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The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence

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The Age of Innocence

4/5 (2,446 valutazioni)
380 pagine
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Mar 30, 2015


The Age of Innocence was the first novel written by a woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Edith Wharton's novel centers around 1870's New York society, scandal and social structure.

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Mar 30, 2015

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Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was born into a distinguished New York family and was educated privately in the United States and abroad. Among her best-known work is Ethan Frome (1911), which is considered her greatest tragic story, The House of Mirth (1905), and The Age of Innocence (1920), for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

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The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton



On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.

Though there was already talk of the erection, in remote metropolitan distances above the Forties, of a new Opera House which should compete in costliness and splendour with those of the great European capitals, the world of fashion was still content to reassemble every winter in the shabby red and gold boxes of the sociable old Academy. Conservatives cherished it for being small and inconvenient, and thus keeping out the new people whom New York was beginning to dread and yet be drawn to; and the sentimental clung to it for its historic associations, and the musical for its excellent acoustics, always so problematic a quality in halls built for the hearing of music.

It was Madame Nilsson's first appearance that winter, and what the daily press had already learned to describe as an exceptionally brilliant audience had gathered to hear her, transported through the slippery, snowy streets in private broughams, in the spacious family landau, or in the humbler but more convenient Brown coupe. To come to the Opera in a Brown coupe was almost as honourable a way of arriving as in one's own carriage; and departure by the same means had the immense advantage of enabling one (with a playful allusion to democratic principles) to scramble into the first Brown conveyance in the line, instead of waiting till the cold-and-gin congested nose of one's own coachman gleamed under the portico of the Academy. It was one of the great livery-stableman's most masterly intuitions to have discovered that Americans want to get away from amusement even more quickly than they want to get to it.

When Newland Archer opened the door at the back of the club box the curtain had just gone up on the garden scene. There was no reason why the young man should not have come earlier, for he had dined at seven, alone with his mother and sister, and had lingered afterward over a cigar in the Gothic library with glazed black-walnut bookcases and finial-topped chairs which was the only room in the house where Mrs. Archer allowed smoking. But, in the first place, New York was a metropolis, and perfectly aware that in metropolises it was not the thing to arrive early at the opera; and what was or was not the thing played a part as important in Newland Archer's New York as the inscrutable totem terrors that had ruled the destinies of his forefathers thousands of years ago.

The second reason for his delay was a personal one. He had dawdled over his cigar because he was at heart a dilettante, and thinking over a pleasure to come often gave him a subtler satisfaction than its realisation. This was especially the case when the pleasure was a delicate one, as his pleasures mostly were; and on this occasion the moment he looked forward to was so rare and exquisite in quality that—well, if he had timed his arrival in accord with the prima donna's stage-manager he could not have entered the Academy at a more significant moment than just as she was singing: He loves me—he loves me not—HE LOVES ME!— and sprinkling the falling daisy petals with notes as clear as dew.

She sang, of course, M'ama! and not he loves me, since an unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences. This seemed as natural to Newland Archer as all the other conventions on which his life was moulded: such as the duty of using two silver-backed brushes with his monogram in blue enamel to part his hair, and of never appearing in society without a flower (preferably a gardenia) in his buttonhole.

M'ama ... non m'ama ... the prima donna sang, and M'ama!, with a final burst of love triumphant, as she pressed the dishevelled daisy to her lips and lifted her large eyes to the sophisticated countenance of the little brown Faust-Capoul, who was vainly trying, in a tight purple velvet doublet and plumed cap, to look as pure and true as his artless victim.

Newland Archer, leaning against the wall at the back of the club box, turned his eyes from the stage and scanned the opposite side of the house. Directly facing him was the box of old Mrs. Manson Mingott, whose monstrous obesity had long since made it impossible for her to attend the Opera, but who was always represented on fashionable nights by some of the younger members of the family. On this occasion, the front of the box was filled by her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Lovell Mingott, and her daughter, Mrs. Welland; and slightly withdrawn behind these brocaded matrons sat a young girl in white with eyes ecstatically fixed on the stagelovers. As Madame Nilsson's M'ama! thrilled out above the silent house (the boxes always stopped talking during the Daisy Song) a warm pink mounted to the girl's cheek, mantled her brow to the roots of her fair braids, and suffused the young slope of her breast to the line where it met a modest tulle tucker fastened with a single gardenia. She dropped her eyes to the immense bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley on her knee, and Newland Archer saw her white-gloved finger-tips touch the flowers softly. He drew a breath of satisfied vanity and his eyes returned to the stage.

