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The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
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The Age of Innocence (original 1920; edition 1998)

by Edith Wharton

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8,495187362 (4.03)5 / 809
Member:jlkutte
Title:The Age of Innocence
Authors:Edith Wharton
Info:Scribner (1998), Edition: 1st Scribner Paperback Fiction Ed, Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
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The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920)

  1. 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.
  2. 51
    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (readerbabe1984)
  3. 41
    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. 21
    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (roby72)
  7. 11
    The Europeans by Henry James (thatguyzero)
  8. 23
    Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (readerbabe1984)
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English (181)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  All languages (187)
Showing 1-5 of 181 (next | show all)
"Newland! Do shut the window. You’ll catch your death.”
He pulled the sash down and turned back. “Catch my death!” he echoed; and he felt like adding: “But I’ve caught it already. I am dead—I’ve been dead for months and months.”


Edith Wharton is a masterful writer, wielding a pen she sharpens to a scalpel-sharp point on 1870s New York society. The book is framed by performances of the opera Faust. At the first, Newland Archer is happily and somewhat smugly anticipating his marriage to the young, innocent May Welland, whose every thought and opinion he is looking forward to shaping, if not outright providing. He is somewhat scandalized when May's family hosts the Countess Ellen Olenska in their box -- this cousin is separated from her husband, a Polish count, and is seeking refuge in New York.

The countess's European sensibilities and unconventionality make her an uncomfortable puzzle for her family: she treats a servant familiarly, visits and befriends social climbers and outcasts, and does not care to live in the "right" neighborhoods. Newland is attracted like a moth. As Newland falls in love with the countess, he comes to perceive the smallness and rigidity of their New York world, and is powerless in the face of it. Ellen is determined to preserve her independence, to live life as she chooses, and as Newland realizes this, he understands that his future with May is one of convention, propriety, and suffocation. May in her turn is smooth and pleasant on the surface, and deftly manipulative underneath. Near the book's end, Newland attends another performance of Faust, reflecting how he has utterly changed, yet sentenced to a life of stifling sameness. This book made me deeply uncomfortable -- it is pervasively sad, and utterly fascinating.
1 vote AMQS | Oct 23, 2014 |
The Age of Innocence tells the story of some of New York's "upper crust" in the 19th century. There's a bit of scandal, since one of the characters divorces. It shows the attitudes of the people and time. May is a strong female character. Newland is portrayed as a weak male character. I recognized why some people like the book, but I was not one who enjoyed it. The book seemed rather pointless to me other than to appeal to those enamored with reading about high society. ( )
  thornton37814 | Oct 21, 2014 |
Innocence or naivete? Characters innocently and naively believing that social propriety and convention could be more important and more compelling than the motives and desires of the human heart. Newland was a fool. That he found a modicum of happiness with May is probably more than he deserved. ( )
  AliceAnna | Oct 18, 2014 |
The hypocrisy of the upper class in New York City in the 1870s. At all costs maintain the public facade while the core rots. Wonderfully written. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
A heart-breaking book which is both fast-paced and brilliantly written. Archer is an interesting character and Wharton does a great job of showing how much easier it is for him to conform than to follow his heart, but it is the way Wharton portrays Archer's wife, May, that shows Wharton's incredible ability to create believable characters. Great story, sad ending. ( )
  eapalmer | Apr 23, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 181 (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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:59 -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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 36 descriptions

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