Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The Age of Innocence read-along is hosted by Beth at Bookworm Meets Bookworm. Today we are posting our thoughts on Book Two and the entire novel overall.

Archer Newland has a happy life. He is a member of New York's most prominent society and is newly engaged to May, a women who on the surface is everything he wants in a wife, beautiful, pure, innocent, and sweet. This is all upset when his fianc├ęs cousin Ellen shows up fleeing her abusive husband.
Newland is drawn to Ellen because she is from Europe (gasp) and as you know, in Europe they do things differently and are therefore exciting. OK so he isn't drawn to her just because she has come over from Europe, but the fact that Europeans do things differently is mentioned about ten times in the novel. While Ellen desires to divorce her husband, her family try to convince her otherwise which exposes Newland to the Hypocrisies and inequities of the society he belongs to.

One of the strengths of this novel is the great detail given of the customs that the characters society demands. I personally found these endless details quite tedious after a while but they did help to establish a claustrophobic atmosphere and created a sense of place very well. As a reader I was surprised the characters have any time to breathe within all their constrictions. The treatment of Ellen by her own family while started promising soon became apparent that they did not care about Ellen as a person and were quite happy to see Ellen either cut off completely or to see her return to an unhappy marriage. I enjoyed that it all became a little sinister (in a subtle way) towards the end and I thought the way the family banded together very clever.

Overall though I much preferred Wharton's The Custom of the Country, I just preferred the humour and the easy flowing writing in that one. The Age of Innocence is worth a read but parts of it were dull and I certainly wasn't gripped. I don't think this is her best but I look very much forward to The House of Mirth.

Posted by Jess


  1. I think her objective is very much to present the reader with a very real world that is devoid of options. These members, however privileged, really lack any sort of control over their own lives. They exist to perpetuate the rules and restrictions of their elders. I feel like Wharton did a great job projecting this feeling of suffocation by so many exacting rules that the reader gets such a realistic view of this lifestyle. Wharton being a member of this society throughout her life is found within the text, longing for days past, yet struggling with the restrictions of such a society. Thanks for participating. I, too, can't wait to get my hands on The House of Mirth!

  2. Beth certainly is spot on with her comment above. Not sure I can top that, so let me just say that I've never heard of The Custom of the Country and I'm off to learn more about it.

  3. I read Edith Wharton for the first time last year -- The House of Mirth -- which I really enjoyed, although I found myself quite frustrated with Lily Bart at times :)