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The Age of Innocence (1920)

by Edith Wharton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
13,547297420 (4.02)5 / 1140
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. 72
    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
    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (roby72)
  5. 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)
  6. 43
    Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (readerbabe1984)
  7. 10
    The Europeans: A Sketch by Henry James (thatguyzero)
  8. 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)
  9. 44
    Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (readerbabe1984)
  10. 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.
  11. 11
    The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (amanda4242)
1920s (13)
AP Lit (154)
100 (51)

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English (283)  Spanish (5)  Italian (2)  French (2)  Finnish (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  German (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (297)
Showing 1-5 of 283 (next | show all)
My reaction to this book was lukewarm. It featured fascinating characters and an interesting plot. Learning about Ellen's past marriage was like unraveling a mystery. It drew me in until I couldn't put it down. However, there were some serious drawbacks for me. I know this book is a classic and won the Pulitzer prize, but the abrupt ending and the wishy-washy protagonist bothered me.

While I understand that Wharton was commenting on the restrictive nature of upper class living in America, I was frustrated by the hero, Newland Archer because he kept changing his mind about what he wanted out of life and women. In my opinion, Wharton's criticisms would've come across stronger if May and Ellen had narrated the story. Their story arcs were much more interesting than Newland's. Furthermore, May and Ellen could've illustrated their victim status and how they manipulated others to get what they want. Not only that, but the conversation between May and Ellen at the end of the novel would've been a great climactic moment that Newland's narrative lacked.

I read Ethan Frome, and that had such a painful but climactic ending. I assumed The Age of Innocence would end just as dramatically. When it didn't, I was disappointed. I didn't get a satisfying resolution to the story.

The Age of Innocence offered an insightful view into American life during the 1870s, but its themes were still universal enough to apply to the modern reader. Just don't expect a lot of "oomph". ( )
  readerbug2 | Nov 16, 2023 |
As always, Wharton's novels are difficult for me to rate. I struggle with her books, not due to the writing which is usually quite good, but instead my lack of sympathy for the spoiled, wealthy characters Wharton writes about.

Set during the Gilded Age, in The Age of Innocence the focus is on Newland Archer and May Welland, who at face-value seem to be an ideally matched couple. Into the picture comes May's cousin Ellen Olenska, who arrives in the US after leaving her European husband. Ellen causes quite a stir among the upper echelons of polite society. Newland takes a liking to her, causing him to question the social conventions he feels restricted by and also threatening his relationship with May.

Although I didn't really have much in common with the characters and it was fairly obvious where the story was headed, I still enjoyed aspects of the book. Actually my favorite part of the book was the ending, not because the story was over, but due to the elegant restraint Wharton showed in her writing.

Rating: 4 stars
Published: 1920
Factoids: Wharton was the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize. ( )
  Ann_R | Aug 7, 2023 |
There is more blushing in this novel than I have encountered elsewhere. The blush seems to be the main mode of expression, since the characters cannot say anything clearly to each other. Newland Archer often "starts" and then says 1/3 to 1/2 of a sentence in anger that quickly evaporates. I'll have to see the movie now to see if Daniel Day Lewis says anything. I also found Newland's attraction to the Countess to be quite mysterious. It is the central undiscussed mystery of the story. I know that life often works that way, but if you are writing a novel you could say something about the crush besides that she doesn't mind living in the same city block as artists do, and that she can decorate a room with only a single feather and blown flowers.

Here is my favorite quote, a description of Boston:

"The streets near the station were full of the smell of beer and coffee and decaying fruit and a shirt-sleeved populace moved through them with the intimate abandon of boarders going down the passage to the bathroom." ( )
  markm2315 | Jul 1, 2023 |
Wharton's unsparing portrait of late 1800s upper class New York shows a society crumbling under the weight of its own pretense and conservatism. The senseless and hypocritical rituals of the upper classes and their tribal persecution of outsiders and nonconformists is portrayed here humorously but also as making many of the most privileged members bear the misery of its burden.
I find it hard to sympathize with Newland Archer, the novel's protagonist, because he seems so much in denial of his feelings throughout the first part of the novel that when he finally admits that he is in love with the Countess Olenska, he is far too enmeshed in the demands of his role as son and fiance to do anything about it. ( )
  jonbrammer | Jul 1, 2023 |
Wharton's most well-known book invokes the typical Wharton theme of the strictures of society that the wealthy live under: Does one really have any free choice to live one's life as one pleases? Newland Archer thinks he can escape, to ignore the rules of the New York wealthy society in which he lives. He is engaged to be married to May, a girl deeply embedded in New York society, with the correct and proper breeding and education to fit the requirements for a wife. But then Archer meets Countess Ellen Olenska, a woman who has recently returned from Europe after leaving her husband under scandalous circumstances. He believes he has fallen in love with Ellen, and wants to give everything up, his place in New York society, his fiancée May, and run away with Ellen.

In Archer's mind, May is an innocent, unaware of how bound up in society's rules she is. But who is the real innocent here--is it Archer who thinks he is brave enough and strong enough to give up everything he has ever known? He can't even recognize that behind the scenes May is manipulating people and events so that her life goes exactly the way she wants it to. In the end, innocent May, may have been the most successful at living life exactly as she chose to.

This is a book everyone should read.

5 stars

First line: "On a January evening of the early seventies Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York."

Last line: "Newland Archer got up and walked back alone to the hotel." ( )
  arubabookwoman | May 29, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 283 (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 (131 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wharton, Edithprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Auchincloss, LouisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bordwin, GabrielleCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bresnahan, AlyssaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dayne, BrendaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Forster, E. M.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gibson, FloNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hill, DickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Horovitch, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Howard, MaureenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnson, DianeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Judge, PhoebeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Klett, ElizabethNarratorsecondary 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
Phelps, William LyonIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pisanti, TommasoIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Quinn, Laura Dluzynskisecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Raver, LornaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ribera, RomàCover artistsecondary 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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On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.
[Foreword - Penguin Classics] When I was growing up, I viewed literary "classics" with a certain degree of suspicion
[Introduction - Penguin Classics] On a fateful evening near the end of the novel, May Archer, nee Welland, delivers a devastating piece of news to her husband, Newland.
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.

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Urban Romantics

2 editions of this book were published by Urban Romantics.

Editions: 1909438820, 1909438839

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