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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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8,678192349 (4.04)5 / 847
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. 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)
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    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)
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    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (roby72)
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    The Europeans by Henry James (thatguyzero)
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    Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (readerbabe1984)
1920s (17)
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Showing 1-5 of 186 (next | show all)
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 |
I loved the book, the languid nature of it, the way Archer tries to succeed in life by stifling everything that is important to him, and the way even minor characters are so vividly drawn. I'm in awe of how Edith Wharton could write both novels of society like this, and pastoral novels like "Ethan Frome" and "Summer."

This novel was published the same year as Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise," which I also finished this morning, and it was interesting to contrast The Age of Innocence, written when Wharton was at the height of her powers, with Fitzgerald's first novel, which is set in the 20's and describes the fading of the monied classes that Wharton describes here.

My only regret is that Scorsese's glorious film kept intruding on my own fictional world-building as I read--it was very difficult to not see Daniel Day Lewis in my brain as Archer, or even more so to avoid seeing Richard E. Grant, who played the perfect Lawrence Lefferts. The movie didn't spoil the book so much as overpower my imagination, since Scorsese did such a good job of transforming the novel into film. ( )
  poingu | Jan 29, 2015 |
For whatever reason I've recently read a bunch of novels concerning the politics of high society, though in significantly different settings. Balzac's Père Goriot satirized French high society, Proust's In Search of Lost Time vol. 2 continues to explore the subject from the viewpoint of a youth, and I'm currently in the middle of Dreams of Red Mansions vol. 1, which covers the interactions of the Chinese high society. Compared to these other works The Age of Innocence comes off as bland. Newland Archer didn't evoke much sympathy from me, as his torments are crafted by his own hand as much as they are forced upon him by the social structure, and even if that weren't the case certain scenes make it clear that he's an ass (the scene where he envisions the death of his wife comes to mind). Besides Newland the only character drawn with any depth is Olenska, as almost every other character can be reduced to a single character trait, or two at most.

Without an interesting cast of characters a novel such as this could be redeemed by its setting, but this doesn't occur here, as the ostensible setting of New York plays almost no role in the text. The Age of Innocence could just as easily have been set in Philadelphia or Baltimore and there would be no need for any changes beyond place names, and even some cities outside of the United States would work just as well. The New York of yesteryear adds no color to a novel that could use some. The New York of The Great Gatsby stands in stark contrast to the New York on display here, as Gatsby's New York was far more vividly portrayed and more integrated with the story.

The writing is nothing special either, Balzac in translation was better written than Wharton in her native language. Wharton doesn't communicate any personal expertise concerning the world of high society that she portrays, and neither does she comment on that world in an interesting way. She furthermore has the annoying tendency to beat you over the head with the messages and symbolism of her novel. The idea that innocence is not a virtue but a shortcoming, a symptom of naiveté and lack of life experience, is an interesting concept, but the impact of that message is blunted when Wharton spells it out. Oh well, at least the book managed to end in a way that was somewhat interesting.

You're better off rereading The Great Gatsby or some Proust than reading this largely bland novel. ( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
It was my turn to pick out a book for Book Club - and I choose this one based a half remembered plot line from when I last read it in college. First, the book club members found it difficult, but enjoyed reading it. Second, they found it hard to get into, but rewarding once once got into it. It fostered conversation about society, how society changed, and love vs infatuation.

This isn't an easy read, especially at the beginning of the book - A lot of names, conversations that don't mean what they say, and a difficult to parse language all made for a difficult reading. But once a reader got used to the style, the book became magical. The author manages to make the characters likeable while doing things that are not nice. Also, this society is so strait-laced that it is difficult to live in freedom.

The other aspect of this book is, ultimately, its about society vs individual freedom - Even 90 years later, this is still an important theme and very applicable to today’s world.

This is a book I will be adding to my library. Its also a book I can see myself rereading over and over again. ( )
  TheDivineOomba | Nov 16, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 186 (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)

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Editions: 1909438820, 1909438839

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