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Past Group Reads > The Age of Innocence: Book 2

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message 1: by Jenn, moderator (new)

Jenn | 303 comments Mod
Discuss Book 2 of The Age of Innocence, comprising chapters 19-34.


message 2: by tysephine (new)

tysephine Oh dear. "Archer had reverted to all his old inherited ideas about marriage. It was less trouble to conform with the tradition and treat May exactly as all his friends treated their wives than to try to put into practice the theories with which his untrammeled bachelorhood had dallied."

I was afraid this would happen. Of course it is easier to conform than rebel. I had hoped he would stick to his more liberal views when it came to women's rights. Oh dear, oh dear.


message 3: by Marianthy (new)

Marianthy Karantzes | 10 comments it would be hard for him to rebel with May, as May is a conformist herself. Just look at her reaction when Archer suggested they have dinner with the french tutor. She laughed as if it were the most absurd thing in the world, thus releasing him from any attempt at "rebellion"


message 4: by tysephine (new)

tysephine Yeah, May is so far encompassed by the old New York lifestyle that there's pretty much no way Archer could have convinced her to rebel but it would have been nice for him to have made some sort of effort to keep to his ideals. The conflict would have been more overt for one, and Archer would have been less of a passive character for another.


message 5: by Beth (new)

Beth (k9odyssey) I am not anxious for Archer to cheat on his wife. (That hasn't happened yet. ) But I have to give Newland Archer credit for knowing something is wrong in his way of life. He has married for the wrong reasons and yearns tor a truer, purer passion vs. the "picture perfect" high society marriage he has commuted to.


message 6: by Heather (new)

Heather Blackwood (heatherblackwood) | 2 comments I agree that I didn't want to see Archer cheat on May. For some reason, he could remain a sympathetic character as long as he didn't cross that line. If he had, he would have harmed innocent May, who I found myself liking.

She's dull and unimaginative, but generous and kind and trying to make the best of a constrained life and expectations she cannot escape.

As the second half of the book unfolded, I wondered if May was far more canny than Archer gave her credit for. Was she following the old adage of keeping one's friends close and one's enemies closer?

My favorite moment of the book: (spoilers!)

"Her colour burned deeper, but she held his gaze. 'No; I wasn't sure then--but I told her I was And you see I was right!' she exclaimed, her blue eyes wet with victory.


May just got a big gold star in my book. She's fighting a hard battle with the only weapons she has, and without doing anything cruel or immoral, she has saved her marriage (sort of).


message 7: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments I haven't finished Book 2, so I'm not going to read the posts yet to avoid encountering things I haven't gotten to (which means this issue may have been raised already; if so, sorry), but I wondered, at the intersection of Books 1 and 2, whether, May having gotten the approval he had been seeking for an early wedding, it was a) possible and b) if possible, right for Newland to jilt May and start an affair (that's all it could be, she's married) with Ellen.

Personally, I think that would have been so caddish that it would be impossible for him to bring himself to do. And also, even if he had, it would have been wrong.


message 8: by Beth (new)

Beth (k9odyssey) I just finished the book. I am not going to give anything specific away but was astonished by what goes on at the last dinner party. The family honor vs. personal happiness ending was bittersweet. I really loved this book and Edith Wharton's poignant yet witty writing style. I felt like I knew the main characters and sympathized with their inner conflicts. Good Read. No....GREAT Read!


message 9: by Jay (new)

Jay Thompson | 24 comments Beth, I agree with you. I loved it.


message 10: by Jerilyn (new)

Jerilyn | 32 comments Beth put it so nicely: "sympathized with their inner conflicts". That's how I felt about it too. The characters felt like real people. Imperfect and conflicted, trying to do their best in the world they live in.


message 11: by Marianthy (new)

Marianthy Karantzes | 10 comments Wharton was such a great writer, especially considering the subject matter she tackled in her books. Age of Innocence did not disappoint, and the ending was bittersweet.


message 12: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments I'm only up to Chapter 23 (I would have preferred a bit for the discussion to be broken into more than two threads; I want to post about things I come across as i come across them, but still want to keep the ending somewhat of a surprise, which is hard when there's only one thread for more than half the book. But anyhow...) but I am getting disgusted with Archer. Of course, I'm not sure that May is all that great a catch; sure, she's eye candy, and very civilized, but there isn't a lot of there there. At some point one wants to get through the whipped cream down to the chocolate ice cream, but with her, it's all whipped cream and no ice cream.

