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The Age of Innocence (1920)

by Edith Wharton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
12,648286402 (4.01)5 / 1103
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. 31
    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (roby72)
  6. 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)
  7. 10
    The Europeans: A Sketch by Henry James (thatguyzero)
  8. 43
    Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (readerbabe1984)
  9. 11
    The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (amanda4242)
  10. 44
    Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (readerbabe1984)
  11. 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.
1920s (13)

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English (271)  Spanish (4)  Italian (2)  French (2)  Dutch (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  German (1)  All languages (282)
Showing 1-5 of 271 (next | show all)
I gave this another chance and still can't. I appreciate the glimpse of post-civil-war New York society. I just don't buy the main character of Newlin. Now if it had been written from Madam Olenska's point of view, it would probably would have made me love the book more. ( )
  christyco125 | Jul 4, 2022 |
This is not the sort of book I would get along with.

Newland Archer (our protagonist) gets no sympathy from me whatsoever, and I pretty much hated on him the entire book. He falls for another girl, while engaged. Solution? Speed up the wedding. Maybe he's trying to be true to his fiancé, which he does say sweet things about initially, but he's already having doubts and criticizing her for her lack of imagination and such. And he pitches the idea of marriage to Ellen... which I guess is tabled only because May agrees to a hasty wedding? Like, where's your sense of honor, man?

He thinks it's weird that May doesn't initially want to speed up the wedding because she suspects he may be into another woman, but that sounds right to me. I wouldn't want to marry a guy who isn't sure. Get sure, you butthead. (Yeah, and I get a big point of this book is the "age" it's set in, and the society rules, but meh. I can be annoyed with character choices, and I think Archer is supposed to be ahead of his time, but I can still think he's an immoral idiot.)

So after he gets married, he tries even harder to pursue an affair with Ellen. She resists - good for her. But she still agrees to meet with him and such - stooopid. The end of the book, where his son gets the girl he wants, and society has progressed, etc., would have worked a lot better if Archer HAD resisted. But, no. Archer decides "let's have an affair!" and it's ONLY Ellen who makes it a no-go.

Dude, you've been married like less than a year. Where is your loyalty? I'm already pissed at you for basically proposing to another women, while already engaged, and, after figuring out you love another woman, continuing with the marriage. But once you're married? Really? What a lousy man. What a lousy human. And you think YOU are the better person between you and your wife? HA. He repeatedly calls May ignorant, but there's a big difference between willful ignorance (she specifically avoids discussions of Ellen when she thinks Archer is having an affair, etc.) and stupidity. It was indicated that May was intelligent in certain ways, but perfectly content staying in her little society bubble - which Archer thought was negative, and the book painted as negative. Whatever makes you happy, hon. I just can't express my disdain for Archer enough.

The whole "Age of Innocence" theme was decent, I suppose. Just, again, not for me. I was struck by Edith Wharton's writing style. I did NOT care for the story, but I feel compelled to bump my rating up one star because the author deserves extra credit for strong writing and a compelling overall theme. She had rather quotable lines, mostly in Archer's musing. (For example: What could he and she really know of each other, since it was his duty, as a "decent" fellow, to conceal his past from her, and hers, as a marriageable girl, to have no past to conceal?) I've seen Ethan Frome show up a lot on reading lists (also by Edith Wharton) and I certainly wouldn't be put off from reading that.

Edit (May 2020): I did end up reading Ethan Frome. MORE adultery. Later, Ms. Wharton. And I'm taking away your extra credit star! ( )
  Allyoopsi | Jun 22, 2022 |
I thoroughly enjoyed The House of Mirth, but boy oh boy this was a drear fest by comparison. The characters were so dully portrayed I couldn't have cared less what romantic choice the protagonist did or didn't make. The whole thing just seemed to go on and on yet never really get anywhere.

This novel might have been scintillating when it was written 100 years ago, but for me it paled in comparison with so many other classics from that time.

3 stars - an almost DNF, but I'd given it so many hours of my time I felt compelled to finish it. ( )
  AlisonY | Jun 12, 2022 |
Classic American novel charting the courses of upper-class New York families in 1870's. Love triangles, longing, black sheep, social maneuvering, and scandals are woven together here to create a never-tiring tale that brings the times to life. The characters are excellently realised, as are the situations which they rotate through, showing the manners, prejudices, snobberies, and hypocrisies of the times.

As the introduction, let alone the writing suggests, much of this tableau vivant was based on the experiences of the author and those who she knew. Not all the characters are likeable, but this only adds to the interest. ( )
  P_S_Patrick | May 18, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 271 (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 (164 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
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
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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On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.
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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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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Urban Romantics

2 editions of this book were published by Urban Romantics.

Editions: 1909438820, 1909438839


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