||During her convalescence Anna Cora began work on a five act comedy called Fashion;
or, Life in New York. She did so at the recommendation of Epes Sargent, who suggested
that the comedy would be "a fresh channel for the sarcastic ebullitions with which
you so constantly indulge us."
The play was a keen but good-natured satire on
American parvenuism. She presented the New York social scene all its pretense and
gullibility, its tendency to ape Parisian customs, and its exaltation of money.
Tiffany, the wife of a newly rich business man, has high social ambitions for herself and
her daughter Seraphina. Her extravagance is ruining her husband, who is caught in
financial misconduct by his clerk Snobson, who proceeds to blackmail him. Count
Jolimaitre, who turns out to be actually a valet posing as a nobleman, is also after the
Tiffanys' money. The plot grows progressively thicker as the story unfolds. The source of Fashion's
comedy is its satirizing of social pretensions as in the following scene between Mrs.
Tiffany and her French maid, Millinette:
Mrs. Tiff.: Is everything in order, Millinette?
Ah! very elegant, very elegant, indeed! There is a jenny-says quoi look about this
furniture -- an air of fashion and gentility perfectly bewitching. Is there not,
Mil.: Oh, oui, Madame!
Mrs. Tif.: But where is Seraphina? It is twelve
o'clock; our visitors will be pouring in, and she has not made her appearance. But I hear
that nothing is more fashionable than to keep people waiting. None but vulgar persons pay
any attention to punctuality. Is it not so, Millinette?
Mil.: Quite comme il faut. Great personnes always
do make little personnes wait, Madame.
Mrs. Tif.: This mode of receiving visitors only
upon one specified day of the week is a most convenient custom! It saves the trouble of
keeping the house continually in order and of being always dressed. I flatter myself that
I was the first to introduce it amongst the New York ee-light. You are quite sure that it
is strictly a Parisian mode, Millinette?
Mil.: Oh, oui, Madame; entirely mode de Paris.
Mrs. Tif.: This girl is worth her weight in gold.
(Aside.) Millinette, how do you say arm-chair in French?
Mil.: Fauteuil, Madame.
Mrs. Tif.: Fo-tool! That has a foreign, an
out-the-wayish sound that is perfectly charming -- and so genteel! There is something
about our American words that is decidedly vulgar. Fowtool! how refined. Fow-tool!
Arm-chair! what a difference!
Mil.: Madame have une charmante pronunciation.
Fowtool (mimicking aside) charmante, Madame!
Mrs. Tif.: Do you think so, Millinette? Well, I
believe I have. But a woman of refinement and of fashion can always accommodate herself to
anything foreign! And a week's study of that invaluable work -- "French without a
Master," has made me quite at home with the court language of Europe! But where is
the new valet? I'm rather sorry that he is black, but to obtain a white American domestic
is almost impossible; and they call this a free country!
opened at the Park Theatre, New York, on March 24, 1845. It was a great popular
success. It was generally well-received by the critics. Edgar Allan Poe, writing for the Broadway
Journal, felt the play derivative of School for Scandal, but notable for its
genuinely American humor.
Poe's Evolving Views on “Fashion”
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