count: 740

The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton, contains many
flat, static characters representing Old New York society.
At the apex of that society is Mr. and Mrs. Henry van der
Luyden. As the narrator describes, their appearances are
rare, but yet these few appearances provide more than
enough information for the reader to "know" the character.
This information comes from several sources. The first is the
narrator, when most of Old New York society is described.
The second reference involves Newland Archer and Mrs.
Mingott’s seeking of approval of the van der Luydens and
the exchanges that took place. The final instance is the rare
occasion of a dinner at the van der Luyden home and the
occurrences here. From the information here, readers
develop a complete picture of the van der Luydens.

At the end of chapter VI, the narrator describes the
hierarchy of Old New York. The last family described is the
van der Luydens. The narrator writes, "…the van der
Luydens…stood above all of them" (50). The narrator
blatantly tells us that the van der Luydens are the highest
"ranking" family of Old New York society. Just previous to
this, the narrator informs the reader that they descended
from both British and French aristocracy, supporting the fact
that the van der Luydens are the most revered family. Next
the narrator makes it known to readers that "[Mrs.] and Mr.
van der Luyden were so exactly alike… neither had ever
reached a decision without prefacing it by [a] mysterious
conclave" (52), this conclave being, "I shall first have to talk
this over with my husband/wife." This shows that, one, the
van der Luydens cannot be characterized separately for they
are exactly alike, and, two, they consult each other before
making decisions. Once again the narrator brings forward,
quite openly, information about said characters. The
narrator’s informing the reader of such facts sets up the
reasoning behind the character’s motivations, and the
reactions of other characters.

One of such instances involves Archer and Mrs. Mingott’s
seeking of the advice of the van der Luydens. First, it is
important to note that double-checking one’s plans, as
Archer does here, indicates the high status of the van der
Luydens. Archer and Mrs. Mingott’s having to ask another
family for the "proper" thing to do proves their dominance
over society and that they are the experts of "good form."
Archer, then, proceeds to tell his narrative of Ellen’s being
advised by her family not to divorce and his preference of
her relieving herself of her husband. Once the information is
laid on the table, "Mrs. van der Luyden glanced at her
husband, who glanced back at her" (55). This exchange is
another example of a "mysterious conclave" that they use to
consult each other. Their glancing at each other was to agree
as to whether or not the family decision against divorce is to
be overridden. Mr. van der Luyden then responded with
their answer against the veto. The instance formerly
described proves what the narrator had previously informed
the reader, that the van der Luydens never reach a decision
without consulting each other and their high status in Old
New York society.

The final point of characterization to be discussed is the
happenings at the van der Luyden’s party for their Duke.
The other character’s reaction to the party and the party
itself reveals more information about this family. The invitees
of the party all put on their best clothes and wore their best
jewels. This reaction by the other characters at the party
shows, once again the van der Luydens status. Almost as a
rule, the van der Luydens are so important that one must
wear their very best, so as to not offend them. Separately,
the party itself discloses an additional trait about the van der
Luydens. All the best china was laid out, the guests (in this
case the Duke) were received with old-fashioned cordiality,
and the doormen all had the same uniform. These aspects of
the party show the van der Luyden’s strict adherence to Old
New York society’s "rules" and "regulations." Both the
actions of the van der Luydens and the other characters’
reactions provide much information about the van der
Luydens themselves.

The characterization performed by Wharton on the van der
Luydens was very thorough for the type of character she is
portraying. Everything from Mr. and Mrs. van der Luyden’s
likeness to each other to the strict observance of all of
society’s "good form" shows that these two are very flat,
static characters, for nothing about them changes. The
narrator provided the basic background knowledge about
the van der Luydens and then the plot-related events
confirmed what the narrator had