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The Age of Innocence
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Past Reads > The Age of Innocence - Book 2

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message 1: by Janine (new)

Janine | 100 comments Mod
Please comment here on The Age of Innocence from Book 2 through to the end.


Irene | 524 comments How did people enjoy this novel?
Why do you think Wharton ended it the way she did?

What does the title refer to? What is the "age of innocence"?

This novel depicts a slice of NY high society on the edge of social change. What is Wharton saying about the comfortable old ways verses the exciting evolving norms? At times, she appears to be ridiculing the social norms, at times criticizing them and at times lamenting their passing. What is she saying? How do you think she would treat the norms of our day? What would she mock? revere?

The Greek goddess Diana is alluded to a number of times when speaking ofMay? Why do you think Wharton chooses this figure to illuminate May's character and role?


Nicqui | 45 comments I feel like Wharton ended the book the way she did because at that time persons valued being 'honourable' and doing 'the right thing' over doing what made them happy. To a certain extent that is still reflected in the high society of today, just that what is considered 'right' and 'honourable' might have changed.


Irene | 524 comments Spoiler Warning!
Why didn't Newland go up to the apartment at the end? Two decades after the two said good bye, there certainly was no scandle. And, Wharton makes it clear that attitudes toward that sort of thing had changed significantly by that point.


Nicqui | 45 comments Maybe Newland just wasn't big on the 'follow-through'. Or maybe it was a matter of times having changed but the people hadn't. He still had that way of thinking. I do appreciate that we didn't get that sort of 'happily ever after' ending. I don't think it would have felt real.


Irene | 524 comments Or maybe, the forbidden quality of the relationship is what made it so sweet. Had Ellen and Newland lived today, would their relationship have ever been anything more than a nice friendship that would have faded as both pursued different life trajectories?


Nicqui | 45 comments I think the forbidden aspect made it most attractive.


Kamil (coveredinskin) | 94 comments Nicqui wrote: "I feel like Wharton ended the book the way she did because at that time persons valued being 'honourable' and doing 'the right thing' over doing what made them happy. To a certain extent that is st..."

My guess would be that the decision regarding separating with Olenska, that Newland made years ago, or was pushed to do by the "tribe" he belonged to, shaped his personality and he become one of the well formed "society" members. The last scene as well as the words he says to his son to be repeated to Olenska ("I'm old-fashioned" or something in that manner) were in my opinion a proof of that, another many broken by the circumstances he was surrounded with.

I also was thinking how symbolic it was. This whole society lived by the form rather staying away from live's real passions, and feeling, choosing order and norms, never really tasting the real life, and he doing the same choosing to keep the dream alive instead of going for it and really experiencing it.


Irene | 524 comments I am not sure I agree that the older order represented a social order that "never tasted the real life". I do not regard a passionate adulterous fling as a more real taste of life than a faithful marriage characterized by a very different type of love.


message 10: by NCW (new) - rated it 4 stars

NCW | 24 comments This book really came together for me in the last 20 pages. (I guess I liked the long-view reflection more than the day-to-day descriptions of the majority of the book.) And I loved the ending! Olenska was a perfect memory for Archer, and something that was perfectly part of his past. Seeing each other end wouldn't have been a chance to have what they hadn't had before since that only could have happened then, it that way.
I feel like the title was explained for me in Ch. XVI, when it says: "Ah, no, he did not want May to have that kind of innocence, the innocence that seals the mind against imagination and the heart against experience!" I think Wharton is using the word "innocence" to capture this kind of triumph of propriety that dominated this social class at this time, at the expense of imagination and experience -- the things he saw in Olenska. By the end of the book, though, I'm not sure he still wants for May not to have these qualities. It seems like he comes to admire May in this way again as he reflects back. But of course he has "aged" as well, and he no longer feels compelled by that kind of imagination and experience. Thanks for recommending this book, Irene! I probably wouldn't have read it on my own.


Kamil (coveredinskin) | 94 comments Irene wrote: "I am not sure I agree that the older order represented a social order that "never tasted the real life". I do not regard a passionate adulterous fling as a more real taste of life than a faithful ..."

I don't see Olenska as a "fling". In my opinion she represented freedom, life outside of tribal control and uniformity. Newland that was initially dreaming about the "real life" broke under the pressure and chose to compromise and to live following often hypocritical group rules.

Great that he was a faithful husband but the fact that hew grew to appreciate somebody doesn't necessary mean he loved May. Yes I know there are different kinds of love, but I don't think that he made himself particularly happy neither he made May, when he was struggling for those couple years thinking about Olenska.
As his son pointed out Olenska was Newlands's Fanny and what a symbolism that Newland's son due to change in social norms was able to chose his fiance and nobody was objecting.


Irene | 524 comments Do people think Newland and May loved each other, at the beginning of their marriage? by the end of May's life?


Irene | 524 comments Do people think that Ellen and Newland would have had a life long marriage had they married given the differences in their backgrounds and attitudes?


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