Tuesday, June 07, 2005

That evening he unpacked his books from London. The box was full of things he had been waiting for impatiently; a new volume of Herbert Spencer, another collection of the prolific Alphonse Daudet's brilliant tales, and a novel called Middlemarch, as to which there had lately been interesting things said in the reviews. He had declined three dinner invitations in favor of this feast; but though he turned the pages with the senuous joy of the booklover, he did not know what he was reading, and one book after another dropped from his hand. Suddenly, among them, he lit on a small volume of verse which he had ordered because the name had attracted him: The House of Life. He took it up, and found himself plunged in an atmosphere unlike any he had ever breathed in books, so warm, so rich, and yet so ineffably tender, that it gave a new and haunting beauty to the most elementary of human passions. All through the night he pursued through those enchanted pages the vision of a woman who had the face of Ellen Olenska; but when he woke the next morning, and looked out at the brownstone houses across the street, and thought of his desk in Mr. Letterblair's office, and the family pew in Grace Church, his hour in the park of Skuytercliff became as far outside the pale of probability as the visions of the night.

--Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

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