Kalliope's Reviews > The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
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it was amazing
bookshelves: 2018, american, 20-century, 19-century, fiction-english, re-reads
Read 2 times. Last read June 30, 2018 to July 9, 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 (view spoiler) 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.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading (Other Paperback Edition)
April 16, 2010 – Shelved (Other Paperback Edition)
April 19, 2010 – Shelved as: literary-classics (Other Paperback Edition)
June 30, 2018 – Started Reading
June 30, 2018 – Shelved
June 30, 2018 – Shelved as: 2018
June 30, 2018 – Shelved as: american
June 30, 2018 – Shelved as: 20-century
June 30, 2018 – Shelved as: 19-century
June 30, 2018 – Shelved as: fiction-english
June 30, 2018 – Shelved as: re-reads
June 30, 2018 –
page 5
1.3% "She sang, of course, M'ama! and not 'He loves me' since an unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German tex of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences."
June 30, 2018 –
page 23
5.99% "Wandering onto the bouton d'or drawing room, where Beaufort had had the audacity to hang "Love Victorious" by Bouguereau...

"
July 1, 2018 –
page 28
7.29% "The immense accretion of flesh which ha descended on her in middle life like flood of las on a doomed city had changed her from a plump active little woman with a neatly-turned foot and ankle into something as vasta and august as a natural phenomenon."
July 1, 2018 –
page 34
8.85% "They preferred those about peasant life, because of the descriptions of scenery and the pleasanter sentiments, though they liked novels about people in society, whose motives and habits were more comprehensible, sake severely of Dickens, who 'had never drawn a gentleman' and considered Thackeray less at home in the great world than Bulwer - who was beginning to be thought old-fashioned."
July 1, 2018 –
page 45
11.72% "In reality they all lived in kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even though, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs..."
July 1, 2018 –
page 46
11.98% "Ad he felt himself oppressed by this creation fo factitious p unity, so cunningly manufactured by a conspiracy of mothers and aunts and grandmothers, because it was supposed to be what he wanted, what he had a right to, in order that he might exercise his lordly pleasure in smashing it like an image made of snow."
July 1, 2018 –
page 62
16.15% "Mrs van der Luyden looks more than ever like a Cabanel...


"
July 2, 2018 –
page 64
16.67% "It was not the custom in New York drawing rooms for a lady to get up and walk away from one gentlemen in order to seek the company of another. Etiquette required that she should wait, immovable as an idol, while the men who wished to converse with her succeeded each other at her side."
July 2, 2018 –
page 105
27.34% ".. was attired in a long robe of red velvet bordered about the chin and down the front with glossy brown fur. Archer remembered on his last visit to Paris , seeing a portrait by the new painter, Carolus-Duran...

Not quite, but...
"
July 4, 2018 –
page 124
32.29% "Archer, who dressed in the evening because he thought it cleaner and more comfortable to do so, and who had never stopped to consider that cleanliness and comfort are two of the costliest items in a modest budget...."
July 6, 2018 –
page 137
35.68% "'If only this new doge for talking along a wire had been a little bit nearer perfection I might have told you all this from town...... and at this opening Madame Olenska twisted the talk away to th efatntiastic possibility that they might one day actually converse with each other from street to street, or even from one town to another"
July 6, 2018 –
page 160
41.67% "What words have we moderns for Providence?"
July 6, 2018 –
page 188
48.96% "Perhaps that faculty of unawareness was what gave her eyes their transparency, and her face the look of representing a type rather than a person; as if she might have been chosen to pose for a Civic Virtue or a Greek goddess."
July 8, 2018 –
page 210
54.69% "..he marveled afresh at the way in which experience dropped away from her."
July 8, 2018 –
page 240
62.5% "It seems stupid to have discovered America only to make it into a copy of another country."
July 8, 2018 –
page 259
67.45% "It was thus that New York managed its transitions: conspiring to ignore them till they were well over, and then, in all good faith, imagining that they had taken place in a preceding age."
July 9, 2018 –
page 287
74.74% "Once more she had managed, by her sheer simplicity, to make him feel stupidly conventional just when he thought he was convention to the winds."
July 9, 2018 –
page 305
79.43% "A woman's standard of truthfulness was tacitly held to be lower: she was the subject creature, and versed in the arts of the enslaved."
July 9, 2018 –
page 334
86.98% "There were certain things that had to be done, and if done at all, done handsomely and thoroughly; and one of these, in the old New York code, was the tribal rally around a kinswoman about to be eliminated from the tribe."
July 9, 2018 –
page 347
90.36% "Something he knew he had missed: the flower of life."
July 9, 2018 –
page 353
91.93% "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."
July 9, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-22 of 22 (22 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Gary Inbinder An excellent review of one of my favorite novels, and a fine choice of pix! :) FYI, I saw Scorsese's film version before I read the novel. I think it's one of the finest screen adaptations of an historical novel, at least among all the films in the genre that I've seen.


Kalliope Gary wrote: "An excellent review of one of my favorite novels, and a fine choice of pix! :) FYI, I saw Scorsese's film version before I read the novel. I think it's one of the finest screen adaptations of an hi..."

