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The Age of Innocence
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The Age of Innocence

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  77,078 ratings  ·  3,519 reviews
The return of the beautiful Countess Olenska into the rigidly conventional society of New York sends reverberations throughout the upper reaches of society.

Newland Archer, an eligible young man of the establishment is about to announce his engagement to May Welland, a pretty ingénue, when May's cousin, Countess Olenska, is introduced into their circle. The Countess brings...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published March 1st 1996 by Penguin Classics (first published 1920)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Amanda
Part of why I love The Age of Innocence so much is for the very reason my students hate it--the subtlety of action in a society constrained by its own ridiculous rules and mores. In Old New York, conformity is key and the upper-crust go about a life of ritual that has no substance or meaning. Both men and women are victims in this world as both are denied economic, intellectual, and creative outlets. All the world's a stage in Wharton's New York and everyone wears a mask of society's creation. S...more
Paul
Yes indeedy, what could be more jejune than another early 20th century novelist choosing as her subject the problematic relations between the sexes amongst the idle rich? D H Lawrence and Henry James do the same, the first like a big dog gnawing at a bone and finding something it mistakes for God in the marrow, and the latter in his infinite cheeseparings putting the whole thing into the form of a three-dimensional chess game played by sardonic French subatomic particle physicists who you suspec...more
Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh
Mar 14, 2014 Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nobody comes to mind...
Recommended to Florence (Lefty) by: Pulitzer for fiction 1921
Heading for a hospital stay I decided to treat myself to a pleasant historical novel with a dash of romance. BIG mistake, if this is romantic take me to the nunnery….Okay, the ugliness of the story is offset by the beauty of the writing, and it is gorgeous, I'd read this author again - but still. This isn’t so much a review as an attempt to purge this pile of hooey from my subconscious.
1st off the main protagonist Newland Archer is a celebration of hypocrisy. A man who makes a CLEAR choice (vie...more
Shovelmonkey1
Dec 04, 2013 Shovelmonkey1 rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: 1001 books list
Before writing this review I decided to find out a bit more about Edith Wharton. Turns out that she is actually a lot more interesting than some of her books. If you turn to the Wikipedia page (not exactly hardcore research, I know but I'm not in a position to march off to the library and start wading through Wharton's presumably numerous biographies) you'll be faced with a picture of a timid and pretty dour looking lady with two disagreeable looking Paris-Hilton porta-dogs plonked on her knee....more
Catie
Nov 23, 2011 Catie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Catie by: Jo
The title of this book is now one of my favorites of all time. At first glance, it seems so dry, so suggestive of sweeping historical detail. It made me think of the fond memories of an age gone by – how quaint, how rosy-hued and idealistic it all was. Summoning the vague ideas that I had about 1920’s New York, I pictured smoky clubs and laughing ladies in fur-lined cloaks and peacock feather hats.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever come across another title so seemingly innocuous, yet so absolutely loa...more
Henry Avila
Newland Archer, has the perfect life, rich , young, and good looking, a member in excellent standing, of the New York High Society of 1871, during the Golden Age. These people feel not like prisoners but brave members of a group, keeping back the barbarians at the gate. Newland is engaged to a beautiful, charming girl, May Welland, also in the exclusive association, who loves him. But then her cousin arrives, from Europe, Countess Ellen Olenska, married to a brute, a Polish nobleman, who repeate...more
Jr Bacdayan
“Each time you happen to me all over again.”

Imagine that person you love most in this world, right within your grasp, but somehow out of reach. An invisible thin wall keeping you apart. Apart but not away from each other. Together yet not with each other. This is the worst form of torture, a torture of invisible chains and soundless screams. Constantly seeing each other, constantly being reminded of what cannot be. Constantly falling in love yet constantly falling apart. The urge, the love, the...more
Paul
I loved this book and seem to be developing a penchant for reading books which drift along in a sedate way and in which not much appears (on the surface) to happen. Appearances are deceptive though and Wharton’s prose is beautiful and the dialogue sharp, and with depth of meaning.
The novel is set in high society New York in the 1870s; a social milieu where convention reigned on the surface, but where some of the men had slightly scandalous secrets. Newland Archer and May Welland and about to be...more
Mary
This was the first book I've read from Edith Wharton and it was better than I was expecting. The images of 1870's New York are rich and chilling and it's central theme so relevant and relatable.

