By Edith Wharton
The novellas are not directly interconnected, though certain fictional characters appear in more than one story. The New York of these stories is the same as the New York of The Age of Innocence (1920), from which several fictional characters have spilled over into these stories. The observation of the manners and morals of 19th century New York upper-class society is directly reminiscent of The Age of Innocence, but these novellas are shaped more as character studies than as a full-blown novel.
Some characters who overlap among these four stories and The Age of Innocence: Mrs. (Catherine) Manson Mingott, Sillerton Jackson, Mrs. Lemuel Struthers, Henry Van der Luyden. Other families and institutions also appear in more than one place among this extended set of New York stories.
Lewis Raycie, just turned 21 years old, is sent to Europe by his father, Halston Raycie, to collect great art as the seed of a collection by which the senior Raycie hopes to be known to posterity. Halston Raycie has made his own fortune; he intends to be known to history as the patriarch of a dynasty. Lewis is expected to bring back works of art by well-known artists already acknowledged and accepted by New York’s reigning tastemakers. He knows what is expected of him, but in Europe he makes friends, including John Ruskin, who influence him to buy instead works, which they consider superior, by artists heretofore unknown in New York. When Lewis shows the works to his father upon returning, his father is dismayed at his choices. His father to all practical measures disowns Lewis. Dying shortly thereafter, his father also is not able to disapprove of Lewis’ choice in marriage. Lewis’ beloved bears a striking resemblance to the subjects of the works Lewis bought with his father’s fortune, and together they open a gallery to show his works. New York society in general disapproves of the works, and it is not until decades later, long after all the Raycies have died, that the art Lewis chose is recognized as valuable.