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Paperback The Age of Innocence Book

ISBN: 0020264763

ISBN13: 9780020264767

The Age of Innocence

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Book Overview

Set in old New York, this novel details the thwarted romance between Newland Archer, a young dandy, and the beautiful, unconventional divorceee Countess Ellen Olenska. The cast of characters includes Newland's docile - and calculating - fiancee, May Welland and the lordly Mrs Manson Mingott.

Customer Reviews

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Love, Loneliness, and the Strictures of Society.

Imagine living in a world where life is governed by intricate rituals; a world "balanced so precariously that its harmony [can] be shattered by a whisper" (Wharton); a world ruled by self-declared experts on form, propriety and family history - read: scandal -; where everything is labeled and yet, people are not; where in order not to disturb society's smooth surface nothing is ever expressed or even thought of directly, and where communication occurs almost exclusively by way of symbols, which are unknown to the outsider and, like any secret code, by their very encryption guarantee his or her permanent exclusion. Such, in faithful imitation of Victorian England, was the society of late 19th century upper class New York. Into this society returns, after having grown up and lived all her adult life in Europe, American-born Countess Ellen Olenska, after leaving a cruel and uncaring husband. She already causes scandal by the mere manner of her return; but not knowing the secret rituals of the society she has entered, she quickly brings herself further into disrepute by receiving an unmarried man, by being seen in the company of a man only tolerated by virtue of his financial success and his marriage to the daughter of one of this society's most respected families, by arriving late to a dinner in which she has expressly been included to rectify a prior general snub, by leaving a drawing room conversation to instead join a gentleman sitting by himself - and worst of all, by openly contemplating divorce, which will most certainly open up a whole Pandora's box of "oddities" and "unpleasantness:" the strongest terms ever used to express moral disapproval in this particular social context. Soon Ellen, who hasn't seen such façades even in her husband's household, finds herself isolated and, wondering whether noone is ever interested in the truth, complains bitterly that "[t]he real loneliness here is living among all these kind people who only ask you to pretend." Ellen finds a kindred soul in attorney Newland Archer, her cousin May Welland's fiancé, who secretly toys with a more liberal stance, while outwardly endorsing the value system of the society he lives in. Newland and Ellen fall in love - although not before he has advised her, on his employer's and May and Ellen's family's mandate, not to pursue her plans of divorce. As a result, Ellen becomes unreachable to him, and he flees into accelerating his wedding plans with May, who before he met Ellen in his eyes stood for everything that was good and noble about their society, whereas now he begins to see her as a shell whose interior he is reluctant to explore for fear of finding merely a kind of serene emptiness there; a woman whose seemingly dull, passive innocence grinds down every bit of roughness he wants to maintain about himself and who, as he realizes even before marrying her, will likely bury him alive under his own future. Then his passion for Ellen is rekindled by a meeting a year and a h

Passion and the outsider

It was a glittering, sumptuous time when hypocrisy was expected, discreet infidelity tolerated, and unconventionality ostracized. That is the Gilded Age, and nobody knew its hypocrises better than Edith Wharton.... and nobody portrayed them as well. "The Age of Innocence" is a trip back in time to the stuffy upper crust of "old New York," taking us through one respectable man's hopeless love affair with a beautiful woman -- and the life he isn't brave enough to have. Newland Archer, of a wealthy old New York family, has become engaged to pretty, naive May Welland. But as he tries to get their wedding date moved up, he becomes acquainted with May's exotic cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, who has returned home after dumping her cheating husband. At first, the two are just friends, but Newland becomes more and more entranced by the Countess' easy, free-spirited European charm. After Newland marries May, the attraction to the mysterious Countess and her free, unconventional life becomes even stronger. He starts to rebel in little ways, but he's still mired in a 100% conventional marriage, job and life. Will he become an outcast and go away with the beautiful countess, or will he stick with May and the safe, dull life that he has condemned in others? There's nothing too scandalous about "Age of Innocence" in a time when starlets acquire and discard boyfriends and husbands like old pantyhose -- it probably wasn't in the 1920s when it was first published. But then, this isn't a book about sexiness and steam -- it's part bittersweet romance, part social satire, and a look at what happens when human beings lose all spontaneity and passion. Part of this is due to Wharton's portrayal of New York in the 1870s -- opulent, cultured, pleasant, yet so tied up in tradition that few people in it are able to really open up and live. It's a haze of ballrooms, gardens, engagements, and careful social rituals that absolutely MUST be followed, even if they have no meaning. It's a place "where the real thing was never said or done or even thought." And Wharton writes distant, slightly mocking prose that outlines this sheltered little society. Her writing opens as slowly and beautifully as a rosebud, letting subtle subplots, poetic prose and powerful, hidden emotions drive the story. So don't be discouraged by the endless conversations about flowers, ballrooms, gloves and old family scandals that don't really matter anymore -- they are trappings to the story, and convey the stuffy life that Newland is struggling to escape. In the middle of all this, Newland is a rather dull, intelligent young man who thinks he's unconventional. But he becomes more interesting as he struggles between his conscience and his longing for the Countess. And as "Age of Innocence" winds on, you gradually see that he doesn't truly love the Countess, but what she represents -- freedom from society and convention. The other two angles of this love triangle are May and Ellen. May is (suitably

