alacrity eager willingness or readiness, often manifested by quick, lively action.
bedizened dressed in a cheap, showy way.
blackguard a person who uses abusive language; a scoundrel or villain.
bock a dark beer traditionally drunk in the early spring.
bouton d’or (Fr.) golden or lustrous buttons; here, part of the interior decor that causes lustre and glitter.
chemisette a detachable shirt front formerly worn by women to fill in the neckline of a dress.
chignon a knot or coil of hair worn at the back of the neck.
Chippendale designating or of an eighteenth-century English style of furniture characterized by graceful lines and, often, rococo ornamentation.
clandestine kept secret or hidden, especially for some illicit purpose; surreptitious; furtive.
confabulations informal conversations; chats.
Debrett biographical reference books chronicaling the British Peerage and Baronetage; a respected “Who’s Who” of British meritocracy.
denouement outcome, resolution.
Diana (Roman myth) the virgin goddess of the moon and hunting. Here, a symbol of May Welland’s innocence and virgin purity.
dissimulation pretense; hypocrisy.
double entendre a term with two meanings, especially when one of them has a risque or indecorous connotation.
“dressed by Poole” Lefferts’ clothes are from fashionable Saville Row in London where Henry Poole and Company are tailors to “gentlemen.”
duologues a conversation between two people.
embonpoint plumpness; corpulence.
epistolary style of or suitable to letters or letter writing. Here, the distinct manner of the Countess’ letter writing.
“Esther . . . Ahasuerus” a biblical allusion that compares Mrs. van der Luyden’s intercession with her husband to that of Esther, who interceded with Ahasuerus to save her people [Esther 7–9].
ethereally in a way that is not of the earth; heavenly.
fatuity complacent stupidity; smug foolishness.
French leave an unauthorized, unnoticed, or unceremonious departure; the act of leaving secretly or in haste.
Gorgon in Greek mythology, any of three sisters with snakes for hair, so horrible that the beholder is turned to stone.
grand tour a tour of continental Europe, formerly taken by young men of the British aristocracy to complete their education.
hackneyed made trite by overuse.
heiroglyphic a picture or symbol representing a word, syllable, or sound; hard to interpret or understand.
histrionic overacted or overacting; theatrical; artificial; affected.
Ida Lewis Idawalley Zorada Lewis [1842–1911]. The best known lighthouse keeper of her day, she tended the Lime Rock beacon on a tiny island a mile from Newport. Credited with saving 18 lives, she became famous for her unconventional life. It is not surprising that Wharton twice mentions Ida Lewis as Newland views the nontraditional Ellen from afar.
Ilium the Latin name for Troy, an ancient Phrygian city in northwest Asia Minor.
importunate troublesome; annoyingly persistent.
in extremis (Lat.) at the point of death.
inanition emptiness; exhaustion; lack of strength or spirit.
inscrutably not easily understood; completely obscure or mysterious.
jardiniere an ornamental bowl, pot, or stand for flowers or plants.
Josephine look a gown in the style of the first French Empire (1804–1815) named after Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, empress of France (1804–1809); with a short waist, decollette bodice, flowing skirt, and short, puffed sleeves.
labyrinth a complicated, perplexing arrangement, course of affairs, or the like.
lapis lazuli an azure-blue, opaque semiprecious stone; a mixture of various minerals.
litigants parties to a lawsuit.
Mauretania a fashionable British Cunard Line ship which made its maiden voyage in 1907. A sister to the Lusitania which was torpedoed during World War I, the Mauretania was known for its fast ocean crossings. Here, Dallas suggests he and Newland take the Mauretania.
mezzotints engravings or prints produced on copper or steel plates by scraping or polishing parts of roughened surfaces to produce impressions of light and shade.
milieu environment; esp., social or cultural setting.
Mr. Luther Burbank’s…prodigies students of Luther Burbank (1849–1926), an American plant breeder and horticulturist.
ormolu imitation gold leaf.
parvenu (French) nouveau riche; a person who has suddenly acquired wealth or power.
Patience the British name for the card game Solitaire.
Patroon a person who held a large estate with manorial rights under a grant from the Dutch government of New Netherland.
philippic a long, vehement speech, especially one of denunciation; harangue.
polonaise an eighteenth-century dress with the skirt divided in front and worn looped back over an elaborate underskirt.
probity uprightness in one’s dealings; integrity.
proclivities natural or habitual tendencies or inclinations, especially toward something discreditable.
repast food and drink for a meal.
sarcophagi among the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, limestone coffins or tombs, often inscribed and elaborately ornamented.
sedulously persistently and steadily; diligently.
Siren Isle (Gr. and Rom. mythology) home of any of several sea nymphs, represented as part bird and part woman, who lure sailors to their death on rocky coasts by seductive singing.
Spartan like or characteristic of the Spartans, who were famous for being warlike, brave, stoical, severe, frugal, and highly disciplined.
stylographic a fountain pen having a pierced, conical point (rather than a nib) through which the ink flows.
trenchant keen; penetrating; incisive.
ubiquitous present, or seeming to be present, everywhere at the same time; omnipresent.
valetudinarian one who thinks constantly and anxiously about one’s own health.
vicissitudes difficulties that are likely to occur.
vitrines a glass-paneled cabinet or glass display case for art objects, curios, etc.