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The Age of Innocence [Library Binding]

Edith Wharton
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 1992 0808576143 978-0808576143

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

America's greatest woman novelist Sunday Times I love virtually all of Edith Wharton, but this one's my favourite... I admire her prose style, which is lucid, intelligent, and artful rather than arty; she is eloquent but never fussy, and always clear. She never seems to be writing well to show off. As for The Age of Innocence, it's a poignant story that, typically for Wharton, illustrates the bind women found themselves in when trapped hazily between a demeaning if relaxing servitude and real if frightening independence, and that both sexes find themselves in when trapped between the demands of morality and the demands of the heart. The novel is romantic but not sentimental, and I'm a sucker for unhappy endings -- Lionel Shriver 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 Wharton's dazzling skills as a stylist, creator of character, ironical observer and unveiler of passionate, thwarted emotions have earned her a devoted following -- Hermione Lee Sunday Times

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Perfect cure for insomnia June 12 2000
Format:Paperback
At the risk of offending the literary world, this is the slowest piece of fiction I have ever read. The story is about New York, circa 1880, and the stuffiness of the elite class.
The author descibed her characters succintly in Chapter 33 when she wrote " It was the old New York way of taking life " without effusion of blood": the way of people who dreaded scandal more than disease, who placed decency above courage, and who considered that nothing was more ill-bred than scenes, except the behaviour of those who gave rise to them".
The plot centers upon a engaged lawyer, Newland Archer. From one of the finest families in New York, he falls for an exotic beauty with a scandalous past, the Countess Olenska, who also happens to be his fiance's cousin.
The young man struggles with whether he settles into the staid and boring life that his family name and status have earned him surrounded by people he despises, or does he follow his heart. He defends the charcter of the mysterious and exotic Countess Olenska, who is scorned by both family and friends. The Countess, equally in love with Archer, makes the hard decision to let Archer go so he can fulfill the life that has been planned for him.
Beautifully written but dreadfully slow.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not so innocent age Feb. 22 2007
By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format: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.

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 celebutantes acquire and discard 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. And even though the unattainable countess is beautiful and sweet, it becomes obvious after awhile that Newland is actually in love with the idea of breaking out of his conventional life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The age of wisdom Feb. 15 2004
Format:Paperback
Edith Wharton has a place in the North American Literature canon as one of the best female writers ever. With her novels and novellas she was able to portrait and, above all, criticize the wealth North American society of the turn of the Century. Although she wrote about New York, her books acquired a universal dimension, since they talk about the human nature.
'The Age of Innocence' is widely regarded as one of her masterpieces, and so it is. It received a Pulitzer Prize in 1921, and has passed through the years as a seminal book from the early XX Century. With her wit and knowledge, Wharton was able to recreate that universe where money and liaisons matter more than people's feelings. Due to this situation, her characters are unhappy, and trying --or not-- to change their almost unchangeable destinies.
At the center of the turmoil are Madame Olenska and Newland Archer. She, a unhappy married woman moving back to USA, trying to divorce from her rich and mean husband. He, a wealthy and brilliant lawyer who has a bright future ahead of him. The couple could have a beautiful love story were she not married and, to make matters worse, he not the fiancé of her cousin.
Archer's life split in two: on one side is the love of Madame Olenska, with whom he could be happy, but ostracized; on the other a dull marriage with May Welland, what would confirm his status in society and give him the bright future.
In the background of this turmoil is Wharton's powerful voice, of a person who has lived in this society and suffered its consequence. Describing and criticizing with brilliance things from a time she lived and knew, the writer was able to create a timeless book. Something that nowadays, almost a hundred years later, is still fresh and very important.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The age of Inocence
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
Published on Aug. 19 2011 by Dogyn Hood
5.0 out of 5 stars Passion and the outsider
It was a glittering, sumptuous time when hypocrisy was expected, discreet infidelity tolerated, and unconventionality ostracized. Read more
Published on June 5 2009 by E. A Solinas
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Age of hypocrisy
It was a glittering, sumptuous time when hypocrisy was expected, discreet infidelity tolerated, and unconventionality ostracized. Read more
Published on Jan. 10 2009 by E. A Solinas
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Passion and the outsider
It was a glittering, sumptuous time when hypocrisy was expected, discreet infidelity tolerated, and unconventionality ostracized. Read more
Published on June 14 2008 by E. A Solinas
5.0 out of 5 stars Passion and the outsider
It was a glittering, sumptuous time when hypocrisy was expected, discreet infidelity tolerated, and unconventionality ostracized. Read more
Published on April 23 2008 by E. A Solinas
5.0 out of 5 stars Passion and the outsider
It was a glittering, sumptuous time when hypocrisy was expected, discreet infidelity tolerated, and unconventionality ostracized. Read more
Published on March 4 2008 by E. A Solinas
5.0 out of 5 stars Passion and the outsider
It was a glittering, sumptuous time when hypocrisy was expected, discreet infidelity tolerated, and unconventionality ostracized. Read more
Published on Feb. 4 2008 by E. A Solinas
5.0 out of 5 stars Age of hypocrisy
Nobody knew the hypocrises of "old New York" better than Edith Wharton, and nobody portrayed them as well. Read more
Published on April 30 2007 by E. A Solinas
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