No expense had been spared on the setting, which was acknowledged to be very beautiful even by people who shared his acquaintance with the Opera houses of Paris and Vienna. The foreground, to the footlights, was covered with emerald green cloth. In the middle distance symmetrical mounds of woolly green moss bounded by croquet hoops formed the base of shrubs shaped like orange-trees but studded with large pink and red roses. Gigantic pansies, considerably larger than the roses, and closely resembling the floral pen-wipers made by female parishioners for fashionable clergymen, sprang from the moss beneath the rose-trees; and here and there a daisy grafted on a rose-branch flowered with a luxuriance prophetic of Mr. Luther Burbank's far-off prodigies.

In the centre of this enchanted garden Madame Nilsson, in white cashmere slashed with pale blue satin, a reticule dangling from a blue girdle, and large yellow braids carefully disposed on each side of her muslin chemisette, listened with downcast eyes to M. Capoul's impassioned wooing, and affected a guileless incomprehension of his designs whenever, by word or glance, he persuasively indicated the ground floor window of the neat brick villa projecting obliquely from the right wing.

The darling! thought Newland Archer, his glance flitting back to the young girl with the lilies-of-the-valley. She doesn't even guess what it's all about. And he contemplated her absorbed young face with a thrill of possessorship in which pride in his own masculine initiation was mingled with a tender reverence for her abysmal purity. We'll read Faust together ... by the Italian lakes ... he thought, somewhat hazily confusing the scene of his projected honey-moon with the masterpieces of literature which it would be his manly privilege to reveal to his bride. It was only that afternoon that May Welland had let him guess that she cared (New York's consecrated phrase of maiden avowal), and already his imagination, leaping ahead of the engagement ring, the betrothal kiss and the march from Lohengrin, pictured her at his side in some scene of old European witchery.

He did not in the least wish the future Mrs. Newland Archer to be a simpleton. He meant her (thanks to his enlightening companionship) to develop a social tact and readiness of wit enabling her to hold her own with the most popular married women of the younger set, in which it was the recognised custom to attract masculine homage while playfully discouraging it. If he had probed to the bottom of his vanity (as he sometimes nearly did) he would have found there the wish that his wife should be as worldly-wise and as eager to please as the married lady whose charms had held his fancy through two mildly agitated years; without, of course, any hint of the frailty which had so nearly marred that unhappy being's life, and had disarranged his own plans for a whole winter.

How this miracle of fire and ice was to be created, and to sustain itself in a harsh world, he had never taken the time to think out; but he was content to hold his view without analysing it, since he knew it was that of all the carefully-brushed, white-waistcoated, button-hole-flowered gentlemen who succeeded each other in the club box, exchanged friendly greetings with him, and turned their opera-glasses critically on the circle of ladies who were the product of the system. In matters intellectual and artistic Newland Archer felt himself distinctly the superior of these chosen specimens of old New York gentility; he had probably read more, thought more, and even seen a good deal more of the world, than any other man of the number. Singly they betrayed their inferiority; but grouped together they represented New York, and the habit of masculine solidarity made him accept their doctrine on all the issues called moral. He instinctively felt that in this respect it would be troublesome—and also rather bad form—to strike out for himself.

Well—upon my soul! exclaimed Lawrence Lefferts, turning his opera-glass abruptly away from the stage. Lawrence Lefferts was, on the whole, the foremost authority on form in New York. He had probably devoted more time than any one else to the study of this intricate and fascinating question; but study alone could not account for his complete and easy competence. One had only to look at him, from the slant of his bald forehead and the curve of his beautiful fair moustache to the long patent-leather feet at the other end of his lean and elegant person, to feel that the knowledge of form must be congenital in any one who knew how to wear such good clothes so carelessly and carry such height with so much lounging grace. As a young admirer had once said of him: If anybody can tell a fellow just when to wear a black tie with evening clothes and when not to, it's Larry Lefferts. And on the question of pumps versus patent-leather Oxfords his authority had never been disputed.

My God! he said; and silently handed his glass to old Sillerton Jackson.

Newland Archer, following Lefferts's glance, saw with surprise that his exclamation had been occasioned by the entry of a new figure into old Mrs. Mingott's box. It was that of a slim young woman, a little less tall than May Welland, with brown hair growing in close curls about her temples and held in place by a narrow band of diamonds. The suggestion of this headdress, which gave her what was then called a Josephine look, was carried out in the cut of the dark blue velvet gown rather theatrically caught up under her bosom by a girdle with a large old-fashioned clasp. The wearer of this unusual dress, who seemed quite unconscious of the attention it was attracting, stood a moment in the centre of the box, discussing with Mrs. Welland the propriety of taking the latter's place in the front right-hand corner; then she yielded with a slight smile, and seated herself in line with Mrs. Welland's sister-in-law, Mrs. Lovell Mingott, who was installed in the opposite corner.

