- Publisher: book-of-the -month (Sept. 16 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1857152026
- ISBN-13: 978-1857152029
- Product Dimensions: 2.6 x 13.5 x 21 cm
- Shipping Weight: 522 g
- Average Customer Review: 90 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,131,190 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (EVERYMAN'S LIBRARY CLASSICS) Hardcover – Sep 16 1993
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"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 --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Cambridge Literature is a series of literary texts edited for study by students aged 14-18 in English-speaking classrooms. It will include novels, poetry, short stories, essays, travel-writing and other non-fiction. The series will be extensive and open-ended and will provide school students with a range of edited texts taken from a wide geographical spread. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product description
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While the story of snobbish people living useless lives wouldn’t normally interest me, the fact that Edith Wharton wrote it and won a Pulitzer prize for her novel does. I understand why the novel earned such high praise. Wharton writes with the same mild undertone of amusement and mockery that Austen did with Pride and Prejudice, yet Wharton’s subtle layers of cynicism and despondency give the story an edgy feel at times. The conflict between expectation and following one’s heart is beautifully portrayed through Newland’s anguish and regrets.
Despite my hesitancy over the subject matter, I enjoyed this novel. Admittedly, there were far too many characters growing pale during those awkward moments when something is said that shouldn’t be, but what else could they do when outbursts just weren’t done in those days? Having said that, I do believe that the quality of Wharton’s writing still holds up to today’s literary authors.
Newland is the lead character, a man torn between the old and new, the conservative and the progressive. These are represented in the two women in his life. He marries May as society and family expects. All the while he pines for Countess Ellen Olenska, May's exotic cousin. Newland soon finds that his beautiful wife lacks imagination and adventure. She becomes tedious to Newland to the point that he fears “his tendency to dwell on the things he disliked in her.”
Yet, he stays faithful and tries to communicate with May as to his needs and wants. She humors his dreams and he pushes back, “But why should they be only descriptions? Why shouldn’t we make them real?” In the end, May cannot see a life or way of life outside of the circle she is most comfortable.
This makes Ellen even more desirable to Newland. She is unconventional and alluring seemingly born a generation before her time. He continuously warns Ellen of how complex New York society is and she retorts, “Is New York such a labyrinth?” Ellen believes it is quite predictable likening the upper crust to the city’s street grid system.
Wharton provides great observations of human behavior that resonate today. Early in the novel she says that livery drivers recognized “that Americans want to get away from amusement even more quickly than they want to get to it.” She was referring to opera but if you have seen fans leaving a National Hockey League game you know of what she writes.
The author possesses a biting sense of humor that is best exhibited in the descriptions of life in New York. The novel is set when it “was peculiar to live above Thirty-Fourth Street” and when attending a party “hot canvas-back ducks and vintage wines” were preferred over “tepid Veuve Clicquot without a year and warmed-up croquettes from Philadelphia.” Descriptions of people’s homes along Madison Avenue are incredible. One possesses a ballroom used just one day a year.
Wharton ends the novel beautifully by fast-forwarding through the years. Newland observes how liberal society has become for his grown children. He has lived long enough to see innovations including long-distance telephone calls, electric light and five-day voyages across the Atlantic. He too has been born a generation too early and upon reflection laments, “The worst of doing one’s duty was that it apparently unfitted one for doing anything else.”
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