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The Age of Innocence

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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.

293 pages, Paperback

First published October 1, 1920

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About the author

Edith Wharton

1,534 books3,928 followers
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 age of eighteen she had written a novella, (as well as witty reviews of it) and published poetry in the Atlantic Monthly.

After a failed engagement, Edith married a wealthy sportsman, Edward Wharton. Despite similar backgrounds and a shared taste for travel, the marriage was not a success. Many of Wharton's novels chronicle unhappy marriages, in which the demands of love and vocation often conflict with the expectations of society. Wharton's first major novel, The House of Mirth, published in 1905, enjoyed considerable literary success. Ethan Frome appeared six years later, solidifying Wharton's reputation as an important novelist. Often in the company of her close friend, Henry James, Wharton mingled with some of the most famous writers and artists of the day, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, André Gide, Sinclair Lewis, Jean Cocteau, and Jack London.

In 1913 Edith divorced Edward. She lived mostly in France for the remainder of her life. When World War I broke out, she organized hostels for refugees, worked as a fund-raiser, and wrote for American publications from battlefield frontlines. She was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her courage and distinguished work.

The Age of Innocence, a novel about New York in the 1870s, earned Wharton the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1921 -- the first time the award had been bestowed upon a woman. Wharton traveled throughout Europe to encourage young authors. She also continued to write, lying in her bed every morning, as she had always done, dropping each newly penned page on the floor to be collected and arranged when she was finished. Wharton suffered a stroke and died on August 11, 1937. She is buried in the American Cemetery in Versailles, France.
- Barnesandnoble.com

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Profile Image for Emily May.
1,946 reviews292k followers
May 17, 2015
“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 nearly every piece of dialogue is perfectly-placed and often ironic. Things that didn't hit me fully the first time around became so much more important in this reread. Wharton knows 1870s New York City like the back of her hand; she knows its habits, its traditions, and its expectations of people. She creates a rich, twinkly picture of parties and social standards that is both delightful and ultimately ridiculous - then she throws a spanner in the works.

Never has a love triangle been so welcomed by me. This isn't the modern affair we're used to, where a girl must choose between hot guy #1 and hot guy #2. Nope, in this story, Newland Archer is torn between the stability, comfort and duty he can be offered by the socially-favoured match with May Welland... and his passionate, all-consuming love for the unconventional, rebellious and ostracized Ellen Olenska.

“Each time you happen to me all over again.”

It's as important as it is beautifully written. Wharton casts an eye over this society, both disdainful and affectionate. Incorporating issues of female emancipation into the story, never has the idea of a woman enslaved by marriage and convention seemed so unattractive from a male perspective. Newland Archer is full of modernity and the call of new ideas, but finds that any freedom he poses to May she would receive only with the intention of pleasing him. Though, it should be said, I believe May is far more than she seems.

It's hard to read the ending of this book without feeling emotional, but the exact emotion may differ with your interpretation. Ambiguity reigns supreme as this novel finds its close and even the coldest of unromantics will surely have their hearts pulled along for this... ride. One of my favourite tragic love affairs.

“Only, I wonder – the thing one’s so certain of in advance: can it ever make one’s heart beat as wildly?”

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Profile Image for Amanda.
282 reviews315 followers
April 20, 2011
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. Such is the norm until Newland Archer.

Symbolically, Newland represents an America on the cusp of modernization, the awkward period of transition between the Victorian era and World War I. At first a devout member of New York aristocracy, Newland is awakened as one from a trance with the arrival of Countess Ellen Olenska. Ellen decides to separate from her abusive husband, Count Olenski, and is rumored to have escaped the Count by having an affair with his secretary--a scandalous circumstance that brings her back home to her native New York. Vibrant, intellectual, and free-spirited when compared with the dowdy and restrained women he's known, Ellen's predicament is a revelation to Newland. As he himself has just ended an affair with a married woman and knows the ease with which society forgave his indiscretion when contrasted with Ellen, Newland begins to acknowledge the inequality amongst the sexes. However, there's a serious roadblock to Newland ever being with the captivating Ellen: Ellen is the cousin of May Welland, Newland's fiancee.

Wharton writes with cutting wit about the hypocritical and ludicrous customs of blue blood society and cunningly plots events to work against Newland, the archer whose target is a "new land" in which he and Ellen can be together. The pity is that, ultimately, May proves to be the more cunning huntress who cleverly stalks and traps her quarry in the labyrinth of society.

Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,079 reviews6,891 followers
November 11, 2021
The blurb on GR gives a good summary so I will start with that as the first paragraph:

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.


Elite New York society says of the Countess, separated from her husband who remains in Europe, “And now it’s too late; her life is finished.” For a time she considers going back to her husband. She shocks people by wearing the wrong things, hanging out with the wrong people or by engaging men in frank conversation. In elite New York society at that time a woman could not walk away from conversation with a man to engage in conversation with another man; she had to wait for him to come to her.

The Countess shocks people by referring occasionally to ‘my husband’ when everyone expects her never to mention him. But she is somewhat protected by her family connections: she is Newland’s wife’s cousin. Even though people will say in conversation “I don’t want to hear about anything unpleasant in her history” all of them already know all the dirt.

Those in New York society at the time thought themselves superior to their counterparts in Europe. They think know European customs because they all honeymoon and vacation there for months at a time. Their goal is to keep out the “new people.” They spend fortunes on dresses from Paris but wait a year to wear them because it is not sheik to wear the ‘latest fashions.’ A woman is dishonored by her husband’s shady financial dealings. While they claim to be well-read and to love art and music, they will not hang out with those types of people or invite them to their parties. In conversation people are so uptight blush and pale constantly.


Newland thinks of his wife May as a ‘Stepford wife.’ Seeing her brow glistening in the light “…he said to himself with a secret dismay that he would always know the thoughts behind it, that never, in all the years to come , would she surprise him by an unexpected mood, by a new idea, a weakness, a cruelty or an emotion.” May is “That terrifying product of the social system he belonged to and believed in, the young girl who knew nothing and expected everything…”

Newland thinks of himself as enlightened. Among men he says “Women should be free – as free as we are,” knowing full well that “Nice women, however wronged, would never claim the kind of freedom he meant, and generous-minded men like himself were therefore – in the heat of the argument – the more chivalrously ready to concede it to them.” But of May he thinks: “There was no use trying to emancipate a wife who had not the dimmest notion that she was not free…”


After Newland and the Countess fall in love they enter into a kind of limbo: “Her choice would be stay near him as long as he did not ask her to come nearer; and it depended on himself to keep her just there, safe but secluded.” I’m reminded of another novel I read recently: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. Can you really pine away with love for someone your entire life?

There is good writing. Just a couple of examples:

Said of an ancient matron: “She always, indeed, struck Newland Archer as having been rather gruesomely preserved in the airless atmosphere of a perfectly irreproachable existence, as bodies caught in glaciers keep for years a rosy life-in-death.”

The opera lets out: “Americans want to get away from amusement even more quickly than they want to get to it.”

There’s a lot of local color of New York’s Fifth Avenue district and of the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island.


A great read and I will add it to my favorites! Thanks to Tina, Tom, Jaidee, Joshie, Dan and Heather who encouraged me to read more of Edith Wharton, this book in particular.

(Edited 11/11/2021)

Top photo of a New York Fifth Avenue mansion from boweryboyshistory.com
Interior of a modern Fifth Avenue mansion from thenypost.files.wordpress.com/2013/
A mansion in Newport RI (Chateau Sur Mer) from assets.simpleviewinc.com
The author from edithwharton.org
Profile Image for Ilse.
448 reviews2,854 followers
August 19, 2022

(L'’Amour Vainqueur - William Adolphe Bouguereau)

Suddenly, before an effulgent Titian, he found himself saying: “But I ‘m only fifty-seven –“ and then he turned away. For such summer dreams it was too late; but surely not for a quiet harvest of friendship, of comradeship, in the blessed hush of her nearness.

When deadening conformity to the discipline and traditions of a small society has almost become one’s second nature, even dreams can hardly breathe, suffocated in the airless vacuum of an oppressive and hypocrite environment in which the double standards on marriage, divorce and sexuality and the stifling expectations towards men and women strangle both sexes alike, no less caging the men than the women in a straightjacket of duty and propriety. Who would have expected such in the Land of the Free, making Wharton sneer that ‘It seems stupid to have discovered America only to make it into a copy of another country’?

What a stunning masterpiece.

