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Past Group Reads > The Age of Innocence: Book 1

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message 1: by Jenn, moderator (new)

Jenn | 303 comments Mod
Discuss Book 1 of The Age of Innocence, comprising chapters 1-18.


message 2: by Joshua (new)

Joshua Stevens (cobadee) | 3 comments Just started this, so maybe I'm wrong and someone can give me some inspiration. There are SO many characters introduced in the first few chapters. Characters in Dostoevsky novels are easier to keep track of. Does it get easier?


message 3: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Librarian (ellenlibrarian) I agree there are too many characters and it's confusing. I think the three main ones to pay attention to are Newland, his fiancee, May and her cousin Ellen.


message 4: by tysephine (last edited Jun 03, 2013 03:59PM) (new)

tysephine I keep forgetting how all the characters are supposed to be related to one another. It's making for a bit of a slow read.
Note: edited for autocorrect malfunction >:(


message 5: by Jay (new)

Jay Thompson | 24 comments Don't get bogged down in the number of characters, rather focus on Wharton's witty and sarcastic manner in which she describes both them and New York "values" at the time. I am about 40 pages in and what strikes me is her acidic wit and sarcasm!


message 6: by Tina (new)

Tina | 16 comments I agree with Jay. I just relaxed into the style and assumed the characters would become clear to me as I went. I'm now on chapter 8, and that has proven true.


message 7: by tysephine (new)

tysephine It has gotten a lot easier to go with the flow of Wharton's wit. Her insights into the lives of the upper crust of old New York are pretty fascinating. The intricacies of society were ridiculously complicated. I can't blame Mme Olenska for keeping mostly to her own ways.


message 8: by Aprilleigh (new)

Aprilleigh (aprilleighlauer) Did anyone else immediately dislike Newland Archer because he's pompous and condescending at the beginning of the book?


message 9: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Librarian (ellenlibrarian) I felt that way at the beginning but he started having some pretty progressive thoughts a bit later so I started liking him better. I'm only on Chapter 4 but between that and his name, I'm thinking that he's going to be an agent of change.


message 10: by Jay (new)

Jay Thompson | 24 comments Not any more or less than the other characters; they all seem rather taken with what is "proper" and see themselves as the best that society produces. Ah, the inherited wealth of pre-Gatsby-a glimpse of the attitudes that surface in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby on the part of the Buchanans and those like them...fascinating.


message 11: by Aprilleigh (new)

Aprilleigh (aprilleighlauer) I think what I found most offensive about him in the beginning was his arrogant assumption that it was up to him to educate May about literature. Really? She might be young and naive, but it's pretty arrogant to assume she would need his help when all she probably needs is an opportunity to read. I think that colored the rest of my view of him.

Of course, it could also be that it's just a pet peeve of mine. LOL!


message 12: by Kyla (new)

Kyla Corrigan | 2 comments I have finished the book and as with all classics that I read, I am taken by how "proper" people were or weren't back then and how distinct the different classes in society are. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.


message 13: by Joshua (new)

Joshua Stevens (cobadee) | 3 comments All the snide, cynical sarcasm is a little much for me. At first it was cute - but it's getting repetitive and tiresome. Instead of being witty, it starts sounding like Wharton has an axe to grind with the upper class. She delivers so many low blows that she sounds as if she truly hates this lifestyle, and must expose the disgusting vanity of the upper class. At that point the humor becomes sad and the characters pathetic. Maybe I'm judging to too soon. I'm not very far into it. Does anyone agree with me?


message 14: by Aprilleigh (new)

Aprilleigh (aprilleighlauer) I think she's intentionally poking fun because she recognizes the irony of it all, but I'm not getting the impression that she hates the lifestyle. I'm seeing it as more like someone who can laugh at themselves. I'm still not very far into it either, however.


message 15: by Marianthy (new)

Marianthy Karantzes | 10 comments In actuality, Wharton did have an axe to grind with the upper class. Her popular works focused on the ridiculousness of the upper class of New York City, the class in which she grew up. You have to think of it as extremely brave, if not progressive, for someone of her class and social standing to write against her own social circles during a time when being proper was 90% of the game.


message 16: by Marie-vicky (new)

Marie-vicky (grimace) | 4 comments Aprilleigh wrote: "Did anyone else immediately dislike Newland Archer because he's pompous and condescending at the beginning of the book?"