Mr. Sillerton Jackson had returned the opera-glass to Lawrence Lefferts. The whole of the club turned instinctively, waiting to hear what the old man had to say; for old Mr. Jackson was as great an authority on family as Lawrence Lefferts was on form. He knew all the ramifications of New York's cousinships; and could not only elucidate such complicated questions as that of the connection between the Mingotts (through the Thorleys) with the Dallases of South Carolina, and that of the relationship of the elder branch of Philadelphia Thorleys to the Albany Chiverses (on no account to be confused with the Manson Chiverses of University Place), but could also enumerate the leading characteristics of each family: as, for instance, the fabulous stinginess of the younger lines of Leffertses (the Long Island ones); or the fatal tendency of the Rushworths to make foolish matches; or the insanity recurring in every second generation of the Albany Chiverses, with whom their New York cousins had always refused to intermarry—with the disastrous exception of poor Medora Manson, who, as everybody knew ... but then her mother was a Rushworth.

In addition to this forest of family trees, Mr. Sillerton Jackson carried between his narrow hollow temples, and under his soft thatch of silver hair, a register of most of the scandals and mysteries that had smouldered under the unruffled surface of New York society within the last fifty years. So far indeed did his information extend, and so acutely retentive was his memory, that he was supposed to be the only man who could have told you who Julius Beaufort, the banker, really was, and what had become of handsome Bob Spicer, old Mrs. Manson Mingott's father, who had disappeared so mysteriously (with a large sum of trust money) less than a year after his marriage, on the very day that a beautiful Spanish dancer who had been delighting thronged audiences in the old Opera-house on the Battery had taken ship for Cuba. But these mysteries, and many others, were closely locked in Mr. Jackson's breast; for not only did his keen sense of honour forbid his repeating anything privately imparted, but he was fully aware that his reputation for discretion increased his opportunities of finding out what he wanted to know.

The club box, therefore, waited in visible suspense while Mr. Sillerton Jackson handed back Lawrence Lefferts's opera-glass. For a moment he silently scrutinised the attentive group out of his filmy blue eyes overhung by old veined lids; then he gave his moustache a thoughtful twist, and said simply: I didn't think the Mingotts would have tried it on.


Newland Archer, during this brief episode, had been thrown into a strange state of embarrassment.

It was annoying that the box which was thus attracting the undivided attention of masculine New York should be that in which his betrothed was seated between her mother and aunt; and for a moment he could not identify the lady in the Empire dress, nor imagine why her presence created such excitement among the initiated. Then light dawned on him, and with it came a momentary rush of indignation. No, indeed; no one would have thought the Mingotts would have tried it on!

But they had; they undoubtedly had; for the low-toned comments behind him left no doubt in Archer's mind that the young woman was May Welland's cousin, the cousin always referred to in the family as poor Ellen Olenska. Archer knew that she had suddenly arrived from Europe a day or two previously; he had even heard from Miss Welland (not disapprovingly) that she had been to see poor Ellen, who was staying with old Mrs. Mingott. Archer entirely approved of family solidarity, and one of the qualities he most admired in the Mingotts was their resolute championship of the few black sheep that their blameless stock had produced. There was nothing mean or ungenerous in the young man's heart, and he was glad that his future wife should not be restrained by false prudery from being kind (in private) to her unhappy cousin; but to receive Countess Olenska in the family circle was a different thing from producing her in public, at the Opera of all places, and in the very box with the young girl whose engagement to him, Newland Archer, was to be announced within a few weeks. No, he felt as old Sillerton Jackson felt; he did not think the Mingotts would have tried it on!

He knew, of course, that whatever man dared (within Fifth Avenue's limits) that old Mrs. Manson Mingott, the Matriarch of the line, would dare. He had always admired the high and mighty old lady, who, in spite of having been only Catherine Spicer of Staten Island, with a father mysteriously discredited, and neither money nor position enough to make people forget it, had allied herself with the head of the wealthy Mingott line, married two of her daughters to foreigners (an Italian marquis and an English banker), and put the crowning touch to her audacities by building a large house of pale cream-coloured stone (when brown sandstone seemed as much the only wear as a frock-coat in the afternoon) in an inaccessible wilderness near the Central Park.

Old Mrs. Mingott's foreign daughters had become a legend. They never came back to see their mother, and the latter being, like many persons of active mind and dominating will, sedentary and corpulent in her habit, had philosophically remained at home. But the cream-coloured house (supposed to be modelled on the private hotels of the Parisian aristocracy) was there as a visible proof of her moral courage; and she throned in it, among pre-Revolutionary furniture and souvenirs of the Tuileries of Louis Napoleon (where she had shone in her middle age), as placidly as if there were nothing peculiar in living above Thirty-fourth Street, or in having French windows that opened like doors instead of sashes that pushed up.

