Sunday, February 27, 2011
Review: The Age of Innocence
Author: Edith WHarton
Published: 1920, D. Appleton & Company
Accolades: 1921 Putlitzer (first Pultizer given to a woman), Modern Library List: 100 Best Books of the Century, Radcliff Publishing Course: 100 Best Novels of the Century and on and on...
I wasn't sure what to expect when I started reading Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, but I was wonderfully surprised at the depth of Wharton's wit and her satirical analyze of the society in which she belonged. With the introduction of our protagonist Newland Archer we are given a "fly on the wall" perspective of what it was like to live and circumvent the twists and turns of high society in New York City during the Gilded Age. Archer is very much a product of his society and it's rules and is happy to live by them because he understands what happens to those who try to go against the norms of his world. When Archer meets his fiancee's cousin Ellen Olenska, a woman who is escaping a scandalous marriage, he knows that this women is capable of changing his world for better or worse, but like a moth drawn to the flame - he can't resist.
I found myself thinking about what it would have been like to live in that tightly guarded circle of society and how difficult it was to become a part of it or to escape it. You would almost have to be born into it to understand the nuances of what is expected - lessons that took a lifetime to learn. The society wasn't about money because they frowned upon the new money and crassness of the Carnegie's, Frick's, and Rockefeller's. Even those captains of industry could not buy themselves memberships into this elite group.
Wharton's development of her characters is artfully crafted as you realize that the characters that appeared to be weakest and shallow are the strongest and most manipulative. What one would do to preserve appearances due to the code is tragic and heart-felt. Love is not the number one priority - it is your placement in society.
My Rating: 5 out of 5
Note: I read the 2008 Oxford World's Classic edition