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The Age of Innocence [Turtleback]

Edith Wharton
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 1996 060608973X 978-0606089739
Newland Archer is a young lawyer, a member of New York's high society, and engaged to be married to May Welland. Countess Ellen Olenska is May's cousin, and wants a divorce from the Polish nobleman she married. Intelligent and beautiful, she comes back to New York where she tries to fit into the high society life she had before her marriage. Her family and former friends, however, are shocked by the idea of divorce within their social circle, and she finds herself snubbed by her own class. Ellen and Newland fall in love and must choose between passion and conventions.
--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Somewhere in this book, Wharton observes that clever liars always come up with good stories to back up their fabrications, but that really clever liars don't bother to explain anything at all. This is the kind of insight that makes The Age of Innocence so indispensable. Wharton's story of the upper classes of Old New York, and Newland Archer's impossible love for the disgraced Countess Olenska, is a perfectly wrought book about an era when upper-class culture in this country was still a mixture of American and European extracts, and when "society" had rules as rigid as any in history. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

Review

"Is it—in this world—vulgar to ask for more? To entreat a little wildness, a dark place or two in the soul?"—Katherine Mansfield

"There is no woman in American literature as fascinating as the doomed Madame Olenska. . . . Traditionally, Henry James has always been placed slightly higher up the slope of Parnassus than Edith Wharton. But now that the prejudice against the female writer is on the wane, they look to be exactly what they are: giants, equals, the tutelary and benign gods of our American literature."—Gore Vidal

"Will writers ever recover that peculiar blend of security and alertness which characterizes Mrs. Wharton and her tradition?"—E. M. Forster --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece Jan. 30 2003
By B. Gone
Format:Paperback
Since it is almost ten years ago that I saw Scorcese's movie adaptation of this book, I thought that enough time had passed to read this book without preconceived notions and entirely on its own merits. I am glad I did, since the book clearly outshines the flick.
Because so many reviews have been written on this novel and it has found its ultimate validation by justified inclusion in the list of hundred best books of the 20th century, there is little need for any additional endorsement. Yet, some of the reviews might scare some potential readers away and require some debunking.
This book is no soap opera.
While a romance is at the center of this book this does not imply that we are dealing with a romance novel.
This book is not for women only.
While the story approaches the point of mushiness at a few short instances, I think Wharton did an excellent job portraying the male central character of Newland Archer.
By juxtaposing elements like self versus society, mind versus heart, practical versus desirable The Age of Innocence offers us with an awful lot in a small number of pages. Add to that I supreme writing style, that couples the female eye for detail with Dickensian wit in portraying New York's high society, and follow the beautiful archetypes from Paris and Helena, the original doubter and femme fatale, respectively, and you end up with a true masterpiece.
On top of that, this book has one of literature's best final chapters with bitter, sweet and sarcastic undertones. Just having Welland sit in Paris on a bench close to the Dome des Invalides is priceless!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Age of hypocrisy Dec 14 2007
By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Nobody knew the hypocrises of "old New York" better than Edith Wharton, and nobody portrayed them as well. In "The Age of Innocence," Wharton took readers on a trip through the stuffy upper crust of 1870s New York, wrapped up in a hopeless love affair -- beautifully written, with a look at a society that frowned on anyone different.

Newland Archer, of a wealthy old New York family, has become engaged to pretty, naive May. But as he tries to get their wedding date moved up, he becomes acquainted with May's exotic cousin, Countess Olenska, who has returned home after dumping her cheating count husband. At first, the two are friends, but then they become something more.

After Newland marries May, the attraction to the mysterious Countess and her free, unconventional life becomes even stronger. He starts to rebel in little ways, but he's still mired in a 100% conventional marriage, job and life. Will he become an outcast and go away with the beautiful countess, or will he stick with May and a safe, dull life?

There's nothing too scandalous about "Age of Innocence" in a time when J.Lo acquires and discards boyfriends and husbands like old pantyhose. Probably it wasn't in the 1920s, when the book was first published. But this isn't a book to read if you appreciate sexiness and steam -- instead it's a social satire, a bittersweet romance, and a look at what happens when human beings lose all spontaneity and passion.

Wharton brings old New York to life in this book -- opulent, beautiful, cultured, yet empty and kind of boring. It is "where the real thing was never said or done or even thought," so tied up in tradition that nobody there really lives.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Totem and taboo in old New York. July 8 2004
Format:Paperback
The reading public must have been taken by shock when, in 1920, Wharton published this novel. Written off by most of the critics and audience of her time as having her best literary years far behind her, she produced what is arguably her most important work. Her story of New York City in the 1870s, where family name and propriety counted as much as accumulated wealth, resonated with readers who were just beginning to catch hints of the looming social revolution that would come later in the decade - and once again shatter time tested institutions. Wharton's looking back to the time of her youth (she was 57 when the book was published) is neither too sentimental nor too critical, but simply a fond remembrance of the time and place in which she lived and, like Madame Olenska, eventually escaped.
However, it is not with Madame Olenska but with Newland Archer that Wharton is closest associated. Belonging to similar social castes, both the author and Newland are able to see the foibles in their social milieu but in no way are ready to discard it totally. Whereas, in the end, both are ready to follow their individual paths from Old New York they are fully aware of what is expected of them as members of this society, and act accordingly. This is the central theme of the novel: individual desire vs. collective propriety. In the hands of a lesser author, this conflict could have resulted in a quite heavy and didactic work - and as interesting as an evening at a needlepoint demonstration. By clothing her novel in the time tested mantle of a love story, she is given rein to employ her talents to the fullest. In short, she re-creates the New York City of the 1870s and peoples it with characters that seem to be historical, not just based on historical models.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars “Is New York such a labyrinth?”
Wharton won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Age of Innocence making it the first novel written by a woman to do so. It is set in upper class New York City in the 1870s. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Jeffrey Swystun
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Not exactly a fast paced book by any means but this novel gives a you a look at a New York where 'nice women don't associate with people who write things' (o even worse painters)... Read more
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wharton Puts Jane Austen To Shame
Wharton's story about taboo love and social mores in New York high society puts Jane Austen's quaint, fluffy world to shame. Read more
Published on Jan. 15 2009 by Erin
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4.0 out of 5 stars No one does New York high society better than Wharton
"It was the old New York way of taking life "with effusion of blood"; the way of people who dreaded scandal more than disease, who placed decency above courage, and who considered... Read more
Published on Dec 27 2008 by Misfit
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