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The Age of Innocence (1920)

by Edith Wharton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
11,972269395 (4.02)5 / 1059
An elegant portrait of desire and betrayal in Old New York. In the highest circle of New York social life during the 1870's, Newland Archer, a young lawyer, prepares to marry the docile May Welland. Before their engagement is announced, he meets May's cousin, the mysterious, nonconformist Countess Ellen Olenska, who has returned to New York after a long absence. Archer's world is always changing.… (more)
  1. 62
    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.
  3. 41
    The Bostonians by Henry James (jbvm)
  4. 31
    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)
  5. 42
    Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (readerbabe1984)
  6. 31
    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (roby72)
  7. 10
    The Needle's Eye by Margaret Drabble (kitzyl)
    kitzyl: An embittered lawyer in a loveless coupling attends a social gathering where he is drawn to an enigmatic riches-to-rags woman, whose broken marriage has made her a social outcast. Explores the rigid ideas of morality in the 70s (a century apart) enforced by wealth/class. Woman has a "Olde Shabby Riche"-ly decorated house where the man immediately feels at home.… (more)
  8. 10
    The Europeans: A Sketch by Henry James (thatguyzero)
  9. 11
    The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles (kitzyl)
    kitzyl: Man engaged to conventional society finds himself attracted to an outcast who challenges the rigidity and hypocrisy of the era.
  10. 34
    Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (readerbabe1984)
  11. 01
    The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (amanda4242)
1920s (48)
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English (258)  Spanish (4)  Italian (2)  French (2)  Dutch (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  German (1)  All languages (269)
Showing 1-5 of 258 (next | show all)
Another of those classics I probably waited too long to read, and spent mostly wanting to dope-slap many of the characters. But the "old New York" world-building is excellent. ( )
1 vote JBD1 | Jun 29, 2021 |
"The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend."

Newland Archer and May Welland seem to be the perfect couple. He is a wealthy gentleman lawyer and she a beautiful, sweet-natured girl. On the verge of announcing their engagement all seems set for success until May’s cousin returns from Europe to escape from an ill-fated marriage to a Polish Count. Countess Ellen Olenska was a playmate of Newland's as a child now as a young woman she raises eyebrows in polite society who seems either oblivious or uncaring of society's rules of civility in 1870s New York.

Despite long periods of time apart, a romantic bond grows between Newland and Ellen Olenska.

Alienated from most of her relatives and their circle of acquaintances who consider divorce distasteful Ellen is lonely and unhappy. Newland appears to be her only champion. In contrast Newland wants to escape from the limitations he feels have been placed on him by that very society. Ellen becomes an unattainable object of desire because he knows deep down that a future with her would be impossible. In fact it is the forbidden nature of his feelings for her that stokes his passion.

Newland experiences a romantic love for Ellen that feels untethered by the concepts of duty and tradition; whilst his feelings for May are dictated by propriety and decorum. Newland believes that May is sheltered, naive and inexperienced and he often makes unfavourable comparison between her and the Countess whom he regards as more worldly. However, her later actions suggest that May is more intuitive than he gives her credit for.

The novel looks at how desire is influenced by social conventions and duty (what Newland wants for himself vs. what society wants for him). Yet, Newland appears to draw more pleasure from the yearning than the possibility of an actual union with Ellen meaning that it is difficult to dislike him as you soon realise that he will only ever be disloyal to May in thoughts rather than deeds. In contrast Ellen quickly realises that any possible union is doomed from the outset as Newland will never leave May.

Alienated heroes and ill-fated lovers aren't exactly a rarity in literature, however Wharton’s elegant prose provides an modicum of irony that gives a certain poignancy to this particular tale and lends itself well to the serious nature of it. Yet despite all of this, the story ultimately failed to really grab me meaning that I found it an OK read rather than a particularly memorable one. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Jun 22, 2021 |
more perceptive about women than Henry James, not a high bar
  ritaer | Jun 6, 2021 |
I’ve been trying to read some of the well-known authors of the 19th and 20th century whom I’ve neglected. Or totally ignored. I was on a long flight and discovered “Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton on my Kindle. Probably there because it was free. I didn’t think I would like it, but I was wrong.

I didn’t know that it had been made into a film back in 1993, directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder and Michele Pfeiffer. That’s exactly how I would have cast the book too, so I’m planning to actually rent the film from Amazon, as I’m anxious to see the film version.

It’s a simple story. A young man of society (Newland Archer) falls in love with the wrong woman, (Countess Olenska) – not the woman he is supposed to marry. He thinks he can overcome the will of his society and be with the Countess, but she knows better. In the end he conforms, she is sent away and he lives out his life – a good, decent, boring life. Not the life he wanted, but more than he deserved (in my opinion).

The story didn’t break my heart. The Countess deserved better than Newland Archer so I was glad they didn’t end up together.

Wharton paints a very detailed, believable (but really unbelievable) picture of life in high society New York in the late 1800s.


( )
  LenJoy | Mar 14, 2021 |
Fran Lebowitz is right. This is the best novel ever written. ( )
  mstruck | Mar 9, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 258 (next | show all)
A larger life and more tolerant views: That’s the greatest promise the novel holds out to us, and it’s as necessary now as it was when Edith Wharton put it into words.
added by danielx | editNew York Times, Elif Batuman (Nov 1, 2019)
 

» Add other authors (165 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wharton, Edithprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Auchincloss, LouisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bresnahan, AlyssaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dayne, BrendaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gibson, FloNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hill, DickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Horovitch, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Howard, MaureenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnson, DianeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lewis, R.W.B.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lively, PenelopeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lorna, RaverNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Merlington, LauralNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Munro, AlanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Negri, PietroTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Orgel, StephenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pisani, TommasoIntroduzionesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Quinn, Laura Dluzynskisecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Raver, LornaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sarah, MaryNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shore, StephenPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, Lawrence BeallIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Waid, CandaceIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wolff, Cynthia GriffinIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woodson, MatthewIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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First words
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.
"No," she acquiesced; and her tone was so faint and desolate that he felt a sudden remorse for his own hard thoughts. "The individual, in such cases, is nearly always sacrificed to what is supposed to be the collective interest: people cling to any convention that keeps the family together--protects the children, if there are any," he rambled on, pouring out all the stock phrases that rose to his lips in his intense desire to cover over the ugly reality which her silence seemed to have laid bare.
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Wikipedia in English (2)

An elegant portrait of desire and betrayal in Old New York. In the highest circle of New York social life during the 1870's, Newland Archer, a young lawyer, prepares to marry the docile May Welland. Before their engagement is announced, he meets May's cousin, the mysterious, nonconformist Countess Ellen Olenska, who has returned to New York after a long absence. Archer's world is always changing.

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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.
Haiku summary
One rule to chain them:
Conventions trump love, trump hate,
Freedom for safety.
(DeusXMachina)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

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Urban Romantics

2 editions of this book were published by Urban Romantics.

Editions: 1909438820, 1909438839

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