But still, Archer chose her, he let her commit her life to him, and he owes her the fidelity, love, respect, and devotion that should come with the wedding vows. Marriage requires commitment and hard work to be successful. He seems to have neither, at this point.

Not that my principle of marriage seems to be much followed by Archer's New York set, but that's the set's fault, not mine.


message 13: by tysephine (new)

tysephine I agree with you, Everyman. I spent half the book disgusted with Archer's inattention to his wife. I found it hard to read about his infatuation with Mme Olenska, mainly because there was little to base his so-called love on. He obviously felt enough for May once upon a time to propose to her, but that suddenly disappears when her cousin comes to town? No thanks. These sudden loves that disrupt already-established romances bother me a lot, because true affection should not be so fickle. It makes all the characters seem so shallow.


message 14: by Janet (new)

Janet (goodreadscomjanetj) | 77 comments I have become convinced that Archer was not so much in love with Mme Olenska but with the idea of what she represented. There were times when he seemed to not remember what she sounded like or even looked like. He was attracted to the "bohemian" less programmed life and the more liberated less sexually inhibited life that she represented. He had met her before he proposed to May but unfortunately he hid from the thought of going against all his family and friends and took the safe choice. I finished the book tonight and by the last chapter I really liked him.


message 15: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments Janet wrote: "I have become convinced that Archer was not so much in love with Mme Olenska but with the idea of what she represented."

I think that's a very wise comment. It's almost as though he's having a mid-life crisis twenty years ahead of time. His life up to meeting her has been so constrained, so boxed in, so directed by expectations and unwritten but inviolable rules that he grabs at the first chance to take a risk and see what life is like outside the box. He's a canary whose door has accidentally been left open, giving it a chance to see what the rest of the world might be like.


message 16: by Marianthy (new)

Marianthy Karantzes | 10 comments Everyman and Janet, I am in agreement with both of you. I don't think Austen was writing a novel about a trivial tryst on a whim. Olenska definitely represented to Archer what was missing from uptight NY society, which is why the end ended as it did!


message 17: by Jay (new)

Jay Thompson | 24 comments Each of your comments here is spot on. Everyman, yes, a very good insight as to what Olenska represents to Archer.


message 18: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments Getting close to the end, but not there yet. Major spoilers to those still in the middle of Book 2.

Archer is ready to leave May and run off with Ellen, and she is apparently on board with this plan. But suddenly she decides to return to Europe without him.

May reveals her pregnancy to Archer, and then reveals that two weeks earlier, before she was sure of her pregnancy, she had told Ellen she was with child, which is presumably why Ellen has decided to abandon Archer.

A very interesting twist, and very revealing of the natures of the characters.

Archer is more driven by desire (lust?) than by obligation and responsibility. It turns out that his interest in Ellen is not as secret as he probably hoped, but that everybody in his circle, including May, well aware of it, and indeed assumes that it has been consummated (the only thing I feel sorry for him about, that he gets the blame of an affair without having gotten to enjoy the benefits of it).

May turns out not to be just a sweet bundle of softness, but is a very good infighter when she has something worth fighting for. Good for her, finally asserting herself very effectively to solve the problem, and making sure that Archer knows that she knew about his infidelity and was prepared to fight him over it.

Ellen, at least in this situation, has turned out to surprise me with her sense of responsibility. She was willing to steal away her cousin's husband, but she is not willing to steal away the father of her cousin's baby. That there is a child now involved changes everything for her, for which I have to give her credit even as I was prepared to condemn her for being willing to break up a then childless marriage. So she partly redeems herself.

But there may be even more surprises to come, so this is just a preliminary commentary/analysis.


message 19: by Pip (new)

Pip Hmmmm. I managed to get to the end and, while I found it fascinating as a piece of social commentary, I can't say it was a novel I truly enjoyed. Archer reminded me of so many characters both real and literary who, faced with a moral dilemma, end up going with the flow to save themselves the hard work of taking a decision. And then sulks because he can't have what he wants.

