I came across a line written by Charles W. Chesnutt

[H]e said to himself that he was a very good-looking man, and could have adorned a much higher sphere in life than that in which the accident of birth had placed him. (1899, Charles W. Chesnutt, "Uncle Wellington's Wives" in The Wife of his Youth and Other Stories)

What does "adorn" mean here? It apparently doesn't mean what it means now, namely "to enhance the appearance of something." It seems to mean something along the lines of attain, but I can't find a dictionary definition to support that.

1 Answer 1


adorn TFD

tr. v adorned, adorning, adorns, and the noun adornment

  1. To lend beauty to: flowers adorned the walkway.
  2. To enhance or decorate with or as if with ornaments

He had the adornment ( his good looks ) and could have done better, in his opinion, if he had been born into a higher station ( sphere ) in life. He felt he could have adorned the life in that dream very well indeed. Chance placed him in a life, place and time where his looks did not help him.

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    A pearl necklace is a poor adornment for a pile of mud; it doesn't adorn it well. (It is out of place and adds little to its environment other than perplexity.) On the other hand, a pearl necklace adorns somebody's neck well. (It complements and enhances the look of the neck.) In the book, he is out of place in the lower levels of society in which he finds himself, but would have been a good match among the upper classes. He would make the "important people" look better with his presence. In other words, it means exactly what it means now. It's just being used figuratively. Apr 15, 2018 at 21:54

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