Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review: THE AGE OF INNOCENCE by Edith Wharton

book cover Original Publication Date: 1920

Genre: general fiction

Topics: love, society, tragedy

Guest review by Ash (

Blogging about certain books can be a challenge at times and I believe this is one of those times. Deemed as one of the best classics in English Literature, The Age of Innocence throws light on the late 1800′s upper-class society in America..particularly the New York society. I came across this book through a lot of sources but one that particularly struck me was a review by Danielle.

The novel opens with an Opera theater where all of the New York’s elite are watching a play. Newland Archer, the hero of this story is looking out for his fiance May Welland when he spots her seated beside her infamous cousin, Countess Ellen Olenski. Rumors are astrife that the Countess is in NY recouping from a disastrous marriage to a Polish Count. Even so, the New York society condemns her decision and shows it quite boldly. At first, Archer takes it upon himself to show his support to May and her family for sheltering the countess but he finds himself in love with Ellen Olenski who also finds herself returning the affections. And then May who is all the while docile and quiet, decides to prepone the wedding, and Archer finds himself married to May Welland. This doesn’t put a dent on Archer's affections until May makes a decision that changes the course of the story. Describing this plot any more wouldn’t do any justice for its a very difficult to blog on this particular title.

Archer is torn choosing between what society approves vs. what his heart desires. Although his first impression of May is that she meets the Society’s standards and his in every way, he gradually realizes that May and many women like her were groomed to be perfect, ignorant of any independent thoughts or opinions. Ellen is a complex character who seems to be a misfit both in NY and in Europe. She struggles the most trying to fit in with the NY society which scorns her every decision pushing her to the brink of moving back to Europe. For me, May was perhaps the most complex of all characters...She is first introduced as a docile well-bred lady and as a reader, you'll be taken in by it all. Watch out though, for she does have some tricks up her sleeve.

Edith Wharton comes from an upper-class family herself and so her insights into New York old society’s rules and customs are well highlighted in every chapter. Whereas Europe has more liberal code of behavior and independence in thought, NY society condemns any semblance of independent thought or action. So long as a man conducts his affairs in secret and silence, he is exempted from the scorn and rejection by the society whereas a woman is literally shunned. This is another point that is brought out by Ms. Wharton. And then there are the usual theatrics associated with the society when people meet at an Opera or a Ball or a dinner. The novel has many other characters painted to life who add spice to the otherwise quiet plot but its best to explore them through the book then through a blog. For those who don’t want to read the book, I recommend the film featuring Winona Ryder and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Download The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|GirleBooks