Hi,
At the beginning, I didn't like Newland Archer but I have started to like him more as I am moving on in the story. His stoicism and pretension is the result of his social standing. He has a good knowledge of how rich society in New York is hierarchically organized. His personality is probably the result of artificial and doleful convention. More I am moving forward in the book, more I can feel by Newland sarcastic tone that he is overwhelmed by the burden of the social convention.


message 17: by Marie-vicky (new)

Marie-vicky (grimace) | 4 comments Hi,
I'm in chapter 7 and I enjoy the story very much. There is a lot of sarcasm and awkwardness between characters. I agree that the number of characters brings some confusion, but the distinction between the main and the secondary characters are easy to recognize. In this story I have found that some secondary characters like Mr Jackson draw some attention because of their personality they bring irony, gossips, and also make the main story fully alive.


message 18: by tysephine (new)

tysephine Re: Newland Archer
I agree with Marie-vicky that Archer is very much a product of his social class. His emphasis on what is considered 'proper' and 'acceptable' show that he was taught from an early age that appearance is everything and one is only as good as one's reputation. The more I read, the more he seems to question his role. His interaction with Mme Olenska brings out something of the liberal in him, at least internally. Externally he continues to adhere to his assigned place in society, which I think places him in a unique position as narrator.


message 19: by Beth (new)

Beth (k9odyssey) I am enjoying this book very much. I am on Chapter 15. I love Wharton's style and rich character development. I just finished Pride and Prejudice and whileci liked it I felt it too light and fluffy a story. I was yearning for more depth and edge in the progression of the story. I found it in the Age of Innocence . The interwoven importance of class is fascinating. Even moreso is Newland's inner conflict. He likes his position in society but also yearns for a less restricted common existence where he doesn't have to keep up appearances at all times. This is a great read.


message 20: by Marianthy (new)

Marianthy Karantzes | 10 comments Beth, I agree with you. I am an Austen fan, don't get me wrong, but Wharton develops the conflict a little more so than the Austen classics. She does so in House of Mirth as well.


message 21: by Beth (new)

Beth (k9odyssey) Thank you for the suggestion Marianthy. I will put House of Mirth on my TO READ list.


message 22: by Marie-vicky (new)

Marie-vicky (grimace) | 4 comments I'm moving forward through the book slowly. I'm about to finish Chapter 9 and I feel that it is hard to understand the true nature of each character. They pretend instead of speaking for themselves. their look and the nature of their speech follow the social convention of the time where freedom was limited. Ellen shows more individualism and freedom but at the same she shows her intention to assimilate to her new environment. I wonder if her intention is a kind of manipulation. She seems to much independent to be mold to a social pattern.
I think Archer dream of independence but he accept the social burden to get what he want. There is a lot of subtleties and contradictions in his personality. His versatile personality is as much enigmatic than Ellen. Additionally, I feel that his love for May is totally artificial and less interesting than his relation with Ellen. I am looking forward to read chapter 10 and 11 tonight.


message 23: by tysephine (last edited Jun 06, 2013 06:38AM) (new)

tysephine Marie-vicky, I don't think Archer accepts the social burden to get what he wants so much as he is a product of the society in which he was raised. He grew up in the superficial, overly-ritual society of old New York and it is much easier for him to maintain his same social status than to risk his career and reputation by throwing those rituals away. To me, Archer seems like one of those dreamers that likes to think about maybe changing his life- traveling, throwing away stodgy old social conventions, and such like- but never actually doing anything. He stays with his same old job with his same old social group and never acts on any of his secret desires.

Ellen, on the other hand, grew up with a woman who pretty much thrived on being different and was married off to a man that seems to have left her pretty much to her own devices in Europe. Who knows what social group she fell into over there. Ellen pretty much has no idea how old New York society works and I have the suspicion that if she knew all what all it entailed, she would refuse to change herself for it anyway.


message 24: by Krzysztof (last edited Jun 06, 2013 10:24AM) (new)

Krzysztof I'm moving forward rather slowly (around chapter VI) and so far I don't really know what to think of it, so only a couple of points:

- I like the style - it's witty, dense, and as such should be rewarding, yet somehow I'm unable to penetrate the barrier of words and get drawn into the story itself

- I'm not enthusiastic about the parts in which the author's (I think) voice gets through, and she blatantly discusses the themes of the novel (artificiality of social relations, and so on...). I prefer being shown the actual situations and interactions instead of the constant internal monologue of the characters.

