Page 3. " Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust "
Christina Nilsson (20 August 1843 - 20 November 1921) , photographed in 1870
Public DomainChristina Nilsson (20 August 1843 - 20 November 1921) , photographed in 1870 - Credit: Carl I. Bergamasco

Christina Nilsson was a Swedish operatic soprano singer, famed for her bel canto technique.

Although The Age of Innocence opens with a performance of Faust at the Academy of Music in New York City in the early 1870s with Nilsson performing the role of Marguerite, it is thought by some that Edith Wharton's impressions actually originated from performances at the Metropolitan Opera in the 1880s (Wharton was still a child in the early 1870s).

Faust is the story of a depressed and ageing scholar who sells his soul to the devil in return for youth, pleasure and a beautiful woman.  His satanically-enabled pursuit of innocent Marguerite threatens to destroy her. 

Made famous in plays by Marlowe and Goethe, the legend is here set to music by Charles Gounod.


Charles Gounod (1818–1893), photographed at the time of the premiere of his opera Faust (1859)
Public DomainCharles Gounod (1818–1893), photographed at the time of the premiere of his opera Faust (1859) - Credit: Steven Huebner
Lithograph depicting the vision of Margeurite in Faust's study in Act 1 of Gounod's opera Faust as performed at Covent Garden in 1864
Public DomainLithograph depicting Faust and Mephistopheles and the vision of Marguerite in Act 1 of Gounod's Faust as performed at Covent Garden in 1864 - Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Page 3. " the Academy of Music "
The Academy of Music (c. 1854-1909)
Public DomainThe Academy of Music (c. 1854-1909) - Credit: Henry Edward Krehbiel

The Academy of Music was an opera house located in Manhattan, New York. The 4,000-seat hall opened on October 2, 1854, and became the city's premiere opera venue until 1883 when it was supplanted by the new Metropolitan Opera House.

In 1886, the Academy ceased presenting opera, turning instead to vaudeville theatre for a time before renting the venue out to labour organisations in the early 1900s for the staging of rallies. In 1926 the building was demolished, along with its neighbour Tammany Hall, for the construction of the Consolidated Edison Company Building.

Page 3. " a new Opera House "

The new opera house referred to here is the Metropolitan Opera House, which would open in 1883 and within three years supplant the Academy as New York City’s prime opera venue.

It was created by the nouveaux riche (Wharton refers to them in the novel as the 'new people') who had been frozen out of the Academy.

The Metropolitan outlasted the Academy by just over 40 years before, in 1967, it too was demolished.


Interior of the Metropolitan Opera House, seen from the rear of the stage, during a concert by pianist Josef Hofmann (1937)
Public DomainInterior of the Metropolitan Opera House, seen from the rear of the stage, during a concert by pianist Josef Hofmann (1937) - Credit: U.S. Information Agency
Metropolitan Opera House (1905)
Public DomainMetropolitan Opera House (1905) - Credit: Detroit Publishing Company
Page 4. " he loves me – he loves me not – he loves me! "
by hector
Faust and Marguerite with the flower
Public DomainFaust and Marguerite with the flower - Credit: James Tissot

A dangerously romantic moment between Faust and Marguerite, centered on a "simple game" with a flower.

In the original French: 

Il m'aime, il ne m'aime pas,
Il m'aime...pas...Il m'aime...pas...
Il m'aime! 

Listen on Spotify (Il m'aime from 2:32)


Page 5. " a reticule dangling from a blue girdle "
Painting of a Victorian lady with a reticule dangling from her girdle
Public DomainPainting of a Victorian lady with a reticule dangling from her girdle - Credit: Charles Henry Turner
Reticule (1800-1825)
Public DomainReticule (1800-1825) - Credit: Los Angeles Country Museum of Art

Reticules are small ladies' handbags which were popular during the late 18th and 19th century. They were usually made of net, beadwork, or brocade, and closed with a drawstring.

They were developed from the 1790's onwards when the introduction of simple empire line fashions meant that a pocket would interrupt the line of a lady's dress.

Click here to see a picture of a reticule.

Click here and here (and scroll down) for more information.




