Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Age of Innocence is focused on the high society of New York City in the late 1870’s… a tightly knit circle of the most prestigious families who live by their own lofty standards and conduct themselves by unwritten and unspoken rigid, iron clad rules.
Newland Archer is young, naive, and full of romantic dreams for the future. He chooses an acceptable fiancee, May Welland, because “she represents peace, stability, comradeship and the steady sense of an inescapable duty”. Just as Newland and May are preparing to announce their engagement, May’s cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, returns from France, separated from her husband and contemplating divorce. Despite her scandalous behavior, she has every intention of resuming her place in the elite social circle of New York. Ellen is vibrant and exciting, and in spite of her tarnished reputation and lack of social grace, Newland falls in love with her.
It doesn’t take long for Newland to realize that even though his betrothed May is charming and sweet-tempered, she seems shallow and boring compared to her exotic, unconventional cousin Ellen. Newland finds himself thinking May is dull, uninteresting, and so predictable “and never in all the years to come, would she surprise him by an unexpected mood, by a new idea, a weakness, a cruelty, or an emotion”.
As the story unfold-, always with refined manners and proper dress- the reader is amidst glamorous dinner parties, formal nights at the Opera, exciting vacations in Newport, family gatherings, afternoon teas, and intimate trysts… all described in authentic vivid detail, Newland is torn between his desire to do the right thing and his strong urge to forsake May and pursue true love with Ellen.
The Victorian Era was truly an age of innocence. This is a beautifully written, wonderful novel…a classic love story and worthy winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1921.
Rated 5 Stars
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