Honestly? Because all I can do for the moment is waxing poetic over Edith Wharton’s gorgeous and meticulous prose and stand awestruck and speechless at Wharton’s craft and perceptiveness, every word I could possibly jot down would feel shamefully trite and inadequate. So I will just humbly bow down and read this fabulous novel once more, perhaps next winter.

I was quite surprised to discover what a powerful imprint watching Martin Scorsese’s film back in 1994 must have made on me, sensing the verbal Newland Archer, Ellen Olenska and May Welland seamlessly converging with memories of the actors who played them, supplanting almost any other visualisation of them taking shape in my mind.

Forgive me for the ironic appliance of this sweet and innocent-looking painting professing that love conquers all. To refer to Vergil’s motto that Love conquers all, and so let us surrender ourselves to Love would be needlessly cruel and sarcastic in the context of this novel, but a little irony seems to fit it like a glove (I don’t think Edith Wharton would mind).

Frailty, is Thy Name Newland Archer? I don’t think so. You chose loyalty, a virtue implying sacrifice and betrayal of others and of yourself, a wry self-submission to inauthenticity. This reader imagines you torn like the man in Willem Elsschot’s ‘The Marriage’, looking back on your life moodily though melancholic rather than embittered or cynic.

When he noticed how the fog of time
put out the embers in his wife’s eyes,
eroded her cheeks, cleaved her forehead,
then he looked away and was consumed by regret.

He cursed and ranted and pulled at his own beard
and met her with that gaze, but could no longer love,
he saw the greatest sin in the duty of the devil
and how she looked up at him like a dying horse.

But she did not die, even though his hellish mouth sucked
the marrow from her bones, that kept on carrying her.
She did not dare to speak, to ask or to complain,
and shivered where she stood, but lived and stayed healthy.

He thought: I will beat her to death and burn down the house.
I have to wash this mould from my rigid feet
and run through the fire and through the puddles
untill I reach another love in someother country.

But he did not kill her, because inbetween dream and act
there are hindering laws and practical issues,
and even melancholy, that no one can explain
and that comes at night, when we all go to sleep.

The years went by. The children grew up
and saw how the man, they called their father,
seated motionlessly and silently at the fire place,
gave them a godforsaken and grizly gaze.

(‘The marriage’ by Willem Elsschot (1910))
Profile Image for Adam Dalva.
Author 7 books1,511 followers
July 27, 2020
The most perfect ending in literature - I'll never get over it.
September 4, 2022
“With a shiver of foreboding he saw his marriage becoming what most of the other marriages about him were: a dull association of material and social interests held together by ignorance on the one side and hypocrisy on the other.”

5 ‘not so innocent’ stars for the ‘Age of Innocence’. A novel about love, duty, and freedom set, in New York, at a time when the existing social structures were giving way to penetrating modernism and changing values within and around familial structures and the society itself. A book that then cleverly personifies these cultural and social changes through the three central characters caught in a love triangle which plays out with such intensity, you can feel the moral dilemma, the battle between honour and passion and ultimately, the loss of innocence.

A book that is extravagant in its personal reflection but delicate in its expression and one that is beautifully crafted but written with such elegant prose. A story that is stripped back from exaggeration, convoluted themes, and complex characters, as we as spectators keenly observe how lust dominates and love can cloud the mind. And the sacrifice? - well innocence of course.

The Story

Newland Archer is heir to the fortune of one of New York’s wealthiest families who is promised to May Welland, from a noble family with an equally prominent status in New York society. However, Archer’s head is turned when May’s cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, returns from Europe creating a scandal for leaving her husband and ending their marriage by refusing to return.

Initially encouraged to keep company with the lonely, exotic, and beautiful Ellen, Archer finds his interest and affections challenge his own views on his engagement to May. On the one hand he asks May to marry him sooner to prevent him straying and on the other hand, he continues to pursue and flirt dangerously with the women who is set to challenge his values and reputation as he finds himself conflicted between duty and honour and with love and opportunity.

Review and Comments

Changing society and Culture - The late 19th Century and early 20th Century is one of the most interesting historical periods, with its rigid and uncompromising social structures, the view of marriage and the survival of prominent families and their fortunes assured through well matched suitors, and the role of women, which created the perfect backdrop to tell this story.

"The untrained human nature was not frank and innocent; it was full of twists and defenses of an instinctive guile. And he felt himself oppressed by this creation of factitious purity so cunningly manufactured by a conspiracy of mothers, aunts and grandmothers"

New York itself a microcosm of Victorian England, changes through the story, and with it, the social machines, values, and beliefs as the era of genteel snobbery gives way to a ground swell of new ideas, new money, the spirit of enterprise, and a generation prepared to challenge the long-standing divisions and ideologies in society. Something the author seemed to have difficulty with as she looks back on this period in her own life as the loss of innocence through this social revolt, which is reflected in some of her comments, such as

“The difference is that these young people take it for granted that they're going to get whatever they want, and that we almost always took it for granted that we shouldn't.

Was it a feminist story? I don’t think so. Instead it was a story where the author took advantage as a writer of overlaying her own principles and frustrations at the repression of women when she says things like ‘..women ought to be free”. However, also an author who valued the purist and principled attributes of a society she loathed to see changing.

The characterisation is outstanding, as most of these timeless classics are. May Welland symbolises innocence, and it is the changes in society, social structure and values that are played out so vividly in the character of May. Ellen symbolises the opposite, a worldly woman who is the antipathy of innocence meanwhile Archer cuts the most tragic of figures at times. A man whose life was predestined and the city he loved, and its culture was to become his most unforgiving adversary. His personal reflection on his reasons for marrying May, sums up all that was flawed in a society where people felt trapped and duty bound to follow custom

"He had married because he had met a perfectly charming girl.. and she represented peace, stability, comradeship and the steadying sense of an unescapable duty"

The clash between values, social and familial expectations, the vigorous spirit of modernism, the rising voice of women and the role of marriage and the ability to choose, provide a perfect historical backdrop for this gorgeous novel. A profound and powerful story of self-denial, love, honour, freedom, and commitment, but ultimately a loss of innocence!!! A book written with timeless elegance and purpose. An epic, a story for all generations.

“After all there is good in the old ways….. but there was good in the new order too”
Profile Image for Lizzy.
305 reviews166 followers
October 4, 2017
‘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.’

There was never getting away from their circumstances for Newland and Ellen, the protagonists of The Age of Innocence. As I weep for them and their unrequited love, I realized it was not meant to be. Edith Wharton depicts masterfully New York’s traditions and judgmental airs, which were from the start against them. This elite group within which they existed had very rigid rules of behavior, social rituals, fashion, and clear censures for those that violated them. There is a clear hypocrisy in their life that existed behind their conservative moral exterior.
"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."

As I started reading Edith Wharton’s crisp prose and witty dialogues, I got to know Newland Archer, May Welland and Ellen, Countess Olenska. What was inescapable from the outset is that they were a product of New York society of their time.

As Newland meets Countess Olenska, he is not prepared for her worldly persona. Thus it is that May and Newland make their engagement public right away, to ease the acceptance of Ellen into their social pack. May is considered the perfect model of what a young wife should be: young, beautiful, soft, obedient, pliant, conventional, and with no opinions on anything of importance. We would consider her boring, but those were different times.

Newland starts out pretty much the same; he's a young lawyer, used to his luxurious and idle style of living; all in accord with the strict rules of society. Yes, both are good persons with many amiable qualities, but they simply are not exceptional. They were clearly not in love, just following rituals that defined that a young man should marry a nice girl with a good family. ’There was no better match in New York than May Welland, look at the question from what point you choose. Of course such a marriage was only what Newland was entitled to…’

Newland and Ellen’s love story is nevertheless magnificent because it is the changes and character growth of both lovers that make it endearing and wonderful. When we first meet Newland Archer he could not have been more in tune with New York society’s status quo:
But Newland Archer was too imaginative not to feel that, in his case and May's, the tie might gall for reasons far less gross and palpable. What could he and she really know of each other, since it was his duty, as a "decent" fellow, to conceal his past from her, and hers, as a marriageable girl, to have no past to conceal?

If Newland Archer seems indecisive and hesitant, it's in part because he is conflicted with his values and desires. He even starts defending new ideas, ”Women ought to be free – as free as we are” Nevertheless, it is easy to note how typical Newland Archer was when we first meet him, how judgmental, how hypocritical:
There was nothing mean or ungenerous in the young man’s heart, and he was glad that his future wife should be restrained by false prudery from being kind (in private) to her unhappy cousin; but to receive Countess Olenska in the family circle was a different thing from producing her in public, at the Opera of all places, and in the very box with the young girl whose engagement to him, Newland Archer, was to be announced in a few weeks. No, he felt as old Sillerton Jackson felt; he did not think the Mingotts would have tried it on!

