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The Age of Innocence eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 300 pages of information about The Age of Innocence.
clothes, or in both.  Winsett himself had a savage abhorrence of social observances:  Archer, who dressed in the evening because he thought it cleaner and more comfortable to do so, and who had never stopped to consider that cleanliness and comfort are two of the costliest items in a modest budget, regarded Winsett’s attitude as part of the boring “Bohemian” pose that always made fashionable people, who changed their clothes without talking about it, and were not forever harping on the number of servants one kept, seem so much simpler and less self-conscious than the others.  Nevertheless, he was always stimulated by Winsett, and whenever he caught sight of the journalist’s lean bearded face and melancholy eyes he would rout him out of his corner and carry him off for a long talk.

Winsett was not a journalist by choice.  He was a pure man of letters, untimely born in a world that had no need of letters; but after publishing one volume of brief and exquisite literary appreciations, of which one hundred and twenty copies were sold, thirty given away, and the balance eventually destroyed by the publishers (as per contract) to make room for more marketable material, he had abandoned his real calling, and taken a sub-editorial job on a women’s weekly, where fashion-plates and paper patterns alternated with New England love-stories and advertisements of temperance drinks.

On the subject of “Hearth-fires” (as the paper was called) he was inexhaustibly entertaining; but beneath his fun lurked the sterile bitterness of the still young man who has tried and given up.  His conversation always made Archer take the measure of his own life, and feel how little it contained; but Winsett’s, after all, contained still less, and though their common fund of intellectual interests and curiosities made their talks exhilarating, their exchange of views usually remained within the limits of a pensive dilettantism.

“The fact is, life isn’t much a fit for either of us,” Winsett had once said.  “I’m down and out; nothing to be done about it.  I’ve got only one ware to produce, and there’s no market for it here, and won’t be in my time.  But you’re free and you’re well-off.  Why don’t you get into touch?  There’s only one way to do it:  to go into politics.”

Archer threw his head back and laughed.  There one saw at a flash the unbridgeable difference between men like Winsett and the others—­Archer’s kind.  Every one in polite circles knew that, in America, “a gentleman couldn’t go into politics.”  But, since he could hardly put it in that way to Winsett, he answered evasively:  “Look at the career of the honest man in American politics!  They don’t want us.”

“Who’s `they’?  Why don’t you all get together and be `they’ yourselves?”

Archer’s laugh lingered on his lips in a slightly condescending smile.  It was useless to prolong the discussion:  everybody knew the melancholy fate of the few gentlemen who had risked their clean linen in municipal or state politics in New York.  The day was past when that sort of thing was possible:  the country was in possession of the bosses and the emigrant, and decent people had to fall back on sport or culture.

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