Amanda's Reviews > The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
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Jun 07, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: kick-ass, blog
Read 3 times. Last read April 19, 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
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
Finished Reading
June 7, 2008 – Shelved
April 10, 2010 –
page 1
0.32%
April 13, 2010 –
page 118
38.31%
April 13, 2010 –
page 163
52.92%
April 23, 2010 – Shelved as: kick-ass
April 6, 2011 –
page 59
19.16%
April 8, 2011 –
page 128
41.56%
April 14, 2011 –
page 189
61.36%
Started Reading
April 19, 2011 – Finished Reading
July 30, 2013 – Shelved as: blog

Comments (showing 1-21 of 21) (21 new)

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message 1: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Lynne i've always wanted to read this, but didn't think i'd like it b/c i usually don't like the writing style a lot of classics are written in. but i think i'm gonna give this one a shot one day soon.


Amanda When it comes to Edith Wharton, be prepared for very little action because everyone is hiding every emotion and genuine thought beneath their social mask. However, that's part of what I love--and it's all doomed love, thwarted hopes, and falls from grace. It may be best to start with The House of Mirth as it's a little more accessible and then try The Age of Innocence.


Ellen Phelps Well said!


Mary Wonderful review Amanda


Amanda Mary wrote: "Wonderful review Amanda"

Thanks!


Kitty Myers "the subtlety of action in a society constrained by its own ridiculous rules and mores."

YES! Perfectly stated.


Amanda Kitty wrote: ""the subtlety of action in a society constrained by its own ridiculous rules and mores."

YES! Perfectly stated."


Thank you. I love Wharton novels for this very reason.


Julie You must be a wonderful teacher.


Amanda Julie wrote: "You must be a wonderful teacher."

Thank you. That's very kind of you to say.


message 10: by Alw (new) - rated it 3 stars

Alw I really like your metaphor, "Everyone wears a mask of society's creation." Archer and Ellen refuse to wear these masks and branch out from the expectations. I also did not realize the deeper symbolism of Archer's character; however, I now completely agree. Archer is "awakened" by Ellen's independent nature and seeks her freedom from society's oppression.


message 11: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim I agree that there is a subtlety of action, but in that sense, it is somewhat lacking in excitement.


Amanda Alw wrote: "I really like your metaphor, "Everyone wears a mask of society's creation." Archer and Ellen refuse to wear these masks and branch out from the expectations. I also did not realize the deeper sym..."

Thanks! I agree--Newland represents the first stirrings within Old New York society that not only will things have to change, but that they should change. However, he's doomed by this realization because not all of society has come to the same conclusion and so many are still devotedly protecting the status quo.


Amanda Tim wrote: "I agree that there is a subtlety of action, but in that sense, it is somewhat lacking in excitement."

I certainly can't argue against that point. Excitement certainly isn't prevalent, but, for me at least, the exquisite tension created by the love affair that can never be at least kinda-sorta makes up for it.


Marie Karapetyan Can I read this book, I am 14 years old


message 15: by Amanda (last edited Jan 02, 2014 02:44PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amanda Marie wrote: "Can I read this book, I am 14 years old"

I think you could, particularly if you like works by Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters. It's very slow moving because it details so much about the society they live in, but that information only helps you to better relate to the characters. If you try it and don't like it, then you might want to try it again when you're older. When I was younger, I didn't particularly care for these types of books but began really appreciating them when I was in my 20s. Good luck and I hope you enjoy it!

P. S. Now that I think of it, you might want to start with The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. It may be more accessible as its protagonist is a young female at odds with high society. Many of my students prefer it to The Age of Innocence.


Marie Karapetyan Thank you Amanda, I will read this book!!


Amanda Marie wrote: "Thank you Amanda, I will read this book!!"

Great--I hope you enjoy it!


Cenobite Fantastic review! I agree wholeheartedly.


Amanda Cenobite wrote: "Fantastic review! I agree wholeheartedly."

Thank you--I could read this one again and again.


Naazish well said Amanda!


Amanda Naazish wrote: "well said Amanda!"

Thanks!


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