- I fear it is yet another story, the plot of which revolves around a young man being drawn towards a 'depraved' woman, who defies the rules of the society. Although nothing of the sort has happened so far, I strongly suspect a romance between Archer and Oblonska.

- I find it interesting that although the American society is trying so hard to separate itself from its English heritage, the high strata of the metropolitan community retains the same strictness of customs as visible among the British 19th/20th aristocracy.


message 25: by Nikki (new)

Nikki | 7 comments Joshua wrote: "Just started this, so maybe I'm wrong and someone can give me some inspiration. There are SO many characters introduced in the first few chapters. Characters in Dostoevsky novels are easier to ke..."

I seriously agree. It's gotten a little easier, but none of them have really developed so they're all just.. there.


message 26: by Nikki (new)

Nikki | 7 comments Jay wrote: "Don't get bogged down in the number of characters, rather focus on Wharton's witty and sarcastic manner in which she describes both them and New York "values" at the time. I am about 40 pages in an..."

Good advice. That's what I believe is what makes this a classic -- her writing and particularly her satirical descriptions of NY and society.


message 27: by Nikki (new)

Nikki | 7 comments I'm not very far, and although I have to concede with several of you that the writing is very witty, a much more subtle Jane Austen, I have to wonder if the story is going to progress at any point.


message 28: by Susan (new)

Susan Oleksiw | 119 comments I read this years ago and didn't like it--couldn't stay with it--but I'm enjoying it enormously now. I'm about 90 pages into it, chapter 13, and am enjoying how the story is developing. Wharton is a master of satire, but I do think she has a lighter hand as I read it this time around. Her comments are descriptive, as when she describes Countess Olenska getting up and crossing the room to sit with Newland--she doesn't know she's not supposed to do that, that a man is supposed to cross the room to her. If Wharton didn't describe these nuances of social behavior, we wouldn't know today what we were reading, nor would we understand the behaviors that are going to destroy certain characters. I think Wharton was writing for a larger audience than her own social circle and understood what needed to be explained.


message 29: by Nikki (new)

Nikki | 7 comments Do you guys think, that, reading this, Wharton was predicting a vast change in societal norms? Do you think she knew that our culture, particularly NYC culture, would be what it is today?


message 30: by tysephine (new)

tysephine I think Wharton was looking back at her early years from her later years with a critical eye. It's not so much that she was anticipating the future but recognizing changes that had already taken place.


message 31: by Jay (new)

Jay Thompson | 24 comments Absolutely. Wharton wrote this in 1920-the height of modernism which was emerging even in her 1870s setting in the novel. Every character she has commenting in the "disintegration of society" were merely indicative of the sweeping changes just beginning.
I finished the novel last night, so I'll reserve some comments for later... :)


message 32: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments I'm glad to see that so many others are still working slowly through the novel. I'm up to chapter 12, and was worried about being way behind the discussion.

I agree with many of the comments above. I, Aprilleigh (@8) didn't much care for Newman at the beginning, but like Ellen (@9) I'm beginning to get less negative about him, partly because I realize that it's not his fault that he's a product of his environment, and partly because, as tysephine notes (@18) he's beginning to see the cracks in his conceptions of his social position and automatically accepted beliefs.

I get Aprilleigh's point (@11) that it is arrogant for Newland to assume that it's up to him to educate May about literature, but even in this case Wharton softens it by showing that Newland isn't all that strong on literature himself ("We'll read Faust together ... by the Italian lakes ..." he thought, somewhat hazily confusing the scene of his projected honey-moon with the masterpieces of literature which it would be his manly privilege to reveal to his bride.) I think he's just being what he things a man ought to be, and indeed what any young man of his cultural raising would think a man ought to be -- young woman of New York Society would, I think, be expected by prospective husbands to expect them to teach and instruct them. They would be expected to hide the fact that they actually had brains and knew how to use them until after the marriage; no man of the time would want to marry a woman who appeared more intelligent and educated than they were. So I don't fault him for this, though as I say I'm amused that Wharton pokes a pin into his belief that he really can educate her.