Newland Archer aches with the constraints of his time and the absurdity and hypocrisy of the society in which he lives. He longs to break free and yet ultimately lives a life of quiet remorse. It struck me just how little has changed in that regard. Most people still fall into a conventional life simply...more
Kim

Mostly I finish books I start, but when I first tried reading this novel twenty-five to thirty years ago, I don't think I made it past page five. I have a vague memory of seeing the film adaptation back in the 1990s, but it clearly didn't inspire me to return to the novel. So I'm not sure what made me decide to acquire and listen to the audiobook so many years later. However, I'm glad I did.

I knew that Wharton had written a novel critical of the world from which she sprang - late 19th century N...more
Matthew
This is a gorgeous book with some great characters and a special ambience that I haven't experienced in any other novel. Edith Wharton takes the reader deep inside the strange little world of upper-class late 19th century New York, detailing the manners, the attitudes, the rules, the institutionalized hypocrisy, the spectacular beauty and superficiality, and most of all, the lies that everyone must tell themselves and those around them to survive in a tightly regimented culture that has just bar...more
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Rating: 4.5* of five

The Book Report: Society marriages and mores of 1870s New York. Very beautifully constructed. Pusillanimous young lawyer marries frail, fainting flower with a rod of steel up her backside, falls in love with her cousin, and no one gets away happy.

My Review: I've always said mixed marriages don't work. Expecting someone not like you in fundamental, crucial ways to "get" you, to support you, to really be there for you, is not a good bet. Men do not need to be marrying women. Th...more
Mike Puma
“The immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middle life like a flood of lava on a doomed city had changed her from a plump active little woman with a neatly-turned foot and ankle into something as vast and august as a natural phenomenon.” Does writing get any finer than that?

And some say:
A) the Edith Wharton is boring, while others say...
B) she had no sense of humor.

I'd say: She was behind me at the grocery store today and saw the same thing I saw.
Darcy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dini
This beautifully-written classic tells the story of people trapped in the "eternal triangle of love". Edith Wharton skillfully details the lifestyle, customs and manners of upper-class New York society in the 1870s, in which every family seems to be related one way or another.

Newland Archer, who is engaged to the innocent, conservative May Welland, falls in love with her exotic Europeanized cousin Ellen Olenska. He is torn between following his impulse to be with Ellen, whose marriage is on the...more
Madeline
It's time to get something off my chest, guys: I love Gossip Girl.

But Madeline! you exclaim, probably choking on a biscuit and dropping your teacup because you are one refined gentleman or lady, didn't you write a scathing review of the first Gossip Girl back in 2008 where you ranked it below goddamn Twilight on the scale of Books That Should Not Be Considered Books?

Ah yes, my little blueberries, how right you are. Gossip Girl, the book, is pulpy badly-written trash that fails to even fulfill th...more
Sera
Aug 15, 2008 Sera rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sera by: Dini
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jennifer (aka EM)
Reading this, many years after seeing the movie, it's much more a feminist statement than I ever took the movie to be. But sneaky, through Newland Archer's eyes: eyes that are veiled by the most exquisitely repressive social convention (comparisons to The Remains of the Day abound; another being that I couldn't read this without hearing DDL, Michele's, Winona's and - of course the great Joanne Woodward's voices in my head; as I can't read TRotD without hearing Hopkins/Thompson).

It's funny, to m...more
S.
Once again an underwhelming Pulitzer Prize winner. I would have given up but "The Age of Innocence" is one of my father’s favorites, so I stuck it out, hoping for an ironic twist or natural catastrophe or messy and embarrassing suicide.

Lacking intellectual pursuits, weird sexual inclinations and/or worthy and urgent causes, the idle rich are a dull lot, and the calamity of this book is that to the last page Newland Archer’s life goes on as tediously as ever.

About 30 pages in I wondered if the b...more
Connie
3.5 stars
Edith Wharton shows us the world of the upper class in 1870's New York. This elite group had very rigid rules of behavior, social rituals, fashion, and entertaining. There is an element of hypocrisy that existed in some of its members behind their conservative moral exterior.

Newland Archer, a wealthy young lawyer, is engaged to May, an innocent young woman who follows society's moral code. But Newland is very attracted to May's cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, who has separated from her...more
Ruth
She's got Henry James beat hands down.

