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The Age of Innocence

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  111,636 Ratings  ·  4,857 Reviews
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
Paperback, 305 pages
Published August 26th 2004 by Barnes & Noble Classics (first published 1920)
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Jaie It depends on what you consider "clean". This is a complex book about social constraints, demands and duty vs feelings and desires, I would not advice…moreIt depends on what you consider "clean". This is a complex book about social constraints, demands and duty vs feelings and desires, I would not advice it for kids under 15, mainly because I presume it would not be of interest to them. Also, keep in mind that Romeo and Juliet is a classic taught in 9th grade, and it depicts teen sex and suicide. (less)
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Community Reviews

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Emily May
Aug 15, 2012 Emily May rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, favourites
“We can't behave like people in novels, though, can we?”

A few years ago, I read The Age of Innocence and thought it was okay. It has something of an Austen-esque feel - criticisms of middle/upper middle class society, paired with a subtle and clever humour and a love story (here deliciously scandalous). But it's taken me a few years to come back to this novel and appreciate the magic Wharton has brought to the table.

This little book is so clever. Everything about it from the damn title to nea
Jun 07, 2008 Amanda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kick-ass, blog
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
‘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.’
Jr Bacdayan
May 04, 2013 Jr Bacdayan rated it really liked it
“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
Paul Bryant
Nov 30, 2007 Paul Bryant rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
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
Nov 22, 2013 Cheryl rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lovers of life
The air of ideas is the only air worth breathing.

Just when I think a classic unlikely to give me pause, it surprises me with relatable themes. After reading Wharton's short story, "The Muse's Tragedy" (one of the supplemental reads I'll be teaching this Fall), I knew I had to visit one of her longer forms. So rewarding it was, to be wooed by elegant prose and positioning; a plot that moves in practiced laps; a story that could be yours, mine, theirs; a setting that will always be known for bot
Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh
Jul 17, 2012 Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh rated it it was ok
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
Sep 11, 2011 Shovelmonkey1 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Jul 27, 2011 Catie rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Nov 12, 2015 KOHEY.Y. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I know that this novel has been played often by Takarazuka Ballet,the all-female Japanese musical theater troupe,so it must be more of a sugary,insipid typical love triangle.Yes,it is a love story,but it is much more than that.

The main plot is a tragic love story,but with the conflict of values and ethics in life and society.I'd say this is the strong and beautiful point of this classic.Through the culture clash between Europe and America (here I mean New York),and the rise and fall of the then
Jason Koivu
Oct 12, 2016 Jason Koivu rated it really liked it
Yeah, you could call this The Age of Innocence. On the other hand, a more suitable title might be Anna Karenina Revisited. Here are a few similarities off the top of my head:

- It's a novel based on societal etiquette.

- A lovely woman is plagued with an unloving husband and somewhat ostracized from said society due to divorce.

- A young man rushes to marry his fiancé before troubling thoughts of cheating overtake him.

- The fiancé is a virtuous, virginal airhead.

- And finally, the adulterous woma
Henry Avila
Apr 10, 2014 Henry Avila rated it really liked it
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
Jun 16, 2012 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2012
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
Apr 22, 2014 Apatt rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
“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.”
Oct 04, 2013 Paul rated it it was amazing
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
Maria Clara
Dec 18, 2016 Maria Clara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Un té de jazmín. Sí, sé que no tiene nada que ver con esta maravillosa historia, pero es así como la veo: como una taza de aromático té. Sutil. Delicada. Cálida... Y a la misma vez, fría como la hipocresía que se sentaba en los palcos rojos y dorados de la vieja Academia, la noche en la que debutó Madame Nilsson. La misma noche en que Newland Archer volvía a ver a la condesa de Olenska... Una historia que te atrapa y no te deja indiferente; una de esas novelas que se te mete en la piel...
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.
Cindy Newton
This is my second Wharton, and it only deepens my love for her writing. She skillfully places her characters in their moral dilemmas in such a way that you are sucked into their world and you spend an inordinate amount of time after you finish the book, rehashing their actions and decisions, mentally debating their choices and evaluating what your own would have been. When you read the last words of a Wharton novel and close the book, you are NOT finished with the story, and I love that. Lily Ba ...more
Sidharth Vardhan
“The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend!”

