I picked up The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton with a few expectations because honestly, I didn’t know much about the writer or the novel itself. Once I started reading it though, I was delightfully surprised. I had to read a little about the age and times in America when the novel is set to make it easier for me to understand the story in context.
The book begins with the impending marriage of Newland Archer and May Welland and enters May’s cousin Countess Ellen Olenska who returns to New York City after many years living abroad. Newland is fascinated with the independent and worldly Ellen whose personality is in a way opposite of May’s personality. A sort of love triangle is formed in the story as the plot progresses with Newland, May, and Ellen. Newland is torn by his conscience to keep his promise to May while a part of him longs for the freedom he could have with Ellen; the inner conflict of his character is relatable and human. The Age of Innocence is a social commentary about the society in the 1870s and their concerns with at times trivial things but the hypocrisy that persisted makes you cringe.
The novel is set in 1870’s New York City in the “Gilded Age” which I had to read about a little beforehand; it focuses on upper-class characters living in New York City. The main focus is on an upper-class couple who are due to get married when the bride’s cousin who is plagued by scandals arrives and suddenly the couple’s future becomes uncertain. The novel effectively comments on the society at that time in New York City; about their moral misgivings, hypocrisies, and cruelties in the period before World War I and during it as well. The society shown in the novel has no proper sense left of cultural sensibilities and it is in a way losing its cultural identity.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton is a tale about love, passion, society, irony, acceptance, and struggle; this book captures perfectly what society was like at the time when their morals and ethics were questionable and they had drifted away from culture. This classic is definitely among the best and shouldn’t be missed out on.
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