Magazine February 23, 2009, Issue

The Classless Society

Front view of Italianate style row homes, Washington DC. (Getty Images)

One day when I was very small — it was before the war — I was seated next to my mother as we drove through Georgetown. Passing a scabrous stone house with a shabby yard, she pointed to it and said, “I bet you high-class people live there. You can always tell because they don’t put on. They don’t have to.”

I did not understand and promptly forgot the incident until, years later, I read The Late George Apley and came to the scene where a middle-class visitor assumes that the Apleys are broke because their Aubusson rugs are threadbare and

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