I admired Ellen for daring to dream and for her noble act towards the end, although her bouts of fragility never seemed quite genuine to me. I found May loathsome; sickly sweet until she felt her marriage endangered, at which point she turned into a scheming manipulator. " ' And you see, I was right!' she exclaimed, her blue eyes wet with victory". What a line.

I simply felt that everyone, in their way, was insincere and - though I do enjoy novels without heroes - I just couldnt find enough of SOMETHING in anybody to make me want to invest in them.

Did anyone else feel the same, or is it just grumpy old me?!


message 20: by Nicqui (new)

Nicqui | 21 comments Pip wrote: "Hmmmm. I managed to get to the end and, while I found it fascinating as a piece of social commentary, I can't say it was a novel I truly enjoyed. Archer reminded me of so many characters both real ..."

It's not just you. I'm not even finished with it yet and I already dislike all the characters with the exception of Medora and Beaufort. They seem like the only genuine characters. Everyone else seems to have secret cards in their hand to play.

It feels too much like school work to read this.


message 21: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Librarian (ellenlibrarian) I finished the book yesterday. While I enjoyed it - and Part 2 really sucked me into the story and kept me wondering what was going to happen - I still felt as though Newland and Ellen were something of stick figures rather than full-fleshed characters.

As I wrote in the Part 1 discussion, I never really "felt" his attraction to Ellen. It was a little more real for me in the second part, where he is so torn, but I never wholly believed he was deeply enthralled with her. I agree with the others who said that he was in love with what she represented more than who she was (and I think that's especially evident in the ending) but even that felt like "here is what the author is trying to tell us" more than an organic emotion that I "felt" along with the characters.

So as much as I liked this book, I would have loved it if the characters had been a little more fleshed out and more three dimensional.


message 22: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments I'm wondering why the title. Whose Innocence? Was she claiming that the whole New York Society was a society of innocence? Hardly, I would think, with all the infidelity going around. I saw no connection at all between the book and the title. Did anybody?


message 23: by Janet (new)

Janet (goodreadscomjanetj) | 77 comments I think the title referred to three things - One, in that society, they ignored whatever was unpleasant so that they could think they were living in an innocent world. Two, the young ladies in that society were brought up to be more innocent than those in later eras. Three, the entire world was probably living in innocent bliss when you consider the state of the world in the next few decades after the their era. World War I, the roaring twenties and the stock market crash brought their innocent oblivion to a screeching halt.


message 24: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Librarian (ellenlibrarian) I think Wharton was being somewhat ironic with the title - as in "things were so much simpler and purer back then" when in fact they were scheming and double dealing behind a front.

But I also think she was referring to Archer's age of innocence. He naively thought he was an agent of change only to find that he wasn't. He even thought he was going to change May when, as it turned out, she changed him by tethering him to society and its traditions.


message 25: by tysephine (last edited Jun 25, 2013 05:06AM) (new)

tysephine I think Ellen's hit on it. I think the title is an allusion to the question of whether America had an Age of Innocence or not. When this book was written, America had just come through WWI and, in the aftermath of victory, was thrust into the role of a superpower. Prior to WWI, America was very isolationist in its policies. The US might make noise about South America being under its exclusive influence, but never before had it had the power to back up those threats. A lot of people in the wake of WWI were nostalgic for America's so-called Age of Innocence, where they were left on their own and not involved in all that European mess.

I think Wharton was using her characters to show a bit that America wasn't quite so isolated, only that Society liked to think they were.


message 26: by Janet (new)

Janet (goodreadscomjanetj) | 77 comments That is a good comment tysephine. It also helps to tie in the comment I made. I forgot, when I wrote the comment, that Wharton wrote the book after WW1. It certainly made the country, in fact the world, less innocent.


message 27: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments Ellen wrote: "I think Wharton was being somewhat ironic with the title - as in "things were so much simpler and purer back then" when in fact they were scheming and double dealing behind a front."

That makes a lot of sense.


message 28: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments Another question, this one only for people who have completely finished the book. If you haven't, this will be a massive spoiler, so unless you want to know the somewhat surprise ending, don't read on.