Could he have been more traditional? ’He hated to think of May Welland's being exposed to the influence of a young woman so careless of the dictates of Taste.’ Yes, in the beginning, he hated the idea of his innocent fiancé being contaminated by the worldly Countess.

Nevertheless, Newland's careful and predictable world is flipped completely upside down when he meets and really gets to know the intriguing and intrepid Countess Olenska. As the plot moves on, we discovered all is not as we first envisioned. Newland is changing as he falls deeper in love with Ellen. He soon starts to show signs of rebelling against his previous ideals, begins transforming himself. A conversation with Ellen’s grandmother and family matriarch is particularly revealing:
"Poor Ellen—she was always a wayward child. I wonder what her fate will be?"

"What we've all contrived to make it," he felt like answering. "If you'd all of you rather she should be Beaufort's mistress than some decent fellow's wife you've certainly gone the right way about it."

But his transformation is not fast or deep enough, he is not able to entirely free himself from the constraints imposed on him by society and his own upbringing. He is not courageous enough?, you might ask. ‘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 to happen.’ But there is much more at play here. He soon realizes how restrictive his marriage was, how loveless and lonely his life would be:
’There was no use in trying to emancipate a wife who had not the dimmest notion that she was not free; and he had long since discovered that May's only use of the liberty she supposed herself to possess would be to lay it on the altar of her wifely adoration.’

And much more,
’He perceived with a flash of chilling insight that in the future many problems would be thus negatively solved for him; nut as he paid the hansom and followed his wife …he took refuge in the comforting platitude that the first six months were always the most difficult in marriage. "After that I suppose we shall have pretty nearly finished rubbing off each other's angles," he reflected; but the worst of it was that May's pressure was already bearing on the very angles whose sharpness he most wanted to keep.’

Even after understanding what his marriage would make of his life, he cannot escape.
"Outside it, in the scene of his actual life, he moved with a growing sense of unreality and insufficiency, blundering against familiar prejudices and traditional points of view as an absent-minded man goes on bumping into the furniture of his own room. Absent—that was what he was: so absent from everything most densely real and near to those about him that it sometimes startled him to find they still imagined he was there."

He cannot break up from convention, although he dreams of going as far as Japan with Ellen:
"Archer had fancied that his path was clear before him. He had meant to have a word alone with Madame Olenska, and failing that, to learn from her grandmother on what day, and by which train, she was returning to Washington. In that train he intended to join her, and travel with her to Washington, or as much farther as she was willing to go. His own fancy inclined to Japan."

Even if the story is told through Newland’s point of view, we cannot forget how much Ellen suffered. Probably even more than him, since it seems she had no choice:
"Oh, I know—I know! But on condition that they don't hear anything unpleasant. Aunt Welland put it in those very words when I tried.... Does no one want to know the truth here, Mr. Archer? The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend!" She lifted her hands to her face, and he saw her thin shoulders shaken by a sob.

We also soon discover that May is not so innocent. Although all her fight seems to be enforced to defend her marriage, its survival, and in that she would never change. What she learned with her mother she would repeat in her marriage 'Now she was simply ripening into a copy of her mother, and mysteriously, by the very process, trying to turn him into a Mr. Welland'. No, she was never weak just limited.
"I told her I was afraid I hadn't been fair to her—hadn't always understood how hard it must have been for her here, alone among so many people who were relations and yet strangers; who felt the right to criticise, and yet didn't always know the circumstances." She paused. "I knew you'd been the one friend she could always count on; and I wanted her to know that you and I were the same—in all our feelings."

But Newland was still dreaming of breaking away from everything, of being with Ellen. He tells May he needs to get away, but she was ahead of him. Not an innocent at all:
”I want to take a break–“
“A break? To give up law?”
“To go away, at any rate – at once. On a long trip, ever so far off – away from everything–“
He paused, conscious that he had failed in his attempt to speak with the indifference of a man who longs for a change and is yet too weary to welcome it. Do what he would, the chord of eagerness vibrated. “Away from everything – “he repeated.
“Ever so far? Where, for instance?” she asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. India – or Japan.”
“As far as that? But I’m afraid you can’t, dear … Not unless you take me with you. …That is, if the doctors let me go …but I’m afraid they won’t. For you see, Newland, I’ve been sure since this morning of something I’ve been longing and hoping for–“
“Have you told anyone else?”
“Only Mama and your mother. …That is – and Ellen. You know I told you we’d had a long talk one afternoon – and how dear she was to me.”
“Ah–“ said Archer, his heart stopping.

What I concluded is that Newland might be rebellious while May is until the end tradition itself. This pattern we witness endlessly, and when Newland ponders what their marriage and family life had been like it is all summed so clearly:
‘This hard bright blindness had kept her immediate horizon apparently unaltered. Her incapacity to recognize change made her children conceal their views from her as Archer concealed his; there had been, from the first, a joint pretense of sameness, a kind of innocent family hypocrisy, in which father and children had unconsciously collaborated.’

For one thing, his life as a man allowed him more freedom even to circumvent social customs for he was not as closely watched. Not that it was easier for him, for he struggles between social conformity and honesty to one's emotions. And not that May would want to change. She was set on her role without any uncertainty.

And often we see him contradict himself. Despite his transformation, we realize he will always be a 19th century man, as we witness him saying things such as “What could he and she really know of each other, since it was his duty, as a "decent" fellow, to conceal his past from her, and hers, as a marriageable girl, to have no past to conceal?”, while later he will dream of running away with Ellen.

The essence of Edith Wharton’s novel is whether Newland and Ellen ever had a chance? Not at their time. And Ellen recognizes reality: ”Ah, my poor Newland – I suppose this had to be… You’re engaged to May Welland; and I’m married”. And Newland replied, “It’s too late to do anything else”. To apart mean a return to their old respective life patterns, but to be together would mean going against what they both loved the most in the other. I can't love you unless I give you up. Being together would mean breaking too many rules, hurting loved ones, and carrying a guilt that would ultimately separate them if not physically for certain emotionally.
"But you knew; you understood; you had felt the world outside tugging at one with all its golden hands—and yet you hated the things it asks of one; you hated happiness bought by disloyalty and cruelty and indifference. That was what I'd never known before—and it's better than anything I've known."

This great work is a bittersweet love story at the mercy of society’s morals and ethics, with conflicting values that prevents them from realizing their most ardent desire to be together. I'd say this is the strong and beautiful point of this classic.
The idea that he could ever, in his senses, have dreamed of marrying Countess Olenska had become almost unthinkable, and she remained in his memory simply as the most plaintive and poignant of a line of ghosts.

Even more heartfelt:
The long was with him day and night, an incessant undeniable craving, like the sudden whim of a sick man for food or drink once tasted and long since forgotten.

The characters are forced to adjust and readjust to their changing life, but that is still not enough. At least it was not in their lifetime. The changes they go through are not deep enough to allow them a happy ever after. How painful to live through this changing times; and how dreadful to accept their fate. I can just imagine and suffer for them, and weep for them. Here lies the greatness of The Age of Innocence.

Their fate was to be apart, and so nothing rests for them but to keep their memories intact. It's what we lost and our memories that stay with us. If he had gone up to meet her, it would be another story.
’"It's more real to me here than if I went up," he suddenly heard himself say; and the fear lest that last shadow of reality should lose its edge kept him rooted to his seat as the minutes succeeded each other.’

Oh, I have to repeat myself: there is nothing more heartbreaking than unrequited love. So I weep again for them.

My first impressions:
“I can't love you unless I give you up.”
Oh, Vessey, I just finished The Age of Innocence! And I have to tell you that the last 10% conquered me. It made it me think that it had to be. They were set on their way before Ellen arrived and Newland and Amy made public their engagement. And I believe it had to end as it did. Suddenly, I discovered it deserved 5 full stars. It's what we lost and our memories that stay with us. If he had gone up to meet her, it would be another story.

I loved how it analyzed his marriage with May, the old costumes that are no more. That hypocritical society that held him down is finally fading. But too late for Ellen and Newland.

Well, it is all still too new to me, and the only thing I can say is that it touched me deeply. Maybe more because of my age, since I know enough of life and remember all that I lost and could never simply be revisited.
"It's more real to me here than if I went up," he suddenly heard himself say; and the fear lest that last shadow of reality should lose its edge kept him rooted to his seat as the minutes succeeded each other.

