Mary Lyn Maiscott

Madame Olenska

Book covers of The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton.

 

Nick Miller, a producer at Mercy Studios, and I will be putting the finishing touches—or perhaps the penultimate touches, to be realistic about it!—on “Madame Olenska” today. (It will be part of a forthcoming EP, Stories.) Of course all my songs are close to my heart, but this one has a special meaning to me. I just re-read the passage in The Age of Innocence in which Newland Archer goes for the first time to Ellen Olenska’s  house, scandalously “far down West Twenty-third Street," in New York City, where she lives near “small dress-makers, bird-stuffers, and ‘people who wrote.’” (Today she’d be living near trendy art galleries and her house, if still standing, would be worth millions, the envy of many a writer!) In case you haven’t read the book—or seen the movie, in which Madame Olenska is portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer and Newland Archer by Daniel Day-Lewis—Archer is drawn to the countess, who’s come back to New York after living in Europe (and leaving her abusive husband), because of her independence. She tells him, “I’ve never been in a city where there seems to be such a feeling against living in des quartiers excentriques. What does it matter where one lives?” He tells her that her street is not fashionable, and she replies, “Fashionable! Do you all think so much of that? Why not make one’s own fashions?” Good question (and still relevant)! Yet she soon says, “I want to do what you all do—I want to be cared for and safe.” Like Newland Archer, I love her complexity and find her both very scintillating and very touching. At the moment I can’t think of a literary creation I feel more of an affinity for. Thank you, Edith Wharton, for the inspiration.