I also agree with several that the writing is a delight. I'm not yet with Joshua (@14) that the satire and wit are getting too repetitive and tiresome. I'm still enjoying them. However, where Nikki (@27) suggests that Wharton is more subtle than Austen, I see it as the opposite; Wharton is sticking our noses into it, whereas I think Austen has a more deft touch. But all a matter of opinion.

Fun discussion so far! I'm enjoying the read and hope I can keep up with this and all the other reading on my table.


message 33: by Aprilleigh (new)

Aprilleigh (aprilleighlauer) There are a lot of men today that are still intimidated by an intelligent woman.


message 34: by Susan (new)

Susan Oleksiw | 119 comments Newland struggles so hard to live up to what he thinks of as his standards, which are those of the society he has been born into, and at the same time to be true to himself. He tries to escape his feelings by persuading May to move up the date of his wedding, but that doesn't help. Watching him work his way through his inner conflicts is painful and sad.


message 35: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments Susan wrote: " Watching him work his way through his inner conflicts is painful and sad. "

This is what makes books (and book discussions) so great -- such a difference in the way we read and understand these works, and out ability to talk about those differences.

I saw it in the exact reverse way: I thought it was exhilarating to see him actually thinking about values which had been as integral to his being as the air of New York, realizing that there may be dimensions to life that the tightly controlled concept of what the right people "did" and how they "ought" to live might need to be rethought.


message 36: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran The complex dilemma that Archer finds himself in is a common enough difficulty even still today. The young man is torn between what is proper and by all accounts should be desirable to him (May) and that which he really wants deep down, but knows is not good for him, nor for his future prospects (Ellen). It is interesting to see how this unfolds. I have some observations on his decisions and actions at the intersection of Book 1 and Book 2, but I will save those for the next discussion.


message 37: by Susan (new)

Susan Oleksiw | 119 comments Everyman wrote: I saw it in the exact reverse way

I found Newland's struggles sad because he didn't seem to get very far. Yes, it was good to see him challenge his received ideas but he never went far enough to take a stand, and the saddest part is that he knew it. He felt the better parts of himself being rubbed away by May soon after their marriage; he could see how he was being remade.

I would have found it exhilarating if in the end he had achieved something as a result. Even at the end, given the opportunity to reunite with the love of his life, he steps away.


message 38: by Everyman (last edited Jun 13, 2013 11:04AM) (new)

Everyman | 219 comments Susan wrote: "Everyman wrote: I saw it in the exact reverse way

I found Newland's struggles sad because he didn't seem to get very far. Yes, it was good to see him challenge his received ideas but he never went..."


You're further in than I am. I haven't gotten to some of the things you discuss, because they don't happen in Book 1. Maybe when I get to them and beyond I'll change my mind. If I do, I'll try to remember to let you know in the Book 2 thread.


message 39: by Bloggeretterized (new)

Bloggeretterized | 5 comments ok, so I am finally joining a group read discussion, but since I started the book this week, I feel like I can't discuss with you guys yet, as I am only in chapter 7.

I am enjoying the book. It took me a few pages to get used to the writting style but now I'm pretty interested in the story. I suspect Ellen will make Newland's conflict (what's 'proper' and expected of him versus what he feels and wants) go to levels he never expected. I also suspect Newland is taking May for granted and who knows, maybe she will teach him a lesson he doesn't expect.

But these are only my predictions, I still have plenty more reading to do. We'll see if I am right or not.


message 40: by Pip (new)

Pip Up to chapter 15. It took a while to get into this novel, but am now enjoying it very much.

A few things I've noticed:

I'd no idea the US had such a hierarchy and levels of snobbery to rival - maybe even far out-rival - the British class system. Wharton excels in her exposé of the out-datedness and superficiality of NY high society. Notably, everyone "knows" about art and artists, but they go to the opera more to see and be seen than tonappreciatethe music; Newland mentions that he "keeps up" with art without showing that he genuinely understands or delights in it; the attempts at holding Literary Salons which failed because no literary greats wished to attend made me laugh too.

Perhaps Wharton "tells" rather than "shows" a bit too much for my taste, and I can understand Joshua (@13)'s point. Where there is symbolism, it's all a bit in-your-face too: red dress for Ellen, white dress for May; white lily-of-the-valley for May, yellow roses for Ellen etc.

