Age of Innocence, The

Edith Wharton
Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works. Winner of the 1921 Pulitzer Prize, The Age of Innocence is Edith Wharton’s masterful portrait of desire and betrayal during the sumptuous Golden Age of Old New York, a time when society people “dreaded scandal more than disease.”This is Newland Archer’s world as he prepares to marry the beautiful but conventional May Welland. But when the mysterious Countess Ellen Olenska returns to New York after a disastrous marriage, Archer falls deeply in love with her. Torn between duty and passion, Archer struggles to make a decision that will either courageously define his life—or mercilessly destroy it.Maureen Howard is a critic, teacher, and writer of fiction. Her seven novels include Bridgeport Bus, Natural History, and A Lover’s Almanac. Her memoir, Facts of Life, won the National Book Critics’ Circle Award. She has taught at Yale and Columbia University.


Reviewed: 2021-04-10
Set in New York in the early 1800's. Newland Archer is married to May, but falls in love with her cousin Ellen Olenska. The story tracks Newland's struggles with societal constraints. Good book
Reviewed: 2013-07-22
I don't usually end up writing reviews for books that I put on my i-love-these-books shelf. With books like [b:The Unbearable Lightness of Being|9717|The Unbearable Lightness of Being|Milan Kundera||4489585] or [b:The Remains of the Day|28921|The Remains of the Day|Kazuo Ishiguro||3333111], I don't find I have much to say except "I loved this book" over and over. They're sad, they're well written, they're worth reading despite the heartbreaking endings.

Like those books, The Age of Innocence was achingly beautiful. This book has the sort of sentences that made me pause and think that it was worth memorizing; that sort of thing happened every few pages. "Untrained human nature was not frank and innocent; it was full of the twists and defences of an instinctive guile" (22), or "It frightened him to think what must have gone into the making of her eyes" (30), or "He simply felt that if he could carry away the vision of the spot of earth she walked on, the rest of the world might seem less empty" (103). Edith Wharton writes without fault and with a clear and conscious understanding of people and society.

The book also has its funny moments. Besides the often-quoted selection about languages in the opera, there are parts like: "Medora Manson, in her prosperous days, had inaugurated a 'literary salon'; but it had soon died out owing to the reluctance of the literary to frequent it" (48). However, the book is not happy first and foremost. This is a book about a love that could never actualize. Newland Archer is tired of society but understands and accepts its constraints. His fiance, May, doesn't understand his disillusion, but her cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, manages to do almost exactly as she pleases. Without ever intending to, Archer falls in love with Ellen. She is still married, though separated, and cannot get a divorce because 1870s New York City is not ready for that; he is engaged to May. He ends up marrying May and Ellen leaves for Paris. They never end up together.

It's not a happy book, and it doesn't have a happy ending. It's so beautiful, though, that it's worth it.
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