R
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

The CCLaP 100: In which I read a hundred so-called "classics" for the first time, then write essays on whether or not they deserve the label. The Age of Innocence is book number 29 in this series.

The story in a nutshell:
To truly get the full implications of The Age of Innocence, it's of crucial impor...more
Jan Rice


**Spoiler Advisory** This book was published in 1920. It's in the public domain and is considered a classic. I saw the 1993 movie. Since a lot of the book is about what happens inside peoples' heads and hearts, I didn't remember much of that--except how it ended. I did read discussions involving the book just before I began to read it, but it was a revelation anyway. Nevertheless, if the reader would rather embark on his or her own voyage of discovery of the book without adding my perspective t...more
David
I hate to do it, but I'm gonna have to pull the "guy" card here: this book was quintessential women's fiction and it bored me. I'm sure plenty of male readers do like Edith Wharton, and it's not like I only read dudely fiction. I find Jane Austen marvelously witty, and while I did not like Wuthering Heights, it at least had dynamic characters and a twisted enough plot to hold my attention. But The Age of Innocence is all wistful self-examination that never goes very deep, and a lot of delicate i...more
K
Wow. What a fantastic book.

Don't get me wrong. It's an early 20th century classic, densely written with cleverly crafted sentences that you have to think a little to truly appreciate. Lots of words and description, and the action isn't exactly fast-paced. So if my five-star rating is leading you to expect a book in which you'll find yourself instantly immersed and effortlessly turning pages, no -- that's not the kind of five-star read this is.

But I'm giving this book all five stars because it's...more
Alison
Aug 02, 2008 Alison rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: bohemians, aristocrats, the nouveau rich, paupers
Recommended to Alison by: Meghan, Ginnie
"...His whole future seemed suddenly to be unrolled before him; and passing down its endless emptiness he saw the dwindling figure of a man to whom nothing was ever going to happen."

The Age that Wharton so painstakingly details in her Pulitzer Prize winning novel (she was the first female recipient) is far from innocent. Rather, it is a world where innocence is feined...where old, rich, tight-knit families make and enforce the rules and rigid standards are in place regarding all aspects of livin...more
Cat
I'm so glad I didn't live in the well-off New York society of the second half of the XIX century! As charming as it could have looked from the outside, it was a nest of hypocrisy, and it's conventions were enough to drive me mad.

Yes, I was mad at some stuff described in this book, namely the way women were brought up in the American upper-classes; the subserviency and blind conformity to the rules were just bewildering. May Welland is the perfect example of this. She accepts to marry Newland, an...more
Kathryn
Jul 07, 2009 Kathryn rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kathryn by: Melanie and Tyler
Shelves: classics
Excellent! A thoughtful, beautiful, aching and acute investigation of the societal expectations of the elite in 1870s "Old" New York and how they mold one's life without ever allowing one to live his/her own life. Though some of the themes may seem a little "tired" by now, one must remember how fresh and startling this story was when it was first published. And Wharton's style is wonderful. I find it especially interesting that Wharton has chosen a male for her main character given the fact that...more
Apatt
“The longing was with him day and night, an incessant undefinable craving, like the sudden whim of a sick man for food or drink once tasted and long since forgotten. He could not see beyond the craving, or picture what it might lead to, for he was not conscious of any wish to speak to Madame Olenska or to hear her voice. He simply felt that if he could carry away the vision of the spot of earth she walked on, and the way the sky and sea enclosed it, the rest of the world might seem less empty.”
...more
Jonathan

"We can't behave like people in novels though can we?"

The Age of Innocence focuses on Newland Archer and the period up to and after his marriage to May Welland. Newland works in law and as part of his job is given the difficult task of trying to convince Countess Ellen Olenska to return to Europe to her foreign husband. The divide exists between his culture's expectations, the expectations of his soon to be family (Ellen is his fiancée's cousin) and the ideas he has about equality, freedom and...more
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Edith Newbold Jones was born into such wealth and privilege that her family inspired the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses." The youngest of three children, Edith spent her early years touring Europe with her parents and, upon the family's return to the United States, enjoyed a privileged childhood in New York and Newport, Rhode Island. Edith's creativity and talent soon became obvious: By the a...more
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“Each time you happen to me all over again.” 335 likes
“The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend!” 272 likes
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