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The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
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The Age of Innocence (1920)

by Edith Wharton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
8,772195345 (4.03)5 / 859
  1. 61
    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (readerbabe1984)
  2. 40
    The American by Henry James (2below)
    2below: Similar plot and themes--both deal with the issue of being an outsider. I find James' prose a bit more vigorous than Wharton's.
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    The Bostonians by Henry James (jbvm)
  4. 41
    Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (readerbabe1984)
  5. 21
    The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald (TineOliver)
    TineOliver: Both look at love and marriage in the upper classes of New York society (however, at different time periods)
  6. 32
    Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (readerbabe1984)
  7. 21
    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (roby72)
  8. 11
    The Europeans by Henry James (thatguyzero)
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English (189)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  All languages (195)
Showing 1-5 of 189 (next | show all)
In late 19th century New York City, Newland Archer, soon-to-be-married, unexpectedly falls in love with another woman, Ellen Olenska, and finds himself questioning the strictures of his society.

I was quite turned off of Edith Wharton as an English major in college (we read House of Mirth) and made the decision then not to read either her or George Eliot again. Now, later in life, I am rethinking that decision and giving these authors another chance. I believe that there is a right time in life to read certain books, and often we ruin the classics by forcing them on students before they are mature enough (or perhaps have the right life experience) to appreciate them. I listened to an excellent audio rendition of this book, and it absolutely redeemed Wharton for me. I can definitely see myself revisiting this book again, as well as trying her other novels. While on the surface, there may seem to be a lot name-dropping and eye-glazing gossip in the narrative, what Wharton is actually doing is so clever: using the conventions of society (family importance and connections) to criticize the entire structure of society. Her characters are so true to life that even today, when surely we've progressed somewhat, they are all quite recognizable, as are their concerns with appearance and propriety, which Wharton makes seem not only petty, but downright cruel. Newland's transformation is quite believable and at times his thoughts were even shocking, so immersed did I become in Wharton's world. I also enjoyed Wharton's frequent commentary on the position of women in this society, as filtered through Newland's clearly conflicted point of view, as well as her little asides about the work of writers and how writers were viewed. The ending is not tragic but sadly realistic; the lives of Newland, Ellen, and even Newland's wife May come to seem like wasted lives, which I guess is really a tragedy after all.

Read in 2015. ( )
  sturlington | Jun 5, 2015 |
Newland Archer, recently engaged to May, falls in love with her cousin (Ellen, Countess Olenska). Ellen has left her cruel, unfaithful husband and may or may not have lived with his secretary for a time, but this all took place in Europe and now she is back in New York to seek the comfort of her family. Newland goes ahead and marries May, there is talk of Ellen being persuaded to return to her husband. Newland wants to run away with her, but doesn't. Thirty years later they are both widowed and Newland nearly goes to see her, but doesn't. In other words, one of those novels where not much happens.

Still, very very good. There is much musing on the different moralities and habits of Europe and the US and discussion/demonstration of the way so much is unspoken but clearly understood in New York society. I liked Ellen, found Newland disappointing in his failure to have the courage of his convictions (as we were supposed to) and felt sorry for poor May, who really never put a foot wrong, objectively-speaking. ( )
  pgchuis | May 2, 2015 |
One of these days I'll learn to dump books I can't stand. I promise.

This was painfully slow and No. Thing. happened!!! It's all about early Inter-War era gossip. It kinda made me wanna slam my head into the wall. If you enjoy perusing People, Us, and In Touch at the register check out, you would probably enjoy this. I prefer more substance though.

I think the reason it is scored so high, is that it's so horrifically boring right from the get-go that the majority of readers won't even bother with it and they read so little of it that they don't ever review it. The book itself weeds out anyone who would score it low aside from those of us who are absurdly tenacious, OCD, or masochistic (I'm not sure which of the above I am). ( )
  benuathanasia | Apr 21, 2015 |
This was an audio book version and very nicely narrated. The writing is wonderful. Newland Archer is the scion of a family well-established in the New York City society of the 1870's. He is following the path of aristocratic young men in this closely knit circle. He is engaged to be married to a woman of equal standing who will be able to maintain the family's place in the social structure of the city. Mae Welland, Archer's fiance, is attractive and pleasant, not too intellectually forward, but confidently well-versed on what society expects of young newly marrieds. Archer is happy about his pending marriage, but into his well-ordered world comes the Countess Ellen Oleska, a distant cousin. Ellen has returned abruptly to New York from Europe after the scandalous break up of marriage to a Polish count. Ellen fascinates Newland. She bucks the expectations of society about behavior; she's somewhat bohemian in her interests and intellectually on par with him. Newland begins a friendship with Ellen, but as time advances he is increasingly drawn to her. He realizes that she can provide him with the stimulation and intellectual richness -- and passion -- that Mae will never be able to do. He's torn between his affection toward Mae, and his understanding that their marriage will be perfect in the social world they inhabit, and his growing passion for Ellen.