A few people have described Newland as struggling or being overwhelmed by the breach in social mores he sees opening up before him. Here's yet another point of view!! I find him confused rather than overwhelmed. I don't think his pending marriage to May was troubling him that much until the appearance of Mme Olenska and he is immediately attracted to the unconventional, the dangerous, the secretive, the exotic and the forbidden in her. Rather than struggling with danger vs safety, I see him bumbling around and happy to be pulled in whichever way the current is going at one particular moment. He's clearly a jealous man and, having believed he was alone in befriending Ellen, feels annoyed when Beaufort et al appear on the scene with her. In fact, Newland seems to be "annoyed" or "irritated" quite a lot in this novel!

Sorry for the long post! I'm enjoying this thread very much and seeing the different points of view!


message 41: by Pip (last edited Jun 13, 2013 01:08PM) (new)

Pip PS: Could we remember to use *SPOILER* alerts if we're mentioning major events? Thank you :-)


message 42: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments Pip wrote: "PS: Could we please keep our discussion to the section in question? There have been some MASSIVE spoilers in previous posts which have completely ruined the build up of tension that I was enjoying ..."

My apologies. In my response I mentioned an event which another poster had discussed, but I shouldn't have. I have edited that post simply to reflect that it was responding to a post which mentioned events not occurring in Book 1. I'm sorry for the error.


message 43: by Pip (new)

Pip No problem, Everyman! This is the first time I've done a group read where the thread "chunks" are so big (ie: half and half) and it makes it difficult to comment without spoiling. I think we're all at different places. I've just got into Book 2 now and will avoid looking at that thread until I've finished, just in case ;-)

Is this the first time you've read TAOI? It's a first for me, and my first Edith Wharton too so I'm discovering a lot.


message 44: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments Pip wrote: "This is the first time I've done a group read where the thread "chunks" are so big (ie: half and half) and it makes it difficult to comment without spoiling."

I do understand. I have been posting without finishing book 1, but recognize that there will probably be some spoilers from parts of Book 1 I haven't gotten to yet, but that's the only way to keep active in the discussion as it develops.

Yes, it's my first read of TAOI. I'm not a Wharton fan, but have read Ethan Frome (which I did NOT like and which turned me off of Wharton) and read The House of Mirth many years ago, but don't remember much about it beyond the character of Lily Bart.


message 45: by Susan (new)

Susan Oleksiw | 119 comments I offer my apologies also, since I think I put in the biggest spoiler. I'm very interested in other people's views on this book, so i think I'll sit back and enjoy the conversation. I'll join in the discussion again when we get to book 2.


message 46: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments Susan wrote: "I'll join in the discussion again when we get to book 2. "

The book 2 thread is already open, ready for your comments!


message 47: by Pip (new)

Pip Susan wrote: "I offer my apologies also, since I think I put in the biggest spoiler. I'm very interested in other people's views on this book, so i think I'll sit back and enjoy the conversation. I'll join in th..."

Thanks, Susan. In fact, it wasn't such a big deal as I'd thought. Looking forward to sharing thoughts on Book 2 soon!


message 48: by Janet (new)

Janet (goodreadscomjanetj) | 77 comments I am enjoying this book so far. I agree with Everyman that Wharton's satire and wit is less subtle than Austen's but both are so enjoyable. I think that Newland is a very confused young man. Because he has always planned on living his life by the very programmed style of upper-class New York society he never tried to think outside the box before. May, who seems naïve, is certainly much more aware of her feelings than he is. I hope that he gets his act together in Part 2 so that he does not destroy his life and that of May and Ellen. On a side note, I love the descriptions of Catherine Manson-Mingott(the grandmother) and Medora Manson. Medora seems more like an aged hippie from the 1970's than an ex-socialite from the 1870's.


message 49: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments Janet wrote: "Because he has always planned on living his life by the very programmed style of upper-class New York society he never tried to think outside the box before. "

I agree totally. The question I'm mulling in my mind as I read is whether he would have a happier life if he stayed in the programmed track, or whether it is better that he starts to understand that that track is indeed limiting and starts to consider other patterns for living his life.

Plato may have believed that the unexamined life is not worth living, but isn't it also perhaps sometimes true that the unexamined life is a happier life? That the greatest happiness for some people may lie in just fitting in and going along?

Seems that this is a dilemma worth considering as we watch Newland progress through the novel.


message 50: by Pip (new)

Pip Ignorance is bliss?


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