Page 5. " Mr Luther Burbank’s far-off prodigies "
Luther Burbank, American horticulturist
Public DomainLuther Burbank, American horticulturist - Credit: Fred Hartsook

Luther Burbank (1849 –1926) was an American botanist and horticulturalist.  Through experimentation and cross-breeding, he pioneered the development of over 800 new strains and varieties of plants.  His creations include fruit and vegetables, flowers, grains and grasses.  His first major success was theBurbank potato. This was developed into the Russet Burbank potato, which is now the most widely cultivated potato in theUnited States. 

His most famous plant catalogue, "New Creations in Fruits and Flowers," was published in 1893, and his work was regularly in the news in the early 1900s. His home in Santa Rosais now open to the public as a city park, Luther Burbank Home and Gardens. 

Page 6. " the march from Lohengrin "
'The Bride' (1869)
Public Domain'The Bride' (1869) - Credit: John George Brown
Richard Wagner
Public DomainRichard Wagner - Credit: Franz Seraph Hanfstaengl

 Lohengrin is a three-act opera by Richard Wagner, the first performance of which took place in 1850.

It contains a piece called the 'Bridal Chorus' ('Treulich geführt') which is often played at weddings in the Western world to mark the arrival of the bride. For this reason, it is generally known in the English-speaking world as 'Here Comes the Bride'.

Listen here on Spotify.



Page 9. " an inaccessible wilderness near the Central Park "
Central Park from the south side
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeCentral Park from the south side - Credit: Summ

Central Park is an urban green space in the middle of Manhattan. Opened in 1859, it covers 843 acres. Prior to construction, the rocky, marshy area was inhabited by many impoverished immigrants who were removed in 1857 under the rule of eminent domain (compulsory purchase).


Page 10. " among pre-Revolutionary furniture and souvenirs of the Tuileries of Louis Napoleon "

The royal Tuileries Palace stood on the right bank of the River Seine in Paris until 1871. The site is now the location of the Tuileries Garden. The Palace was commissioned by Catherine de' Medici in 1564. It was occupied on and off by the French monarchy until the Revolution in 1789. 

When Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in 1799, he made the Tuileries the official residence of the First Consul, and later the imperial palace.  The Palace reverted to a royal residence during the Bourbon Restoration (1814-1830). During the July Revolution of 1830, it was attacked by an armed mob and occupied. King Louis Philippe took up residence at the Palace until 1848, when it was again invaded, looted and damaged.

Salon Louis XIV Tuileries
Public DomainSalon Louis XIV Tuileries

Napoleon’s nephew, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, was elected President in 1848. He declared himself Emperor Napoleon III in 1852, establishing a court in the Tuileries.  During his reign, the Palace was extensively refurbished and redecorated.  He ruled as Emperor until September 1870, when he was deposed during the Franco-Prussian War.

In May 1871, during the suppression of the Paris Commune, the Tuileries Palace was set alight. The fire raged for 48 hours and entirely consumed the Palace. The ruins stood for 11 years, but in 1882 the French National Assembly voted to demolish them and sold them to a private entrepreneur. The demolition was started in February 1883 and completed in September.

Since 2003 there has been talk of rebuilding the Tuileries. The new palace could be furnished with the furniture and paintings taken from the Tuileries in 1870 at the start of the Franco-Prussian war.

Page 13. " in knickerbockers and pantalettes "

Pantalettes were loose leggings worn by women, girls, and very young boys.  They originated in France, and were adopted in Britain and the US. Until the mid-19th century, boys under 8 years old were commonly dressed in dresses, gowns and pantalettes.  Pantalettes for children were mid-calf to ankle-length, worn under shorter skirts.  They could be one-piece or two separate garments, one for each leg, attached at the waist with buttons or laces. They were usually of white linen, and were sometimes decorated.  As boys got a little older, but before they reached puberty, they would graduate to knickerbockers, baggy-kneed trousers, banded just below the knee. 