He marries Mae as much to escape the dangers that pursuing a relationship with Ellen will bring as for his loyalty to Mae. As he feared, his marriage becomes stale and uninteresting and he determines to pursue Ellen. She expresses her love for him, but cannot bring herself to be the cause of his marital and social ruin. After indicating she is willing to consummate their attraction, she backs away and flees to Europe to live still married to the count, but apart from him. Newland comtemplates abandoning his marriage to fly to Ellen, but Mae's pregnancy stifles his plan. (The final act of Newland is perfectly wrought by the author, but not revealed here.)

Wharton presents a deeply insightful depiction of New York upper class society of the late 19th century. She shows us the elaborate and rigid customs and practices of the monied aristocracy of New York. While her tone is gentle it is clear that she holds society to be self-centered and superficial in their inter-relationships. Newland in his fascination with the Countess understands that living one's life in the smug and banal ways prescribed by society is shallow and unfulfilling. Yet, though he is greatly tempted, he is unable to break free from the social mores' that govern his class.

The book was written in the early 1920's when, no doubt, the world of New York society had greatly evolved from fifty years before. Wharton has a deep understanding of what the world of the super rich must have been like and her description, while never overtly mocking, shows this class to be supersilious and unworthy.

The writing (as experienced aurally) is so good I'll read another of Wharton's works -- probably House of Mirth. ( )
  stevesmits | Mar 23, 2015 |
A funny read on Society at the turn of the century. One where Wharton seems to note what kind of prison these elitist have built for themselves. I see many reviews writing about how this is about the differences of the sexes. I don't see it as a statement of male vs. female, at all.

Perhaps, not having romanticized ideas on what the idle rich were like, I can look at it differently. I found the book openly, unabashedly hilarious. For me, it was a comedy on what sort of silliness people of privilege work themselves up about. It's something I see daily, especially navigating the waters of various online communities. I see the same prisons being rebuilt without irony and knowledge.

One of the most important things I got from the book, was how we (Americans, at least) seemed to have fastened on to some of these notions, perhaps on the front on putting on airs. So much of these silly barriers have trickled down to the middle-class, that it opened my eyes onto my own behaviors. Things I was taught as "fitting" and "proper", that I adhere to for no reason beyond it's not "low-class", I wonder if they have their beginnings in these laughably brittle prisons. ( )
  fabooj | Feb 3, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 189 (next | show all)
So how can Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence possibly be the greatest New York novel of all time? Well, it is. It builds itself, obsessively, out of all the essential New York themes.
 
The appearance of such a book as "The Age of Innocence" by an American is a matter for public rejoicing. It is one of the best novels of the twentieth century and looks like a permanent addition to literature.
 

» Add other authors (141 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edith Whartonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Auchincloss, LouisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dayne, BrendaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Howard, MaureenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnson, DianeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lewis, R.W.B.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lively, PenelopeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Orgel, StephenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Raver, LornaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shore, StephenPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, Lawrence BeallIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.
Quotations
And he felt himself oppressed by this creation of factitious purity, so cunningly manufactured by a conspiracy of mothers and aunts and grandmothers and long-dead ancestresses, 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.
It was the old New York way of taking life" without effusion of blood": the way of people who dreaded scandal more than disease, who placed decency above courage, and who considered that nothing was more ill-bred than "scenes", except the behavior of those who gave rise to them.
When he thought of Ellen Olenska it was abstractly, serenely, as one might think of some imaginary beloved in a book or a picture: she had become the composite vision of all that he had missed.
"That terrifying product of the social system he belonged to and believed in, the young girl who knew nothing and expected everything, looked back at him like a stranger through May Welland's familiar features; and once more it was borne in on him that marriage was not the safe anchorage he had been taught to think, but a voyage on uncharted seas."
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Book description
In the conformist, closed world of upper-class New York, Newland Archer anticipates his marriage to May Welland, a young girl "who knew nothing and expected everything". Into this ordered arrangement bursts May's cousin, Ellen, the mysterious and exotic Countess Olenska, on the run from an appallingly unhappy marriage. She alternately captivates and outrages the New York milieu and, as Newland's sympathy for her deepens into love, he not only gains insight into the brutality of society's treatment of women, but discovers the real anguish of loving outside its rules. Critical, compassionate, and acutely perceptive about both the individual and the defensiveness of society, The Age of Innocence is perhaps Edith Wharton's finest work.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 159308143X, Paperback)

Somewhere in this book, Wharton observes that clever liars always come up with good stories to back up their fabrications, but that really clever liars don't bother to explain anything at all. This is the kind of insight that makes The Age of Innocence so indispensable. Wharton's story of the upper classes of Old New York, and Newland Archer's impossible love for the disgraced Countess Olenska, is a perfectly wrought book about an era when upper-class culture in this country was still a mixture of American and European extracts, and when "society" had rules as rigid as any in history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:34 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Newland Archer begins to question the values of high society in Victorian New York when he finds himself torn between two very different women--his proper young fiancee and her exotic cousin.

» see all 36 descriptions

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16 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

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Editions: 1909438820, 1909438839

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