Literary Award Winners Fiction Book Club discussion

The Age of Innocence
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Past Reads > The Age of Innocence - Book 1

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message 1: by Janine (new)

Janine | 100 comments Mod
Please comment on Book 1 of The Age of Innocence. Irene is our discussion leader for the May read.

Looking foward to this one too!


Irene | 522 comments I am reading a different version of this novel, different introduction author. In the introduction that I read, this is described as Wharton's "war novel", a tribute to the future society unfolding and memorial to the society being left behind, a story that explores the tension between the extremes of anarchy and repression. In what way is this a "war novel"? Although both anarchy and repression are deadly, the ground that occupies the space between is frought with perril. How does this novel explore this space and what does it say about it?

If this is a post WW1 novel that is looking to the new social patterns it is ushering in, why does Wharton set this story in the years after the Civil War?

I was struck by the subtle satirical comments peppered through chapter 1 (that is as far as I have read). What did you think of Wharton's use of humor? What tone is she establishing? Why do you think she opens her novel with these observations?


Kamil (coveredinskin) | 94 comments I find very intriguing the way Wharton describes "Society". It's so far detached from current world, that addressing it in the first chapter of the books sets a very specific tone for the novel, that grabbed me immediately. Those clicks, families, reminded me about aristocratic families intriguing against each other in Italian City-states that I read about in historical fiction. It's as foreign for me, but as interesting because if its unfamiliarity.

The homogeneity of the community and its hermeticity is so skillfully drawn that I'm almost feel that suffocating atmosphere myself.

I also like how delicately she builds the awareness of hypocrisy of this world in a reader, that will be, in my opinion the wave that will trigger the further events and impact character's behavior. I mean they will for sure go against it.

All in all I very much enjoy it so far.


Mary (maryingilbert) | 67 comments Don't know if I will finish this one ... Was looking forward to reading it and I understand it's a Classic and a Pulitzer Prize winner. Am about 15% into the book and I appreciate Wharton's writing ability and her clever sarcasm. I've read of Wharton's background and understand her novel reflects her privileged upbringing. BUT ... the writing style is archaic, dated. I feel like I'm slowly plodding through the novel and not enjoying the experience. Perhaps I need to put my brain into a "slow motion mode" to match the tempo of the novel. Either that or start skimming through it. I can see the foreshadowing of a forbidden romance between Newland and Ellen.


Irene | 522 comments Interesting how much our reaction to a writing style can impact our enjoyment of a novel. Do others find Wharton's writing style too dated? Do you prefer novels that emphasize atmosphere, characterization, plot, etc?

I did not think this was a particularly sslow moving novel. I do have that problem with many 19th century British and French authors, but I liked the pacing and the amount of attention given to developing the characters and the setting.


message 6: by Kamil (last edited May 11, 2015 12:08PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kamil (coveredinskin) | 94 comments Irene wrote: "Interesting how much our reaction to a writing style can impact our enjoyment of a novel. Do others find Wharton's writing style too dated? Do you prefer novels that emphasize atmosphere, charact..."

In my case, I like the writing, don't find it especially slow, or problematic for my reading. I think it is well paced taking into consideration the period it describes. As I pointed out, this novel has very atmospheric feel to it that I find very suiting.

However I do understand Mary, the writing style very often can put me off when it's not my cup of tea.


Nicqui | 45 comments I didn't find the writing style difficult but I remember not being moved by the story itself. I did enjoy the view into the lifestyle of the society families. It was interesting to see their values and their hypocrisy.


message 8: by NCW (last edited May 15, 2015 09:12AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

NCW | 24 comments I just started and I'm enjoying the writing style. I'm simultaneously reading Proust for the first time, and although I'm loving Proust, reading Wharton seems downright fast-paced in comparison. I'm also a big fan of Henry James and I think there are similarities in style between James and Wharton (although this is my first Wharton book). I also read some biographical material on Wharton before I started and it was fascinating. She was incredibly privileged, of course, but her education at a very young age was intense: reading the Lutheran bible in German at 8, reading Plutarch, Dante, the Greek classics at 10, reading French literature in French before she was a teenager. In comparison to what I expect of my own kids at those ages -- not quite the same;)


Irene | 522 comments In my intro to the novel, it said that the phrase "keeping up with the Jones" was coined by N.Y. society to refer to the social standard set by Wharton's parents. Found that fascinating and a great image for the prominance of her family.


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