A bit of text stuck in here just so the eye doesn't automatically pass on to the next paragraph before the reader who hasn't finished the book has had a chance to pass on the rest of the post.

Okay.

Re Archer's decision not to go see Ellen. Was he right or wrong to do so? Why did he decide not to go? What do you think would have been most likely to have happened if he had -- an awkward meeting with both of them realizing that they are different people and there is no more chemistry there and trying to find non-awkward ways of conveying to the other that they aren't interested any more and get out of this very uncomfortable situation? A comfortable meeting but sad regret that what was once was just for then, it had been wonderful while it lasted, but it's over and now we can just part as friends and go our own ways with the memory still warm in our hearts? One of them still in love but the other definitely not, and if so which one still in love? A passionate reuniting where they realize that at last they are free to be together, as in the wonderful (I hope you've seen it, if not get it out of your library on DVD or watch it on Twitter if it's available) BBC show "As Time Goes By" with Judy Dench and Jeffrey Palmer? Something other than those?

And: in that situation, if you had been Archer, what would you have done? And if you had been Ellen, would you be relived or sad that Archer had decided not to come with his son to see you?


message 29: by tysephine (last edited Jun 25, 2013 11:25AM) (new)

tysephine re: Everyman's question [SPOILERS FOR ENDING AHEAD]

I kind of wished Archer had gone to see Mme Olenska just because it would have given us closure. I feel like Archer just saying to himself "oh that was a lost oportunity from my youth; I'll just leave it as is" was a bit of a flacid ending. I would have vastly preferred for him to see her and there be some closure, whether they realized the passion was gone or if they'd realized something was still there.

However, I also feel like the fact that Archer didn't see her is indicative of how his spirit has become dulled over the years of his marriage with May. It seemed to me that over the years of his marriage May would have continued with her sneaky way off keeping Archer in line, eventually resulting in dulling Archer's sense of self-expression and his independence. As much as I would have preferred closure, I can see why Archer did not walk into that apartment.


message 30: by Catherine (last edited Jun 26, 2013 05:55AM) (new)

Catherine (yarnmama10) I was left with the unsatisfying (to me at least) impression that he enjoyed the idea of her and their affair more than he would have enjoyed the actual relationship. Therefore he chose to leave it as it had always been rather than risk spoiling the dream. Not my favorite type ending either. I would have preferred real closure. My opinion is that he lacked the courage to confront the lack of real depth of his feelings for her.


message 31: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Librarian (ellenlibrarian) Catherine wrote: "My opinion is that he lacked the courage to confront the lack of real depth of his feelings for her. "

I completely agree.


message 32: by Jerilyn (new)

Jerilyn | 32 comments Everyman: great questions!
I think "Age of Innocence" as a title is a reference to the social setting of the novel (British High Society (and those who wish they were or pretend to be) as well as to Archer's state of being for most of the novel. Given this premise, should you accept it, Archer's decision to NOT see Ellen is a signal that he has finally matured to another level - or perhaps has been gradually maturing in this direction since his decision to let her go and make the best of his chosen marriage.
Life is full of surprises and turns we cannot control. Love is not one of them. We have choices. There may be a feeling of love, or not, at the start of a relationship. After that, love is a verb and a noun. We decide to love. If we commit to that person in marriage, it is a decision that requires mutual self-sacrifice with the potential for immense rewards if we can truly be selfless. There is such joy in learning to put others before oneself, if truly done with the whole heart.


message 33: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments Catherine wrote: "I was left with the unsatisfying (to me at least) impression that he enjoyed the idea of her and their affair more than he would have enjoyed the actual relationship. Therefore he chose to leave it..."

Interesting. But what do you do with the fact that until May told them she was pregnant, he was ready to go off with Ellen? Or do you think he would have funked that?


message 34: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments Jerilyn wrote: "Given this premise, should you accept it, Archer's decision to NOT see Ellen is a signal that he has finally matured to another level - or perhaps has been gradually maturing in this direction since his decision to let her go and make the best of his chosen marriage."

Well, yes, but his marriage is ended, so there's no societal reason not to at least see Ellen, is there?

