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!