Yes, I saw the film when it came out, and I hope to watch it again soon.

So far this is my favorite Wharton novel. I still have her The Custom of the Country to read.

This is truly a fabulous novel. I may read it a third time sometime in the future.


Kimber I remember crying really hard at the ending.


Kalliope Kimber wrote: "I remember crying really hard at the ending."

I am not surprised...!!!


Gary Inbinder Kalliope wrote: "Gary wrote: "An excellent review of one of my favorite novels, and a fine choice of pix! :) FYI, I saw Scorsese's film version before I read the novel. I think it's one of the finest screen adaptat..."

I liked The Custom of the Country. It's darkly humorous and ironic. You might want to take a look at my review.


Kalliope Gary wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Gary wrote: "An excellent review of one of my favorite novels, and a fine choice of pix! :) FYI, I saw Scorsese's film version before I read the novel. I think it's one of the fine..."

Thank you, Gary. I will look at your review after I have read the book... Hopefully soon... Next in my list of American novels in James's Portrait.


Kalliope Gary wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Gary wrote: "An excellent review of one of my favorite novels, and a fine choice of pix! :) FYI, I saw Scorsese's film version before I read the novel. I think it's one of the fine..."

Thank you, Gary. I will look at your review after I have read the book... Hopefully soon... Next in my list of American novels in James's Portrait.


Gary Inbinder Kalliope wrote: "Gary wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Gary wrote: "An excellent review of one of my favorite novels, and a fine choice of pix! :) FYI, I saw Scorsese's film version before I read the novel. I think it's on..."

You're welcome, Kall. Enjoy Portrait!


Steven Godin My fave Wharton by a country mile. Well-rounded review.


Kalliope Steven wrote: "My fave Wharton by a country mile. Well-rounded review."

Thank you, Steven.

Yes, this is a wonderful novel... As I said above I still have to read her Custom, but so far this is my top favourite by her... A well-rounded novel.


message 11: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd Kalliope wrote: "I still have her The Custom of the Country to read...."

Long ago I read Three Novels of Old New York and The Custom of the Country was my favorite.


Kalliope Susan wrote: "

Long ago I read Three Novels of Old New York and The Custom of the Country was my favorite."


Great to hear, Sue. I am looking forward to The Custom. Have you read this one?


message 13: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd Yes I did. It's one of the three in Three Novels, along with The House of Mirth. The Custom was my favorite because of the main character Undine.


message 14: by Kalliope (last edited Jul 11, 2018 09:52AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kalliope Susan wrote: "Yes I did. It's one of the three in Three Novels, along with The House of Mirth. The Custom was my favorite because of the main character Undine."

Ah, Ok, sorry, now I understand... I thought I had read Old New York - the four novellas.

All the more encouraging then - about still having The Custom to read.


message 15: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd I also read Old New York. I remember it better than the novels since I only read it last year. But The Custom is still my fave. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


message 16: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Fine review, Kalliope. I especially enjoyed your thoughts on the book as an opera viewed from various theatre boxes - and the first painting made me think that review readers are a little like the figure in the background with the opera glasses. We get to watch the figure in the foreground, the reader, while she herself watches/analyses the characters in the opera/book!


message 17: by Ilse (new) - added it

Ilse Thanks to your awesome review I finally made my mind up which book to read for the 'W' in the list of women authors this year and particularly which one to keep as a treat for autumn holiday, Kalliope - I saw the film long ago (and loved it) but cannot wait to discover more about the references you mention and of which you gave a taste in your delightful updates.


Kalliope Fionnuala wrote: "Fine review, Kalliope. I especially enjoyed your thoughts on the book as an opera viewed from various theatre boxes - and the first painting made me think that review readers are a little like the ..."

Haha... yes, the man in the background astutely watching the reader in her watchful activity.


Kalliope Ilse wrote: "Thanks to your awesome review I finally made my mind up which book to read for the 'W' in the list of women authors this year and particularly which one to keep as a treat for autumn holiday, Kalli..."

Gosh, you are already in the W... And yes, this is a perfect candidate to fill that spot. I look forward to your feedback on this novel, Ilse.


Laysee Fabulous review, Kalliope, of my favourite Wharton novel. Love your observation of how it is rooted in the cultural milieu of a certain time and place and its limited freedom (particularly for women).


Kalliope Laysee wrote: "Fabulous review, Kalliope, of my favourite Wharton novel. Love your observation of how it is rooted in the cultural milieu of a certain time and place and its limited freedom (particularly for women)."

Thank you, Laysee. Yes, it is very much rooted in a particular society, well past for Wharton at the time she wrote it. That time has passed and changed things is also made explicit at the end of the book.


message 22: by Kalliope (last edited Jul 14, 2018 12:41AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kalliope Gary wrote: "An excellent review of one of my favorite novels, and a fine choice of pix! :) FYI, I saw Scorsese's film version before I read the novel. I think it's one of the finest screen adaptations of an hi..."

Gary,

I watched the film last night - as I said above, I had watched it when it came out, but now, just after having reread the book, I enjoyed it greatly - I did not remember it follows the novel so closely. The narrator voice as an overlay on the action faithfully quotes Wharton's text. A pure delight.


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