To Play The Game You Pay The Price

When Edith Wharton published THE AGE OF INNOCENCE in 1920, she was writing of an age from her youth, one that had strict rules of conduct, one that punished those who flouted those rules, and one that rewarded those who broke them but had the good sense to do so quietly. The New York of the 1870s was just such an age. The upper echelons were peopled by the first and second generation newly rich. Those who counted knew everyone else who counted too. Such people lived lives that were unconnected to their more poverty-stricken brethren who lived away from the tree-lined terraces on Park Avenue. The married men were expected to have their sleazy affairs. The married women were expected to tolerate them. Single women were expected to get ready to become married women, knowing all the while the rules of the game. Into just such a society, lawyer Newland Archer lives and works. He is one of the "innocents" of the title. He is ready to marry but in his innocence he plans to remain faithful. His world is ordered and logical. Enter his fiancé, May Welland. She too is innocent but her innocence is not the same as Newland's. Where he believes in the magic of the rabbit being pulled from the hat, May sees very well the hat's false bottom. May has been brought up to be a more rigidly stratified Stepford Wife, one who marries a man she knows will cheat on her, but her consolation is that, according to the Rules of the Game, his cheating must be covert and cannot lead to divorce. As long as both spouses play by the rules, everyone is reasonably happy and the System functions. Enter, Countess Ellen Olenska, a married cousin of May who visits her, meets Newland, and sparks fly. It would be perfectly acceptable for Ellen to tacitly cast a blind eye should Newland and Ellen commence a discrete affair, but for that to happen, the unspoken consensus must be that the affair cannot lead beyond the physical level. For if it were to go beyond that, then the Rules are threatened and the entire flimsy house of cards come crashing down. Ellen and Newland are tempted to have their affair, but they do not because they know that once they do, feelings take over and neither is strong enough to carry on with their hearts tugging one way but their bodies another. What Newland does do is to place his love for Ellen in an internal shrine and there it stays, year after year, neither growing nor shrinking. Eventually, after May has died and Newland is freed from the Rules, he can pick up the pieces even many years later. He and his adult son travel to Paris to see Ellen, but when the son walks into her apartment, Newland does not. Newland has lived with the shrine of love for so long in his heart that he prefers the image of a youthful Ellen to the reality of an aged one. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE is a novel marked by the clashing of many tragedies, all of which had been erected to allow a rich society to function with minimal friction, but in the crushing of hope

The Guide for Every Statesman

Plato's Republic is often quoted as one of the finest examples of philosophical thought of the western world. Written through the eyes of Socrates, Plato takes the reader into a world were debates are raged over such topics as justice, war, marriage, and the way a state should be ran. Plato holds accountable all theories presented, and each discussion is abundant with the Socratic way of teaching ... the best way to argue. It's a phenomenal book, a great read, and a great way to help one answer life's little mysteries in your own way. This book instills in its reader a sense of personal responsibility for his/her thoughts and philosophies, and gives him/her a new tool to aid him/her in discovering the true answers. If you're looking for a career in politics, the military, law, history, or just love to learn new ways, then Plato's Republic is the best thing since Coke. Just watch out the syntax and take it slow.

Not so innocent "Age"

Nobody knew the hypocrises of "old New York" better than Edith Wharton, and nobody portrayed them as well. In "The Age of Innocence," Wharton took readers on a trip through the stuffy upper crust of 1870s New York, wrapped up in a hopeless love affair. Newland Archer, of a wealthy old New York family, has become engaged to pretty, naive May. But as he tries to get their wedding date moved up, he becomes acquainted with May's exotic cousin, Countess Olenska, who has returned home after dumping her cheating count husband. At first, the two are friends, but then they become something more. After Newland marries May, the attraction to the mysterious Countess and her free, unconventional life becomes even stronger. He starts to rebel in little ways, but he's still mired in a 100% conventional marriage, job and life. Will he become an outcast and go away with the beautiful countess, or will he stick with May and a safe, dull life? There's nothing too scandalous about "Age of Innocence" in a time when J.Lo acquires and discards boyfriends and husbands like old pantyhose. Probably it wasn't in the 1920s, when the book was first published. But this isn't a book to read if you appreciate sexiness and steam -- instead it's a social satire, a bittersweet romance, and a look at what happens when human beings lose all spontaneity and passion. Wharton brings old New York to life in this book -- opulent, beautiful, cultured, yet empty and kind of boring. It is "where the real thing was never said or done or even thought," so tied up in tradition that nobody there really lives. And even though the unattainable countess is beautiful and sweet, it becomes obvious after awhile that Newland is actually in love with the idea of breaking out of his conventional life. Wharton's writing is a bit like a giant rosebud -- it takes forever to fully open. So don't be discouraged by the endless conversations about flowers, ballrooms and gloves. Wharton put them in to illustrate her point about New York at that time, and all the stories about different families, scandals and customs are actually very important. Newland seems like a rather boring person, since he only has brief bursts of individuality. But he gets more interesting when he struggles between his conscience and his longing for freedom. May is (suitably) pallid and a bit dull, while the Countess is alluringly mysterious and unconsciously rebellious. The fact that she doesn't TRY to rebel makes her far more interesting than Newland. "Age of Innocence" considered a story about a man in love with an unattainable woman, but it's also about that man straining against a stagnant, hypocritical society. Rich, intriguing and beautifully written.
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