There is nothing more heartbreaking than unrequited love. So I weep for them.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56k followers
October 29, 2021
(Book 726 from 1001 books) - The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

The Age of Innocence is a 1920 novel by the American author Edith Wharton. It won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, making Wharton the first woman to win the prize.

The story is set in the 1870's, in upper-class, "Gilded-Age" New York City. Newland Archer, gentleman lawyer and heir to one of New York City's best families, is happily anticipating a highly desirable marriage to the sheltered and beautiful May Welland.

Yet he finds reason to doubt his choice of bride after the appearance of Countess Ellen Olenska, May's exotic and beautiful 30-year-old cousin. Ellen has returned to New York from Europe after scandalously separating herself (per rumor) from a bad marriage to a Polish count.

At first, Ellen's arrival and its potential taint on the reputation of his bride-to-be's family disturb Newland, but he becomes intrigued by the worldly Ellen, who flouts New York society's fastidious rules.

As Newland's admiration for the countess grows, so does his doubt about marrying May, a perfect product of Old New York society; his match with May no longer seems the ideal fate he had imagined. ...

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «عصر بیگناهی»؛ «عصر معصومیت»؛ نویسنده: ادیت وارتون ؛ انتشاراتیها (جار؛ فاخته؛ سخن، نشر نخستین، نقد افکار)؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش روز هفدهم ماه نوامبر سال1995میلادی

عنوان: عصر بیگناهی؛ نویسنده: ادیت وارتون؛ مترجم: مینو مشیری؛ تهران، فاخته، سال1373؛ در389ص؛ چاپ چهارم سال1378؛ شابک9644304591؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 20م

عنوان: عصر بیگناهی؛ نویسنده: ادیت وارتون؛ مترجم: پرتو اشراق؛ تهران، جار، سال1373؛ در319ص؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، نشر نخستین، سال1378؛ در4ص و319ص؛ شابک9646716296؛ باعنوان عصر معصومیت؛ تهران، نقد افکار، سال1389؛ در400ص؛ شابک9789642280803؛

اگر داستان را نخوانده اید شاید این نوشتار داستان را لو میدهد هشدار میدهم

ادیت وارتون، نخستین زنی بودند که جایزه ی «پولیتزر» را دریافت کردند، چکیده داستان: «نیولند ارچر»، در اپرا «کنتس الن النسکا» دختر عمه نامزدش «می» را دیدار می‌کند؛ «الن» به دلیل جدایی از کنت ثروتمند، و فرارش به همراه منشی کنت، و تمایلش به مقابله با عرف جامعه، خودش را بر سر زبانها انداخته است؛ در همین حال، «نیولند» به «می»، که دختری زیبا، ولی فاقد قوه تخیل و ساده است، پیشنهاد می‌دهد، که هرچه زودتر با وی ازدواج کند؛ دختر تقاضایش را رد می‌کند، و با اصرار در مورد روابط دیگر وی، پرسش می‌کند؛ «الن» برای مشاوره گرفتن در مورد طلاق احتمالی خود، به دفتر حقوقی «آرچر» مراجعه می‌کند؛ «آرچر» با خانواده «الن» موافق است، که رسوایی ناشی از این امر، خطر بسیار بزرگی است، و خود «الن» نیز با این موضوع موافق است؛ «الن» فرار می‌کند، و از «آرچر» می‌خواهد که به دنبال او بیاید، «ارچر» فکر می‌کند که شوهر «الن» در تعقیب اوست، اما در واقع کسی که آنها را تعقیب می‌کند «بئوفرت» است، بانکداری که به سختی با نیویورکی‌ها کنار می‌آید، و به داشتن معشوقه زیاد مشهور است؛ «ارچر» که در شور و هیجانات «الن» گرفتار شده، تصمیم می‌گیرد نامزدی خود را به هم بزند؛ اما پیغامی از «می» می‌رسد، مبنی بر این که والدین خود را متقاعد کرده، که تاریخ ازدواجشان را جلو بیاندازند؛ پس از ازدواج، «ارچر» و «می» به مسافرت سه ماهه‌ ای می‌روند، و در این میان با افراد زیادی، منجمله «ریویر» که یک معلم سرخانه «فرانسوی» است؛ دیدار می‌کنند؛ پس از آن آنها تابستان را در «نیو پورت» می‌گذرانند، و «می» در آنجا جایزه ی مسابقه تیراندازی با کمان را می‌برد؛ «ارچر» که هنوز هم مفتون «الن» است، هر بار بهانه‌ ای می‌آورد، تا بتواند او را ببیند، حتی پس از اینکه «الن» شهر را ترک می‌کند؛ «ارچر» میفهمد که «ریویر» - همان منشی، که «الن» همراه او از پیش شوهرش فرار کرده است - پیغامی برای «الن» آورده است، که در آن کنت خواستار بازگشت «الن» شده است؛ اما «ریویر»، به «ارچر» اصرار می‌کند که «الن» را از بازگشت به «لهستان» باز دارد؛ پس از حمله قلبی «کاترین مینگوت»، «الن» موافقت می‌کند، که برای زندگی با وی به پیش او بیاید؛ «ارچر» همچنان امیدوار است؛ سپس «می» به «ارچر» می‌گوید که «الن» تصمیم گرفته، به اروپا بازگردد، اما نه پیش شوهرش؛ پس از میهمانی خداحافظی «الن»، «می» رازی را فاش می‌کند، که او چندین روز قبل، به «الن» گفته بود، و اکنون نیز او فقط به شوهرش اطلاع می‌دهد: او حامله است؛ اکنون در پایان وقایع، با «ارچر» از طرف خانواده‌ اش بعنوان فردی ولخرج، که به سمت خانواده‌ اش بازگشته رفتار می‌شود؛ دهه‌ ها می‌گذرد و «ارچر» که اکنون همسرش درگذشته است، و در زمینه سیاست‌های آزادیخواهانه، فردی فعال و محترم است، بخاطر وعده‌ ای که به پسر خود «دالاس» داده است، به «پاریس» سفر می‌کند؛ پس از آنکه «دالاس» به پدر خود می‌گوید، که او از همه چیز درباره «الن النسکا» اطلاع یافته است، آنها تصمیم می‌گیرند، که از آپارتمان «الن» دیدن کنند؛ اما «ارچر» تصمیم می‌گیرد، که دورادور روی نیمکت پارک بنشیند، و «دالاس» را، برای ادای احترام بفرستد؛ «ارچر» به نوری که از آپارتمان «الن» بیرون زده نگاه م��‌کند، و سپس تنها و به آرامی و قدم زنان به سمت هتل می‌رود

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 21/10/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 06/08/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Steven Godin.
2,320 reviews2,195 followers
February 9, 2018
Myself and the Pulitzer prize have previously not always seen eye to eye, but Finally, I have read one worthy of giving top marks to. This golden oldie captures the wholesome atmosphere of American life and the highest standard of American manners and manhood from a bygone era, where modern ideas are resisted and tradition overcomes compassion. The inhabitants of this hothouse of New York society is built on wealth, life is lavished, easy and comfortably cushioned, but this world may just as well have been covered in a blanket of cobwebs, as the lives are so sedate and uneventfully dull, despite their opulent surroundings, they appear colourless and motionless. It is ultimately a tragic tale that Wharton weaves, and yes, as with a lot of classic fiction based around love, it's told with air of melancholy because this love is one that doesn't really get off the ground. For Newland Archer, the leading male character, there is an imagining of an alternative existence to the one that convention has pressed upon him, he has built within himself a kind of sanctuary for his secret thoughts and longings. Within these walls are his bride to be, May Welland and Countess Olenska, who would change his whole world.

"The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend"

Archer is a perfect product of Old New York, a member of one of the most prominent, historic families, he lives in the obligatory sumptuous brownstone on Fifth Avenue with his mild mannered mother and spinster sister, and languidly pursues the law as most gentlemen of his age and inherited wealth do. He is engaged to the young, beautiful, and equally impeccably bred May Welland, who is sweet sweet natured but naive. After twelve years away returns the Countess Ellen Olenska, May’s cousin, who through no fault of her own upsets the balance of Newland's life. She is beautiful, vivacious and intelligent, whose long period of living in more liberal European surroundings has made her innocent of the nonsensical, unspoken rules of the society she has reentered, and incapable of maintaining the shallow facade of her female relatives. Newland feels a life of quiet misery lies ahead, and despairs over Olenska as they grow closer and closer, because he is forced, by his own realisation, to know how Ellen will be treated if she dares to divorce her husband, and advises against it, even though he is devoured by love for her.