Diedrich Knickerbocker 1849
Public DomainDiedrich Knickerbocker 1849 - Credit: Felix OC Darley

The term ‘Knickerbocker’ is closely associated with New York.  The surname Knickerbocker originated in upstate New York.  Harmen Jansen van Wijhe invented the surname for himself upon arriving in New Amsterdam around 1682.  The name entered popular consciousness with Washington Irving’s 1809 satirical history book, A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker. By the 1830s, Knickerbocker had become a local term for an imagined old Dutch-descended New York aristocracy, with knee breeches and old-fashioned ways. 

Page 15. " hot canvas-back ducks "

Creative Commons AttributionCanvasback - Credit: Ingrid Taylar
The Canvasback (Aythya valisineria) is a large American diving duck.  Early European settlers considered the white back of the male (drake) to be canvas-coloured.


Page 15. " just before the Jewel Song "
by hector
Marguerite and the Jewels
Public DomainMarguerite and the Jewels - Credit: Norman Little

To seduce Marguerite for Faust, Mephistopheles conjures up a casket of jewels.  When Marguerite finds them at her door, she is all too easily won over...

Listen on Spotify: Maria Callas sings the Jewel Song

Ah! je ris de me voir
si belle en ce miroir...

Ah, I laugh to see myself
so beautiful in this mirror...



Page 17. " the soft waves of the Blue Danube "
Johann Strauss the Younger
Public DomainJohann Strauss the Younger - Credit: unknown
'Dance in the City' (1882/3)
Public Domain'Dance in the City' (1882/3) - Credit: Pierre-Auguste Renoir

The Blue Danube (An der schönen blauen Donau) is a waltz composed by Johann Strauss II in 1866.

The Danube is a central European river which rises in the Black Forest in Germany and discharges into the Black Sea via the Danube Delta in Romania and Ukraine.

Listen here on Spotify


Page 17. " made the cup of his bliss overflow "
Detail on the memorial to the crew of the whaler
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeDetail on the memorial to the crew of the whaler "Diana" on Victoria Pier, Lerwick - Credit: Colin Smith on Geograph

This line derives from Psalm 23:5 in the Bible:

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

The overflowing cup is a metaphor for God filling a person with joy, contentment and everything that they could need, so much so that it seems to be spilling out of them. The phrase, more often quoted as ‘my cup runneth over,’ has since been used to indicate that a person is bursting with happiness and satisfaction, or that they have more than enough of what they need or desire.

Page 22. " Madison Square "

Madison Square Garden was designed by Stanford White, an American architect, in 1890. He designed houses for the very wealthy, as well as many iconic public and religious buildings, including Washington Square Arch in New York (1889). He designed a series of high society mansions on Fifth Avenue and Long Island, and his famous “cottages” in Newport, Rhode Island (the cottages generally had double corridors, to ensure that a guest never bumped into a servant).

He lived a life of luxury and indulgence, and was well known for his penchant for young chorus girls.  In his Madison Square apartment, girls "in varying degrees of undress" would entertain him.  One of these was the actress Evelyn Nesbit.  White had a brief sexual affair with Evelyn when she was 16, and he 47.  This was to lead to his very public murder, six years later. 

Evelyn Nesbit 1900
Public DomainEvelyn Nesbit 1900 - Credit: Gertrude Käsebier

In the interim Nesbit had married millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw.  Thaw had a reputation for being violent and paranoid, and held a long-standing grudge against White, who tended to be more popular with the chorus girls than Thaw. 

In June 1906, White attended the premiere of a musical revue at the Madison Square Roof Garden.  Thaw arrived at the premier in a long black overcoat, which he refused to remove.  As the finale played on stage, Thaw walked straight up to White, and shot him three times in the face, killing him instantly.  The subsequent trial was dubbed by the newspapers as the Trial of the Century.  The events were fictionalised in the 1975 novel Ragtime.

New York American news article
Public DomainNew York American news article - Credit: New York American
Page 24. " they cultivated ferns in Wardian cases "

The Wardian Case, invented by Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward circa 1829, is a sealed glass container in which plants are cultivated.

It was used to create a protective atmosphere for plants during transportation overseas. Later it became a popular feature of stylish drawing rooms in Europe and the USA, where it was used to cultivate, amongst other things, the ubiquitous Victorian fern