Monday, November 21, 2011
Book Review of The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Author: Edith Wharton
Type of book: 1870s, 1890s, New York, old New York, high society, infidelity, adult, romance, standards, hierarchy
Year it was published: 1920
Winer of the 1921 Pulitzer Prize, The Age of Innocence is Edith Wharton's portrait of desire and betrayal in Old New York. As Newland Archer preparers to marry the docile May Welland, his world is forever changed by the return of the mysterious Countess Ellen Olenska. "Wharton's characters...become very real. You know their hearts, souls and yearnings, and the price they pay for those yearnings." (San Francisco Examiner.) This authoritative text is reprinted from the Library of America edition of Novels by Edith Wharton.
Newland Archer, Countess Olenska, and May Welland could be said to represent the future of New York; May Welland could be seen as the old structured and familiar New York, Newland Archer has radical ideas and wants change but at the same time he desires to stick with familiarity, while Countess Olenska represents the New New York. Newland Archer has to make a choice between whether or not to stick with old and familiar, or go into unexplored depths with Countess Olenska?
I think the ultimate theme is that familiarity can mean stagnation but at the same time taking a chance is much more frightening than staying in stagnation no matter how miserable the life is.
It's written in limited third person point of view from Newland Archer's point of view. Unfortunately the novel was confusing for me at some points, and the beginning chapter was boring. Although the author does try to explain the structure and ideas of the society, I didn't understand it much.
January 24, 1862 in New York,
New York, The United States
August 11, 1937
About this author
Edith Newbold Jones was born into such wealth and privilege that her family inspired the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses." The youngest of three children, Edith spent her early years touring Europe with her parents and, upon the family's return to the United States, enjoyed a privileged childhood in New York and Newport, Rhode Island. Edith's creativity and talent soon became obvious: By the age of eighteen she had written a novella, (as well as witty reviews of it) and published poetry in the Atlantic Monthly.
After a failed engagement, Edith married a wealthy sportsman, Edward Wharton. Despite similar backgrounds and a shared taste for travel, the marriage was not a success. Many of Wharton's novels chronicle unhappy marriages, in which the demands of love and vocation often conflict with the expectations of society. Wharton's first major novel, The House of Mirth, published in 1905, enjoyed considerable literary success. Ethan Frome appeared six years later, solidifying Wharton's reputation as an important novelist. Often in the company of her close friend, Henry James, Wharton mingled with some of the most famous writers and artists of the day, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, André Gide, Sinclair Lewis, Jean Cocteau, and Jack London.
In 1913 Edith divorced Edward. She lived mostly in France for the remainder of her life. When World War I broke out, she organized hostels for refugees, worked as a fund-raiser, and wrote for American publications from battlefield frontlines. She was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her courage and distinguished work.
The Age of Innocence, a novel about New York in the 1870s, earned Wharton the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1921 -- the first time the award had been bestowed upon a woman. Wharton traveled throughout Europe to encourage young authors. She also continued to write, lying in her bed every morning, as she had always done, dropping each newly penned page on the floor to be collected and arranged when she was finished. Wharton suffered a stroke and died on August 11, 1937. She is buried in the American Cemetery in Versailles, France.
What I found the most fascinating about the novel is the life before the immigration. It's also interesting the kind of messages you send to someone by sitting them with someone or whatnot. I liked reading the early conflict of Archer for Countess Olenska and his wife; he's trying to make a decision whether to stay with familiar and old, or else go into the unknown and risk it all. I doubt that the ending will satisfy those who are hoping for the familiarity. For me even the ending was jarring. As I mentioned previously though, it's an interesting book despite the same tale retold countless times in countless ways.
4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)