Wharton mesmerizes with the sheer depth of emotion, pain, and frustration bearing down on Newland's shoulders, he really is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Through thwarted dreams, despairing disillusionment, unbearable regrets and the innocence that seals the mind against imagination and the heart against experience, Newland and Ellen share a secret love that enables each of them to be the best people they can be, fulfilled intellectually, emotionally and socially, and the fact they can never be together in harmony is just as unbearable for the reader as it is for the characters, and this is where Wharton excels with people you truly believe in. For May, she is neither clever nor truthful, and only rarely shows a spirit that reveals a depth of feeling in the face of connvention and social expectations. In telling the story of how Archer and Olenska, against all the strictures and taboos of their society, fall in love, Wharton seems to be siding with the individual in this universal tug-of-war. But I don’t think it’s ever that simple. Certainly, New York's upper society in the 1870s was one of grandeur, but it is described in Archer’s thoughts and Wharton’s observations as a prison of the mind, one where the cells are sprinkled with gold dust.

The finale, of many years later, moved me immensely, I thought of all that went before, a story that in terms of characterisation was searing on every page with the intensity of this doomed love affair. A stunning novel, impeccably told. And I think it's unfair to simply label this as old fashioned 'chick-lit' because it's about so much more than what appears on the surface. Her tone is sardonic and to some extent cynical of the social world into which the reader enters, and she portrays this society, its conventions and traditions, through the unforgettable vivid characters whose behaviour and thinking were moulded in time.
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
451 reviews3,229 followers
July 6, 2021
Appearances can be deceiving as this superb classic novel reveals...Newland Archer has the perfect life rich young and good looking, a member in excellent standing of New York's 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 mysterious cousin arrives from Europe, Countess Ellen Olenska married to a brute a Polish nobleman who repeatedly degrades her, showing contempt for their marriage by parading lowly women in front of the Countess. Not trying to hide his transgressions, letting the world know it. The fleeing woman is a childhood playmate of Mr. Archer, and he can still remember her as she, he. First seeing the fugitive again at the Opera, with his future bride and family in their box. May loves her cousin and Ellen, loves May... The Countess causes quite a stir with the audience, men look approvingly at the attractive lady, women more critical. Poor Ellen as the relatives call her, living with an unconventional grandmother Mrs. Manson Mingott so obese she needs help to get up, nevertheless the lady is the head of the family and people listen to, even though she has strange ways then again very rich but... stingy. There is an unstated powerful attraction between Archer and Ellen, still duty prevents anything unsavory from happening besides Newland, believes in the proper way of doing things. A self described dilettante who goes through the motions of being a lawyer, in an office where he has little to do. Archer lives with his widowed mother Mrs. Adeline Archer, she is forever saying that everything is changing for the worse in the city and spinster sister Janey, they look so alike the two could be sisters, both depend on each other for companionship. He's a secret fanatic a bookworm receiving the latest editions from London, staying in a room reading that's when the gentleman is happy. Mr. Archer has no close friends the only person he can feel comfortable with, be himself is Ned Winsett a penniless struggling journalist, but of the lower class with a sick wife. Newland wants his wedding to happen earlier than is the established custom, hoping temptations will end if he is married to May. Even traveling to St.Augustine, Florida, on a surprise visit, where May is vacationing with her family for that purpose, his boss is not elated. Mr. Archer is wrong , clearly the gentleman loves the Countess and she returns the sentiment. Boorish banker Julius Beaufort vastly wealthy, an uncouth foreigner ( married to an influential and quite proper lady a New
York society woman) with a propensity to break all the rules, is chasing the skittish Ellen she needs to get away. They meet clandestinely in Boston the Countess and Archer; away from the prying eyes of everyone, the two hope just to hold each other... At a family gathering in Newport, Rhode Island, Newland is told to fetch Ellen, he goes down to the beach sees her on the pier, passionately stares for a long time and retreats back to the house, it would not be proper he thinks. An elegy saturates the whole book, from the first page to the last.
Profile Image for Jr Bacdayan.
211 reviews1,657 followers
October 10, 2016
“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 longing constantly growing, engulfing you until you cannot bear to live. Every part of your body numb and unaware of the realities around you. Because for you, only the pain you feel is real. The only truth you know is that everything is a lie.

Edith Wharton paints a very delicate picture that resonates elegiac waves and enraptures its readers to the very bone. One can't help but succumb to this level of desire, of emotion and empathize because of the atmosphere that Wharton has created. Her prose is crisp, straight and true. One might say that her prose is a reflection of her New York socialite self. (Wharton was born with quite a few gazillion silver spoons stuck somewhere on her buttocks.) Aside from that, with such a dazzling foray of words, she evoked such emotion in me that I was afraid I might like her Facebook page at some point. So with that in mind, I vowed to refrain from using Facebook until I've finished reading this book. Well, it worked fine for me. On another note, I was really impressed with her depiction of the 1870s New York. Based on a little research I did, her canvas of the place was just spot on splendid.

"It was the spirit of it -- the spirit of the exquisite romantic pain. The idea that the mere touching of a woman's hand would suffice. The idea that seeing her across the room would keep him alive for another year."

That sort of a relationship, that unique communication between two people savagely drawn to the other like moth to a flame is of a different level than all the other types of communication. This communication between them is that of the deepest kind. A communication that needs not one of the five senses. This communication of feeling, of intense knowing, of mutual understanding, this unity of the mind, this shared consciousness is the effect of a love that knows no bounds, strengthened to an insane proportion by the fact that it was never meant to be.

“The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend!”

"What's the use? You gave me my glimpse of a real life, and at the same moment you asked me to go on with a sham one."

But what really struck me the most was that irony that these two people enlightened to be different from the “pretend people”, who revile them and mockingly laugh at their trained innocence and hapless practices were to be subjected to a pretend relationship as well. “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.” They that were above that “Innocence” were cruelly placed upon a circumstance in which they have to feign Innocence as well, as the only way to sustain their love for each other. “I can't love you unless I give you up.” This has led me to believe that such innocence can only be a result of circumstances beyond their powers. That altogether this Innocence is merely through the progression of unstoppable forces not necessarily known to the person it affects. Such is also the case with the New York Society. These people did not choose to succumb to this veiled innocence, it was mercilessly hurled at them. They were raised in these circumstances, in a society where conformity is the norm and to question this conformity would be self-abdication. Thus, these people will die by this code.

This Age of Innocence reflects a view in which Newland Archer is also an innocent victim. He thinks his wife too much of an “innocent being” that he is surprised in the end and utterly moved when he finds out that she is not so innocent at all. And the lifting of this veil seemed a wake–up call to him at the very end, when he was about to meet the Countess Olenska with his son, that he realizes that he has lost this innocence. She had become the symbol of everything that could have been, all his hopes and dreams. She was the unreachable star. In the end, he was afraid that all that sustained his love was that invisible shackle, that sense of longing, that feigned innocence. And that the innocence was all that kept him to Ellen, and without it, he cannot bear to face her.

"And you'll sit beside me, and we'll look, not at visions, but at realities."

"I don't know what you mean by realities. The only reality to me is this."

The dream has become a reality and the reality a dream.

"'It's more real to me here than if I went up,' he suddenly heard himself say; and the fear lest that last shadow of reality should lose its edge kept him rooted to his seat as the minutes succeeded each other."
Profile Image for Robin.
475 reviews2,559 followers
April 21, 2019
This book, which examines lives stifled by the social conventions of 1870s Manhattan, is a classic masterpiece precisely because it is anything but conventional. Ironically, it had me longing for the lovers to dip their toes in love-story convention (by finding a hotel room, at least once), especially with lines like this one:

“Each time you happen to me all over again.”

Oh, Newland Archer! Oh, Ellen Olenska!

But no, the brilliant Edith Wharton doesn't allow it. She stays the course, showing the follies of Old New York society, the sometimes impossible and suffocating nature of marriage, and the changeability of social mores that seem so important in the moment but which are forgotten with the passing of a few years. She also shows how both noble and tragic it is to "do the right thing" rather than chasing happiness where it flies.

The poignancy of resignation and missed opportunities reminds me of similar themes addressed in The Remains of the Day. And though Wharton's Pulitzer Prize winning novel was written almost a hundred years ago, it still feels fresh and relevant.

This was my second reading of this book. The last time I read it was probably two decades ago, so it was almost like I was reading it for the first time. The only thing I can remember of my first reading was the feeling I had as I turned the last page. The overwhelming sense of I loved this, and must read it again. I had the same experience this time. I guess some things just don't change.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,179 reviews9,231 followers
May 31, 2011
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 suspect own little dogs, the kind you want to step on and squish. And many other novelists great and small dance about on the same subject.