I’m not much into romantic stories – I mean how much of ‘Ellen, I love you’ and ‘Newland, it is wrong’ one can bear? More so, love triangles – and why they call it love triangles. Just look at this one – Archer has relations with May and Ellen but the two women do not love each other, so where is the third side of triangle? Shouldn’t it be called love angle or love V? In fact, if you think about it, a love
Sep 23, 2015 Trish rated it it was amazing
The taste of the usual was like cinders in his mouth, and there were moments when he felt as if he were being buried alive under his future.

Soundtrack for this majestic novel? Old Money by Lana Del Rey. Give this song a listen and tell me you can't feel the power, passion, longing, and heartache echoed in the novel.

Where have you been? Where did you go?
Those summer nights seem long ago
And so is the girl you use to call
The queen of New York City

But if you send for me, you know I'll come
And if yo
Jan 17, 2012 Darwin8u rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs.”
― Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence


A masterpiece of literary construction. There doesn't seem to be a word, sentence, or page out of place. At its core, 'The Age of Innocence' is story that shows the strength and the orchestrated customs and mores of social upper-class society of the 1870s, but also shows its narrowness, its
Sep 12, 2015 Phrynne rated it liked it
Beautifully written of course but not an especially interesting story. Newman Archer is actually a very unlikeable person although obviously a symptom of the society in which he was raised. I felt sorry for all of them because in the end no one was really happy. A bit depressing really. I do like the way Edith Wharton writes but sadly this book did not really do it for me.
Ivana Split
Nov 09, 2016 Ivana Split rated it it was amazing
There are many benefits to reading this beautifully written novel. For instance, if anyone ever asks you: "Who was the first women to win the Pulitzer prize?", you will not only know the answer, you will able to elaborate on it. This novel did win the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1921 and boy did it deserve it.

It is set in a particular historical time and place (1870-ties, New York, the so called Glided Age) and it delivers a brilliant portrait of New York society of that time. The title of
May 29, 2016 Perry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First reading of both Edith Wharton and The Age of Innocence. Speechless.

Pondering as I listen to Alice Cooper's only pop song, a real sudser.

"Take away, take away my eyes
Sometimes I'd rather be blind
Break a heart, break a heart of stone
Open it up but don't you leave it alone...
*** But you know, I never cry."
Alice Cooper, I Never Cry, 1976

Review forthcoming.
Nov 27, 2012 Madeline rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-list
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
Feb 15, 2014 Mona rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tragic Tale of a Man Suffocated by Convention in 1870s New York

Newland Archer, a promising young lawyer growing up in the cream of New York society, is engaged to May Welland. Everyone around him considers this to be a brilliant match.

Except that May's cousin, Ellen Olenska, arrives from Europe, and Newland finds himself drawn to Ellen. Ellen, a native New Yorker, is fleeing a bad marriage abroad. She is beautiful, kind, and entirely unpretentious.

Newland, though, is trapped in what is expected
Glenn Sumi
A masterpiece.

Newland Archer, a young lawyer, is engaged to be married to May Welland, a sweet but (he soon comes to realize) rather limited girl. Their two families are prominent ones in 1870s Manhattan so everything is as it should be. And then Archer meets Countess Ellen Olenska, a childhood sweetheart and May's cousin, who is back in NYC after fleeing a disastrous marriage in Europe. She is unconventional, beautiful, and shares Newland's interest in art and books. Can you guess what happens
Sep 17, 2007 Matthew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 29, 2013 Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook

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
"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."

I believe that the best kind of books are those which one does not expect to fall in love with, but undeniably do. You know, the ones that have been sitting on the shelf for ages and that you just finally pick up on a whim, having no idea what to expect but thinking you might enjoy it? Then you start it and all of a sudde
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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.” 549 likes
“The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend!” 417 likes
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