One thought I had, and I hold no claim for it being right, just a thought, is that he realized that you really can't go home again, that the could never recapture the magic of their youth, and that he preferred to keep that memory than have it crushed by the reality of finding Ellen, perhaps, old and haggard, or committed to another relationship, or something else. I remember going back to my wonderful childhood home and being depressed at how small and banal all the wonders of that world were to my adult self. The vast river in which we used to float twig and leaf boats by the hour and catch tadpoles was just a trickle of water I could step over. The old swimming hole where we played water games endlessly was only a few feet across and no deeper than that. It wasn't that they had changed, but that I had, and the magic of memory was severely damaged. I was sorry I had gone back.

Could Archer be sensitive enough to think that maybe seeing Ellen again will destroy the magic of a time he wants to cherish unchanged in his memory?


message 35: by Nicqui (new)

Nicqui | 21 comments Everyman wrote: "Catherine wrote: "I was left with the unsatisfying (to me at least) impression that he enjoyed the idea of her and their affair more than he would have enjoyed the actual relationship. Therefore he..."

I think he would have talked himself out of going. For all his internal protests about the mould he lived in and the patterns and habits he performed everyday, he never showed any sort of inclination to leave it. His friend whom he met at the club frequently told him to venture in to politics and make a difference long before Ellen came on the scene but that didn't stir him into action.

He was the man of his house long before he married May. If he wanted to make small changes to the society he lived in he could have done it. He liked that she (Ellen) was an external representation of his internal struggles. He liked the idea of her, not really what she truly was. If he had truly loved her, there would have been nothing stopping him from going to that final dinner, since neither of them had any further obligations or tethers to that past life.


message 36: by Catherine (new)

Catherine (yarnmama10) Everyman wrote: "Catherine wrote: "I was left with the unsatisfying (to me at least) impression that he enjoyed the idea of her and their affair more than he would have enjoyed the actual relationship. Therefore he..."

Good question. I suspect at that time he might have gone and yes been disappointed at some point that the grass wasn't really greener so to speak. It seems to me that after the years passed and his passions cooled he saw that love for what it was; as elusive as the truth was in his society. He thought he wanted what was real since all he could see was the illusions portrayed but he was afraid that was all there might be in the end. He liked the illusion of what lived in his head over the reality. Maybe. :-)


message 37: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments Catherine wrote: "It seems to me that after the years passed and his passions cooled he saw that love for what it was; as elusive as the truth was in his society."

I think you're on to something, but boy, isn't that a depressing thought?


message 38: by Catherine (new)

Catherine (yarnmama10) Everyman wrote: "Catherine wrote: "It seems to me that after the years passed and his passions cooled he saw that love for what it was; as elusive as the truth was in his society."

I think you're on to something, but boy, isn't that a depressing thought? ..."


Yes it is. I was really wanting him to go in and have a happy ending. Or heck maybe they decide the spark is gone, but to me that's better than the fantasy, you know?


message 39: by Janet (new)

Janet (goodreadscomjanetj) | 77 comments I think Archer knew that it was the idea what Ellen represented more than Ellen herself and knew it was to late for him to live that life(he still had 3 kids at home) so to him the fantasy was better than the reality.


message 40: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 219 comments Janet wrote: "I think Archer knew that it was the idea what Ellen represented more than Ellen herself and knew it was to late for him to live that life(he still had 3 kids at home) so to him the fantasy was bett..."

Nicely said.


message 41: by Alana (new)

Alana (alanasbooks) | 627 comments Everyone has such good thoughts here! I agree, as the book went on, I was more and more displeased with Archer. And while May was a bit simpering, she was also very limited by her place in society, so she did what she could to let him know that she's aware of it, to the point of making sure he knows, without her directly having to say it, that she is the one making sure that Ellen leaves town, in a very ostentatious way, so he can't possibly continue with Ellen the way he had been.

As for not seeing Ellen in the end, I felt it was more that he had chosen the life he led, even if he resented it at times, and why try to go back to something that is in the past, and probably can never be what it might have been back then? Ellen is older, her ideas may have changed, why spoil the memory?


message 42: by Nicqui (new)

Nicqui | 21 comments I thought that given the situation and May's circumstances, she handled that situation with class, even if I still prefer Ellen as a character.


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