Well, Edith Wharton starts off like she is trying to get at something very interesting in The Age of Innocence. Here is the young man contemplating his future marriage:

What could he and she really know of each other, since it was his duty, as a 'decent' fellow, to conceal his past from her, and hers, as a marriageable girl, to have no past to conceal? ... He reviewed his friends' marriages - the supposedly happy ones - and saw none that answered, even remotely, to the passionate and tender comradeship which he pictured as his permanent relation with May Welland. He perceived that such a picture presupposed, on her part, the experience, the versatility, the freedom of judgement, which she had been carefully trained not to possess; and with a shiver of foreboding he saw his marriage becoming what most of the other marriages about him were : a dull association of material and social interests held together by ignorance on the one side and hypocrisy on the other.

Much later the young man sadly muses thus:

There was no use in trying to emancipate a wife who had not the dimmest notion that she was not free

- apart from making you think "how very rude!" this begs the question what liberty, exactly, did this proto-feminist man suppose could be accessed by upperclass females in the 1870s in New York? Edith Wharton's clear intelligence makes me think that ambiguity clouds these various musings only because she fears she's already been too bold. So this compelling theme gets lost when she subtly changes gear. Still, there are enough zingers to keep you reading and relishing - for instance -

What if 'niceness' [in a wife:] carried to that supreme degree were only a negation, the curtain dropped before an emptiness?

Hmm, what if indeed. Or, concerning the rigours of class in New York,

It seems stupid to have discovered America only to make it into a copy of another country - nice one, Edith.

There's no getting away from it, Edith is indeed Henry James in drag, and this novel is kissing cousins to the early HJs like Washington Square, The Bostonians and The Portrait of a Lady. These idle rich, they're dull buggers you know - indeed Edith goes on and on about just how boring their lives are as she describes the dining, the travelling, the frittering, the spending, the ladylike sports the ladylike ladies did (archery - no, not nude mud wrestling, what large sums would I not pay to read Edith Wharton describing such a scene), the families, the clans, their history, their posh houses, their posh horses - oh please spare us - half way through you really wish that the fabric of space and time should rend asunder and a scary bunch of Sendero Luminoso guerillas break into the great ballrooms and dining rooms and haul the whole pack of them off to the sweaty jungles of Colombia for some serious political indoctrination. Plot spoiler : this does not happen. Instead, this book is a study of circumscription and circumspection, of people (the hero, the heroine and the wife) not getting what they want. And as such, when we are able to skirt round the pages of orotund description (A winding drive led up between the iron stags and blue glass balls embedded in mounds of geraniums to a front door of highly varnished walnut under a striped verandah-roof; and behind it ran a narrow hall with a black and yellow star-patterned parquet floor upon which opened four small square rooms with heavy flock-papers under ceilings on which an Italian house-painter had lavished all the divinities of Olympus" - did you get all that Mr Set Designer?) the heart of this tale is sad and almost beautifully done. But really mimsy with it.


PS - I saw the movie too which was as elegant as all get-out, apart from the dodgy Enya-like song splodged in the middle. That Michelle Pfeiffer - cor, blimey. I wouldn't kick her out of bed. Still and all, the movie is a 100-minute argument as to why you should read the book instead, because what's missing is Edith Wharton's mind, which is a great place to dally in. You get voice-overs in the movie which only serve to remind you how literary adaptations, however spiffily dressed-up (and aren't they all?) are not the real deal, they're the unreal deal. These movies are like aides memoires on gorgeous notepaper written with a ten thousand dollar pen. The note says : read the book.
Profile Image for Pavel Nedelcu.
298 reviews126 followers
May 28, 2022
New York society at the end of the 19th century. An impossible love story.

I’ve been so amazed by this novel that I don’t even know how to begin my comment on it. The book starts slowly, mentioning the (actually not so) many names and families composing New York society of the time: their intertwining and relationships are difficult to follow.

Then, around page 40-60, the story unfolds: it is a love story between two members of New York society. One (Archer), a conformist who cannot escape etiquette and is about to get married and the other (Countess Olenska), who fights every day against it, and left her Polish husband running away from Europe in the hope that she will be backed up by her family in New York.

But what I enjoyed most in this love story was Wharton's great ability to tell it without falling into pathetic tones and exaggerations (like, for instance, the Brontë sisters) and, above all, starting from the very subtle and, at times, ironic description of the characters’ thoughts (in particular, Newland Archer's).

Only through this expedient can we truly understand the New York society of the time, pity its non-conformist members, laugh at their bigotry and tribal organization.

And then comes the ending, one of the most beautiful endings ever: Archer's society, with all its rules and conventions has almost vanished in the following thirty years.

What is left is his regret that he didn’t act when and how he would have liked. Not having made the right decision at the right time, against all those changing social norms.

Beautifully delivered, although the second part was better than the first. But am I to deny the novel 5 stars just for this dense and a bit confusing beginning.

P.S. : Also, see the excellent movie by Scorsese (1993)!
Profile Image for Piyangie.
509 reviews391 followers
January 23, 2023
The Age of Innocence is basically a love triangle. Newland Archer is a wealthy lawyer of upper-class New York society, who is engaged to be married to May, a member of the same society. Ruled by well-laid conventions, Newland believes him to be happy and content and eagerly awaits his impending marriage. The meet of Ellen, May's cousin, and his closer association with her that follows make him see the dull and empty life that he is forced to live which is tightly controlled by convention. Newland eventually falls in love with Ellen, but convention and duty require that he should surrender his love and freedom.

I didn't take to the character of Newland Archer initially. His cowardice and inaction really bothered me. Even when May offers him that he may break the engagement if there is "another woman" whom he desires to marry, he does not grab at the opportunity. Although he constantly lamented over his lost opportunity to love and live freely, it is his own inaction that brought him misery; and not only to him but to May and Ellen. But later, on reflecting on his character, I realized that I cannot judge his character by modern convictions. Given the time period in which the character is set, nothing was surprising in Newland's cause of action. The conventions by which they lived were a second religion to them from which it was almost impossible to deviate.

May was the representation of family, duty, and convention. She is described as pretty, socially perfect but one who lacks imagination and room for growth. But I felt that she was severely misunderstood, especially by Newland. While she puts a socially acceptable face outwards, underneath lives a strong, intelligent, and artful woman who goes to greater lengths to secure what is hers.

My sympathy was with Ellen who was an innocent victim of fate and convention. Her character represented the universal “unconventional women". She was always portrayed in soft, kind, and truthful light with a mind of her own, and I believe, she is Ms. Wharton's heroine.

Through the main characters of Newland, May, and Ellen, and supported by several interesting supporting characters, the story is a true portrayal of the lives and way of living of New York upper-class society. Being herself part of that society, Ms. Wharton draws a truthful account of it, satirically portraying at the same time, their rigid conventional ways of living. The story concludes with the final chapter being set thirty years later, which shows how the people have slowly managed to unchain themselves from these strict bonds. This chapter was a breath of fresh air.

The writing is beautifully detailed, and the psychological portrayal of the characters is cleverly done that it was easy to connect with the story and its characters from the very beginning. Her writing is easy-going yet graceful making it both a quick and interesting read.

This is my second reading of Wharton's work and I loved it. To me, The Age of Innocence is a story of an "age of innocence" where people were kept within strict social rules where imaginative and passionate living is neither heard of nor sanctioned.
Profile Image for Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh.
167 reviews503 followers
March 15, 2014
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 to reap the benefits of marrying well “After all, marriage is marriage, and money's money—both useful things in their way ...” then wastes his life and the lives of the women who share it by spending it lamenting his decision. “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 to happen.” Throw in the proverbial ‘vapid’ ball and chain of a wife “There was no use in trying to emancipate a wife who had not the dimmest notion that she was not free.” Add to the mix unrequited looove, the lust for another woman. Goes without saying that in stark contrast to the wife she's intelligent and utterly fascinating. “poetry and art are the breath of life to her.”

Pen the above in gorgeous prose, set in high society New York, shake & stir and voila! Pulitzer prize for fiction.

Cons: So predictable, and except for Newland’s the characters are shallow, undefined and stereotypical. How it took the Pulitzer is beyond me.
Meanderings: Huge sigh of relief when I FINALLY finished this. Needed a break from ‘escapist’ fiction so followed it with Eels: An Exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World's Most Mysterious Fish Loved it (review to follow). Eels are slimy, ugly and refreshingly uncomplicated! So obviously I’m a bit weird. Just to be clear my dislike for this novel isn’t because I over-empathized with the wife. I’ve never married and I don’t think I’m vapid:) No, I'm probably just pissed that I've been fooling myself for years, believing my like or dislike of a novels characters didn’t impact my appreciation for a book. Wrong...Newland Archer made me eat my words.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews583 followers
February 14, 2016
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 both its vibrance and austerity.

