The Magnificent Ambersons

  • Chapter I

  • Narrator

    Major Amberson had “made a fortune” in 1873, when other people were losing fortunes, and the magnificence of the Ambersons began then.

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  • Magnificence, like the size of a fortune, is always comparative, as even Magnificent Lorenzo may now perceive, if he has happened to haunt New York in 1916;

  • and the Ambersons were magnificent in their day and place.

  • Their splendour lasted throughout all the years that saw their Midland town spread and darken into a city, but reached its topmost during the period when every prosperous family with children kept a Newfoundland dog.

  • In that town, in those days, all the women who wore silk or velvet knew all the other women who wore silk or velvet, and when there was a new purchase of sealskin, sick people were got to windows to see it go by.

  • Trotters were out, in the winter afternoons, racing light sleighs on National Avenue and Tennessee Street;

  • Narrator

    everybody recognized both the trotters and the drivers;

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  • and again knew them as well on summer evenings, when slim buggies whizzed by in renewals of the snow-time rivalry.

  • For that matter, everybody knew everybody else’s family horse-and-carriage, could identify such a silhouette half a mile down the street, and thereby was sure who was going to market, or to a reception, or coming home from office or store to noon dinner or evening supper.

  • During the earlier years of this period, elegance of personal appearance was believed to rest more upon the texture of garments than upon their shaping.

  • A silk dress needed no remodelling when it was a year or so old;

  • it remained distinguished by merely remaining silk.

  • Narrator

    Old men and governors wore broadcloth;

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  • “full dress” was broadcloth with “doeskin” trousers;

  • and there were seen men of all ages to whom a hat meant only that rigid, tall silk thing known to impudence as a “stove-pipe.”

  • Narrator

    In town and country these men would wear no other hat, and, without self-consciousness, they went rowing in such hats.

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  • Shifting fashions of shape replaced aristocracy of texture:

  • dressmakers, shoemakers, hatmakers, and tailors, increasing in cunning and in power, found means to make new clothes old.

  • The long contagion of the “Derby” hat arrived: