Lisa's Reviews > The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
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's review
Aug 27, 2011

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bookshelves: 1001-before-you-die, 2011, kindle-baby, new-1001-before-you-die, guardian-1000, classics, interesting-women, romance, social-commentary
Read from August 25 to 27, 2011 , read count: 1

Really a 3.5 (damn you goodreads!), this is a subtle and critical look at old New York society, and a romance doomed by duty and the social mores of the time.

'Society' and it's bastions are not presented entirely flatteringly within; only a small number of inter-related families comprise said society and at large are uncompassionate, shallow, judgemental, ignorant, gossipy and hypocritical. Quite a large amount of the subtle wit displayed in the novel are directed at said society, which at times quite hilariously put me in mind of American Psycho, particularly when dealing with someone like Lawrence Lefferts:
"If anybody can tell a fellow just when to wear a black tie with evening clothes and when not to, it's Larry Lefferts." And on the question of pumps versus patent-leather "Oxfords" his authority had never been disputed.

As for the doomed romance, whilst I could empathise to a certain extent I also found it quite difficult to really feel for Newland who is engaged to May Welland when, at the beginning of the novel, her cousin Countess Ellen Olenska arrives in town seeking independence from her unhappy marriage. He quickly falls for her, even though the rest of society looks down the nose at her difference and wishes she'd do the decent thing by them all and return to her husband no matter how unhappy he makes her.

Rejected by Ellen on the grounds that for them to be together would be to betray May, Newland goes through with the marriage and spends the rest of his life pining after Ellen and plotting ways in which they could be together after all, a far greater betrayal if you ask me. Especially considering his attitude towards his wife which, while not unkind, is not exactly flattering. Whilst appreciating some of what he considers to be her virtues he also thinks her unimaginative, incapable of growth, unperceptive and uncourageous, though she rather shows that up by being the one courageous enough to see the truth and offer her prospective husband an out (which he refuses) and then dealing with that truth for the rest of her marriage (especially as it becomes clear that everyone they know as well aware of their circumstances).

Extremely well-written, but the suffocating atmosphere conjured up by the restraints of society didn't really help to alleviate the black mood upon me when I started (not the book's fault I know, but whatever).
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Reading Progress

17.0% "Newland is so going to regret being engaged...and Lefferts is straight out of American Psycho!"

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