Wharton is a writer of words nestled in conscious rhythm, the director of a play that centers around societal distinctions like class and gender, yet still embodies universal themes of love, betrayal, and self-actualization. Wharton writing from a male's perspective reminds me of Cather, in My Ántonia: they do it so well, so authentically. She had Henry James as a mentor, and yet I prefer her books to his (although I see a resemblance to my favorite James book to-date: The American).
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 to happen.

Countess Olenska is not just a woman ostracized in 1920s New York Society: she is symbolic of New York on the verge of change, the cusp of a new era; she is love and beauty and complications; she is pain, consolation, a new life which uncovers an insipid way of living. The Countess represents fresh ideas, a new way of thinking, a society that doesn't place class and materialism before all else, a bohemian way of being. The Countess is hope.

I realize I"m taking an unorthodox stand, seeing as how the Countess also represents infidelity and betrayal, and the uproot of normalcy. Yet knowing Newland's choices when he meets Ellen, one knows that in the end, he'll make a decision forced upon him by his society. In the end, we see his gratitude for life, and the regrets from his choices, which once again, reminds us of the complications of life. Wharton leaves us with an ending rife with speculative contemplations, and as readers, we become just like her characters.
Something he knew he had missed: the flower of life. But he thought of it now as a thing so unattainable and improbable that to have repined would have been like despairing because one had not drawn the first prize in a lottery.

Conventional New York was not ready for the Countess. The city had not yet formed itself into the diverse structure it now is, with a roadway tunnel that traverses the Hudson river, and a train station that connects you with New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In fact, conventional New York City was also unprepared for The Harlem Renaissance, taking place only a few blocks away, in the same decade and the same world, yet separate and forgotten--like Ellen Olenska.
But then you come; and you're so much more than I remembered, and what I want of you is so much more than an hour or two every now and then, with wastes of thirsty waiting between, that I can sit perfectly still beside you, like this, with that other vision in my mind, just quietly trusting it to come true.

Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,738 followers
July 8, 2020
The first thing that I must admit is that I liked this book much more than I expected to like it. I think I judged this book by its many sort of boring covers and the fact that it sounded like a dry classic in some descriptions I read. I know, “BAD MATTHEW!” As a voracious reader I should not make assumptions and I should go in with an open mind. But, at least with my pre-conceived notions being disproved, I was pleasantly surprised.

While this book has many characters, the story is not complex. This is good because I could focus on keeping the characters straight instead of the story straight! It is basically a story of how late 1800s high society in New York handles behavior they feel unbecoming of their station. It is especially “shocking” when one of their own becomes involved and forgets his place. Scandalous indeed!

I enjoyed the characters and felt strongly – both positively a negatively – about many of them. I did a lot of head shaking. I did a lot of feeling sorry. I did a lot of not being able to believe how people viewed and treated each other. What we see as rather commonplace today in relationships was not to be tolerated back then. I suppose that is reflected in the title of the book – it was an age of innocence – even the smallest sins were too taboo for daily life and not to be accepted or discussed in public forum. I am interested to discuss this further with the book club I read this for and in comment discussion on this review. I am still trying to figure out what the commentary the author was trying to make. I almost feel like the author’s point could be interpreted as “This is how it was – no subtext implied – you decide how you feel about these people and the way they treated each other.”

I have no problem recommending this if you are looking for a classic to read. If you are a fan of historical fiction and/or scandalous gossip stories I don’t think you can go wrong here. After this, I look forward to trying even more Edith Wharton.
Profile Image for Phoenix  Perpetuale.
195 reviews64 followers
February 1, 2023
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton is a classic masterpiece. I have listened to it on Audible narrated by Maureen Howard.
The age of Innocence is a story about 1920 s high society life. A man that already is engaged to a young and beautiful lady May. Everything is quite well for the young couple until mysterious Countess Olenska who happens to be who is a cousin to May.
Later the plot is about how two love birds count every single meeting that used to bring joy and a butterfly in the stomach and with time everything has changed but love stayed.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
986 reviews1,114 followers
August 9, 2022
Oh, Edith Wharton. I wonder if she ever thought that her stories would still ring so true almost a hundred years later… Not just because of the classic love-triangle situation, but also the concern with appearances and reputations and the grand show that people put on for others to watch and judge.

The character development in this book is simply amazing. One is tempted to judge and pigeonhole these people, but the more you read, the more they reveal themselves to be much more complicated and interesting than they appeared at first. I do confess to a small book-crush on Newland (not because of Daniel Day-Lewis’ interpretation, though that is totally worth checking out), who is tragically stuck between two ways of thinking: the old-school one that he was brought up in, and the more modern one, which is right around the corner but not quite acceptable yet for someone of his station. He doesn't want to ruffle any feathers, but he is noticing with increasing annoyance that some of the customs held up by his social circles simply don't make sense anymore. His struggle is so vividly depicted that you end up just as torn as he is and by the end of the book, you just want the guy to be happy.

The sharp, witty writing that jabs so cleverly at the shallowness of the lives of the New York upper crust is another very strong point of this novel. Edith Wharton shows us the gorgeous, highly polished surface of society and scratches at it mercilessly, but she somehow avoids being condescending. Her long descriptions of furniture and priceless china is not there to mock so much as it is there to show us what these people cared about, and how ultimately silly it. I admire her restraint and the complete absence of meanness in her prose.

Ellen Olenska is one of the most wonderfully drawn characters I have encountered in a long time. Her strength of character, her need for independence, her yearning for happiness: all these things stunted by the conventions of the society she returned to, looking for comfort and support. Her story is really tragic: the bad marriage, the straight-laced relatives who can’t understand why she wants a divorce, the man she knows she cannot have because she refuses to hurt her cousin or to be someone’s mistress. Ellen wants to be first fiddle and she will not settle for less, even if that means giving up the man she loves. I admired her, but I also felt incredible sorrow for her.

This is one of my favorite books, and I warmly recommend it to everyone. If you have already read it, give it another go: I find out new delightful details and meanings every time I pick it up.
Profile Image for Luís.
1,825 reviews476 followers
April 17, 2022
Some romances efficiently drive others from the mind! Because if we had to classify this book by Edith Wharton, it would be difficult not to stick the label romance to it.
In the time of innocence, she shows how bourgeois New York society only functions on pre-established codes for which no one can really remember the reasons (see specific passages on dress rules) but which nevertheless govern the whole. Relationships between individuals, including at the most personal level. The happiness of individuals never seems to be the end goal and is even a variable to consider. The New World seeks to distance itself from the Old while copying it.
But the romance aspect is not entirely obscured, however. On the contrary, it is in the foreground with a nuanced analysis of the feelings, thoughts, and renunciations that cross the two main characters, caught in this societal straitjacket and dreaming of breaking free from it. And where we touch, the masterpiece is all conveyed by small innuendo touches that leave the reader in suspense. Thus, you will understand what made the Time of Innocence a significant work, which justifies 2019 as a new translation closer to the original.
Wharton was almost 60 years old when the book was published, a time when all innocence was arguably gone from his life. However, we feel through her words that, just like her characters, she would have liked to be able to find her, the time of a kiss.
Profile Image for Kalliope.
687 reviews22 followers
July 11, 2018

May be I ought to have read this before the four stories in Old New York: Four Novellas. The novel was written in 1920 and the novellas that pick up, somewhat on the side, some of the same characters were published four years later. Although "Old New York", with its windows onto the four decades of the 1840s; 1850s; 1860s and 1870s, provides the introductory framework of the city of Wharton's (obsessive?) memories and of her earlier novel. The Age of Innocence is set in the 1870s, although the reader keeps the feeling that one is watching it through a telescope that zooms onto the past. This suspicion is confirmed in the last chapter, when the novel is wrapped up at the turn of the century.

Whatever the order, my reading attitude has been the same in both works. Firmly rooted on their sense of place and time, I kept marking in the map of my mind where he various characters stood, where they walked (mostly up and down 5th), and lived (brown-stoned houses and later in the somewhat surreptitious cream-colored buildings), for their particular siting forms certainly part of their portraiture.

