The Van Der Luydens: Epitome of High Class In the Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, there are many characters that represent old New York society. It was one of many rules and in itself had a built in hierarchy. At the top of this group were Mr. and Mrs. Henry Van Der Luyden. Their appearances are rare, which in most novels leaves the reader without a clear understanding of the character, but in this case more than enough information is provided to show that they were the creme de la creme of high class New Yorkers.
At the end of chapter six, the narrator describes the hierarchy of Old New York. The last family Wharton talks about is the Van Der Luydens. She writes, “…the Van Der Luydens…stood above all of them. ” Wharton explicitly tells us that they were at the top of the social ladder in high society. Just previous to this, we are told that they descended from both British and French aristocracy, supporting the fact that the van der Luydens were the most revered family. Next the author makes it known to readers that “[Mrs. and Mr. van der Luyden were so exactly alike… neither had ever reached a decision without prefacing it by [a] mysterious conclave,” this conclave being, “I shall first have to talk this over with my husband/wife. ” The Van Der Luydens cannot be characterized separately because they were exactly alike and, consulted each other before making decisions. Wharton tells us these facts about the Van Der Luydens because she wants us to understand the reactions from other characters when they interact.
One instance is when Archer and Mrs. Mingott sought the advice of the couple. This scene demonstrates the dominance the Van Der Luydens had. Archer and Mrs. Mingott went to ask them what to do because they were the experts of proper behavior. Archer then proceeded to tell his narrative of how Ellen is being advised by her family not to divorce. Once Archer finished speaking, “Mrs. Van Der Luyden glanced at her husband, who glanced back at her. ” This is an example of a “mysterious conclave” that they used to consult each other.
Their glance at each other was to agree as to whether or not the family decision against divorce is to be overridden. Mr. Van Der Luyden then responded with their answer against the veto. This showed that the Van Der Luydens never reached a decision without consulting each other and their high status in Old New York society. Another point where character analysis reveals more information about the Van Der Luydens happens during the party for Duke.
The guests of the party all put on their best clothes and wore their best jewelry to not offend the social norms of the Van Der Luydens. This showed, once again their high status. Separately, the party itself discloses an additional trait about the Van Der Luydens: All the best china was laid out, the guests (in this case the Duke) were received with old-fashioned cordiality, and the doormen had the same uniform. These aspects of the party represented the Van Der Luyden’s strict adherence to Old New York society’s “rules and regulations. Wharton’s characterization of the Van Der Luydens is extremely well written in the sense that even though they were not the focal characters of the story, we understood from them how the entire high class operated. Everything from their likeness to each other, to the strict observances of all of society’s proper etiquette showed that these two were standards that other people tried to be like. The Van Der Luydens, authorities on everything that was proper, were the ruling family of Old New York society.