Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Review: "The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton

From Goodreads:  Winner of the 1921 Pulitzer Prize, The Age of Innocence is Edith Wharton’s masterful portrait of desire and betrayal during the sumptuous Golden Age of Old New York, a time when society people “dreaded scandal more than disease.”

This is Newland Archer’s world as he prepares to marry the beautiful but conventional May Welland. But when the mysterious Countess Ellen Olenska returns to New York after a disastrous marriage, Archer falls deeply in love with her. Torn between duty and passion, Archer struggles to make a decision that will either courageously define his life—or mercilessly destroy it.

My Thoughts:  Hmmmm, I don’t really know what to say about this book.  I had to do a little bit of online research to see if I figure out what Edith Wharton’s point was when she wrote this book because I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a critique or not.  Evidently, it’s not supposed to be a critique but a description of the customs of the time.  Despite that fact, I kind of read it as though it were a critique because living in that era seems like it wouldn't have been much fun.  I didn’t dislike the book but I did struggle with it.  It was very enlightening to see the behavior of New York high society in the late 19th century; honestly I don’t think I would have survived a minute with that bunch.  There were so many rules for everything that it just seemed so stifling.  And if the characters are anything like people really were back then, YIKES. 

I didn’t like most of the characters in this book though I didn’t hate all of them.  They weren’t bad characters but they seemed so shallow.  Maybe that’s part of the representation of the times; that people weren’t supposed to be deep, they were just supposed to go to parties and follow all of the social rules.  I don’t know.  It’s hard to read something like this and feel sympathy for the characters when you are looking at them from 21st century eyes.  I did like May and I did feel bad for her, she really got the short end of the stick in the story.  I was kind of angry with Newland for marrying her when he didn’t want to and after she had given him an out.  But Newland was kind of ridiculous like that.  Everything he did was based on what he thought society expected him to do and it got him nowhere.  Yes, he was able to remain as respectable pillar of society but was he truly happy?  I don’t think so.  Countess Olenska also got to remain semi-respectable but didn’t get her way in the end either.  I couldn’t help feel a tiny bit bad for her considering her situation with her husband but she seemed so flighty and I never really warmed to her. 

I did like that towards the end you get see how society started to change and evolve and how things that weren’t acceptable in Newland’s day, were more accepted when his children were adults.   It was nice to see things become a little less strict in regards to behavior that was, and was not socially acceptable.  Overall, this wasn’t a bad book.  I am really glad I read it but I am still kind of perplexed by the whole story.  3 stars.


  1. I'm with you. I had such high expectations of it, but in the end - really didn't get why so many people love it. It was kind of forgettable to me.

  2. I liked this one more than you did, I am a big Edith Wharton fan. I love how she gives so much detail into the "rules" of high society in New York City during this time in history.


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