In reality this is my second reading. From my first experience I just remember that I had started reading just after sitting on a lecture on the act of looking in nineteenth century painting. The most striking scenes were opera watchers not watching the opera but watching at each other watching themselves. I was then struck by the rounded structure of the novel for it is at the opera that the plot begins; and ends. The reader can see him/herself as witnessing the story from one of the boxes beginning, lets say, at the left side of the horseshoe shaped theater, and gradually moving to one at the extreme right ending it from one of the

The novel is also loaded with references that ground the work to its times and its culture. It is loaded with references: Painting (Bouguereau, Cabanel, Carolus Duran); Art history (Ruskin, William Morris and Walter Pater); Literature (Swinburne's Chastelard, Merimée's Lettres à une inconnue, Paul Bourget); Music (pianist Sarrasate, tenor Campanini); Theatre (George Rignold)... It is all there.

This novel is foremost a sociological analysis and although it is, at its core, a sharp and censorious critique of the collective and ethical mores of a very particular society, it retains an air of nostalgia that for a twenty-first century reader brings a certain wistfulness when one realizes that many of the criticized social barriers have been pulled down but that the revealed boundless field can also seem somewhat disorienting. The reader cannot but ponder what would Wharton have thought of today's freedoms.
Profile Image for Shovelmonkey1.
353 reviews868 followers
December 4, 2013
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.

Don't let appearances fool you ladies and gentlemen, for Wharton was a regular social and creative dynamo; designer, socialite, writer, Knight (Chevalier of the legion of honour for her work in France during the war) there was no stopping this woman.

So back to The Age of Innocence. What's it all about? Mostly about how being young, rich and desirable and mixing with the cream of society isn't all it is cracked up to be. Why? Well because high society is actually incredibly dull. Really? Yup. In order to set themselves apart from the grubby minions who do the dishes, drive the coaches and actually work for a living, "society" set about creating a set of hideously constrictive rules and moral guidelines which sap the joy, happiness, fun, freedom of expression and general day to day life out of everyone involved.

It is incredibly ironic that everyone then strives to get accepted into this set when everyone who's already there is so damned miserable most of the time. Most of Wharton's principal characters are unhappy with their lot and lead a treading-on-eggshells existence because they're terrified out of their wits about any kind of scandal. Obviously scandal of sorts does ensue but everyone deals with it very nicely, calmly and diplomatically without any mud slinging or calling in Piers Morgan.

Clearly a lot has changed... now massive scandal can be a potentially lucrative money earner if you have the right press connections and in certain cities (Lets pretend I don't live in one of them) people set out to bed a sleb (celebrity) and then launch a modelling/music/TV career based on the back of some good quality kiss and tell anecdotes.

The best thing about this book for me was the names of the main characters. Not satisfied with a range of traditional names (you will find no James, Johns, Matthews or Mikes here reader) Wharton presented me with a barrage of people with names like Newland Archer, Manson Mingott, Sillerton Jackson, Emerson Sillerton and Dallas Archer. Eek! Perhaps the silliness of the names mirrors Whartons' own slightly mocking perspective on the society she herself inhabited.

If I had been brought up in high society I would have probably had to kick off my satin slippers and throw myself under the wheels of the first passing horse and carriage as soon as I entered adulthood. Who would want to live in such constrained times? Not I.
Profile Image for Michael.
657 reviews966 followers
March 25, 2020
Written in the wake of WWI, The Age of Innocence sketches a wry portrait of life for the idly rich in Gilded Age New York, a metropolis in a land recently torn asunder by war and uncertain of its national identity. The plot centers on a love triangle between the unself-aware protagonist, Archer; his passive wife-to-be May; and her cousin Ellen, a free-spirited countess newly returned to America from Europe, estranged from her husband, and unlike most of her status-conscious family. Through the relatively conventional story, the novel smartly explores social tensions and gendered conflict among the wealthy, and considers America’s relationship to Europe.
Profile Image for Daniela.
167 reviews91 followers
April 23, 2021
Although written in the 20th century, The Age of Innocence could well be seen as a pastiche of 19th century literature. We have the naïve, well-meaning young man who tries yet fails to overcome the prejudices of his society and social class; we have the foreign woman, sophisticated and beautiful, with whom the young man duly falls in love; and we have the fiancée, the typical girl-next-door so beloved in America pop culture, getting between our heroes. Intermeshed with this love triangle, are very rigid puritanical mores, which spill into intricate forms of class divide. I am familiar with how classism works in Europe, remnants, in part, of the old aristocratic order. But although I had heard something about Old Money vs New Money in the US, I had never seen it in action.

The psychological insights only a post-Freud world could provide make this novel truly extraordinary. The love story between Archer and Countess Olenska is beautifully written not for what it is but for the insights into Archer’s feelings, wonderfully illustrated by the quote: Each time you happen to me all over again. And in fact, the encounters between Archer and Olenska are sparse. Archer spends much more time thinking about her than with her. What could then be a rather banal love story turns into a sublime relationship made of self-denial and lofty feelings. On the other hand, it is precisely the relationship between Archer and his wife, May, that is very much banal, dirty and sullied despite May’s pretences at purity.
Profile Image for Carlo Mascellani.
Author 15 books258 followers
December 22, 2021
Scordatevi i toni umoristici e sarcastici di un Thackeray. Qui, a ogni pagina, a ogni riga, si respira tristezza, dolore e tanta amarezza. Dinanzi a noi lettori si staglia il quadro di una società conformista, ipocrita, che ha fatto delle regole sociali consolidatesi nel tempo dei veri e propri dogmi cui assoggettarsi quieta e condiscendente: pena un'esclusione sociale temuta quasi più della morte stessa. Non c'è spazio per la discussione, il dibattito, le voci fuori dal coro, ma solo per un costante, devoto conformismo, per sorrisi dietro ai quali si celano zanne e artigli, per quella medietas nella quale ogni gentiluomo sembra trovare un'intima sicurezza e la certezza d'essere nel giusto. Non è solo la donna a far le spese di un simile clima, ma ogni singola persona, ovunque e sempre. Da leggere.
Profile Image for Trish.
255 reviews380 followers
July 7, 2021
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 you call for me, you know I'll run
I'll run to you, I'll run to you
I'll run, run, run

Now on to the review. Ah, Newland Archer, my love, my heart! As a woman in 2016, it was refreshing to read about a man in love. It feels like modern media usually portrays women as the desperate, clingy, unreasonable and unrealistically passionate ones. The truth is, we're all susceptible to the foolishness and intensity that comes with being in love.

In the beginning of the novel, Archer is accepting and eager about his role and future in society - son, lawyer, bachelor, husband, father. It's the familiar and reliable path followed by the best of his male family, friends and colleagues. There's a comfort in knowing that your major life decisions are predestined, planned and orchestrated by others. Archer learns, however, what he must give up for that comfort. Complacent in his engagement with May Welland, he meets her vivacious and worldly cousin Countess Ellen Olenska and discovers how passionate and surprising his life could be. This awakening causes an internal crisis for Archer. By sticking to the status quo and doing what is expected of him, he gives up many of his liberties. But if he forsakes society, he brings dishonor to his reputation and isolates himself and anyone associated with him. It is this struggle that is the driving force in the novel.

The Age of Innocence is a brilliant portrait of upperclass New York City in the 1870s. I went in with very high expectations for this novel - this is the second book by Edith Wharton that I've read, Ethan Frome being the first - and she did not disappoint. An intimate and critical exposé of society coupled with Edith Wharton's elegant prose secures this novel as one of the greatest pieces of American literature I've read yet.

For more bookish photos, reviews and updates follow me on instagram @concerningnovels.
Profile Image for kohey.
51 reviews193 followers
July 27, 2017
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 old families,the charcters are forced to adjust and readjust to their changing life,stick to the old values or must accept new ones.How painful the process and how dreadful the fate must be!
Most values depicted here are almost universal,and can apply in modern times,so thier decisions are all the more touching.

This great work is a modern bittersweet story at the mercy of ethics and morals we share today and different times.
Profile Image for Victorian Spirit.
212 reviews703 followers
June 1, 2021
Esta novela tiene mucho de ensayo histórico, retrata a la perfección el Nueva York de finales del siglo XIX y el modus vivendi de su élite económica. Pero lo que de verdad me conquistó de esta historia fueron los tres protagonistas y sus distintas capas, ya que cuanto más los conoces, más te sorprenden, hasta llegar a un final inesperado pero que da sentido a todo lo que has leído. Edith Wharton escribe de maravilla y estoy deseando seguir conociendo su obra.

RESEÑA COMPLETA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXyNx...
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,160 reviews2,010 followers
September 15, 2015
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.
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