Every one (including Mr. Sillerton Jackson) was agreed that old Catherine had never had beauty—a gift which, in the eyes of New York, justified every success, and excused a certain number of failings. Unkind people said that, like her Imperial namesake, she had won her way to success by strength of will and hardness of heart, and a kind of haughty effrontery that was somehow justified by the extreme decency and dignity of her private life. Mr. Manson Mingott had died when she was only twenty-eight, and had tied up the money with an additional caution born of the general distrust of the Spicers; but his bold young widow went her way fearlessly, mingled freely in foreign society, married her daughters in heaven knew what corrupt and fashionable circles, hobnobbed with Dukes and Ambassadors, associated familiarly with Papists, entertained Opera singers, and was the intimate friend of Mme. Taglioni; and all the while (as Sillerton Jackson was the first to proclaim) there had never been a breath on her reputation; the only respect, he always added, in which she differed from the earlier Catherine.

Mrs. Manson Mingott had long since succeeded in untying her husband's fortune, and had lived in affluence for half a century; but memories of her early straits had made her excessively thrifty, and though, when she bought a dress or a piece of furniture, she took care that it should be of the best, she could not bring herself to spend much on the transient pleasures of the table. Therefore, for totally different reasons, her food was as poor as Mrs. Archer's, and her wines did nothing to redeem it. Her relatives considered that the penury of her table discredited the Mingott name, which had always been associated with good living; but people continued to come to her in spite of the made dishes and flat champagne, and in reply to the remonstrances of her son Lovell (who tried to retrieve the family credit by having the best chef in New York) she used to say laughingly: What's the use of two good cooks in one family, now that I've married the girls and can't eat sauces?

Newland Archer, as he mused on these things, had once more turned his eyes toward the Mingott box. He saw that Mrs. Welland and her sister-in-law were facing their semicircle of critics with the Mingottian APLOMB which old Catherine had inculcated in all her tribe, and that only May Welland betrayed, by a heightened colour (perhaps due to the knowledge that he was watching her) a sense of the gravity of the situation. As for the cause of the commotion, she sat gracefully in her corner of the box, her eyes fixed on the stage, and revealing, as she leaned forward, a little more shoulder and bosom than New York was accustomed to seeing, at least in ladies who had reasons for wishing to pass unnoticed.

Few things seemed to Newland Archer more awful than an offence against Taste, that far-off divinity of whom Form was the mere visible representative and vicegerent. Madame Olenska's pale and serious face appealed to his fancy as suited to the occasion and to her unhappy situation; but the way her dress (which had no tucker) sloped away from her thin shoulders shocked and troubled him. He hated to think of May Welland's being exposed to the influence of a young woman so careless of the dictates of Taste.

After all, he heard one of the younger men begin behind him (everybody talked through the Mephistopheles-and-Martha scenes), after all, just WHAT happened?

Well—she left him; nobody attempts to deny that.

He's an awful brute, isn't he? continued the young enquirer, a candid Thorley, who was evidently preparing to enter the lists as the lady's champion.

The very worst; I knew him at Nice, said Lawrence Lefferts with authority. A half-paralysed white sneering fellow—rather handsome head, but eyes with a lot of lashes. Well, I'll tell you the sort: when he wasn't with women he was collecting china. Paying any price for both, I understand.

There was a general laugh, and the young champion said: Well, then——?

Well, then; she bolted with his secretary.

Oh, I see. The champion's face fell.

It didn't last long, though: I heard of her a few months later living alone in Venice. I believe Lovell Mingott went out to get her. He said she was desperately unhappy. That's all right—but this parading her at the Opera's another thing.

Perhaps, young Thorley hazarded, she's too unhappy to be left at home.

This was greeted with an irreverent laugh, and the youth blushed deeply, and tried to look as if he had meant to insinuate what knowing people called a double entendre.

Well—it's queer to have brought Miss Welland, anyhow, some one said in a low tone, with a side-glance at Archer.

Oh, that's part of the campaign: Granny's orders, no doubt, Lefferts laughed. When the old lady does a thing she does it thoroughly.

The act was ending, and there was a general stir in the box. Suddenly Newland Archer felt himself impelled to decisive action. The desire to be the first man to enter Mrs. Mingott's box, to proclaim to the waiting world his engagement to May Welland, and to see her through whatever difficulties her cousin's anomalous situation might involve her in; this impulse had abruptly overruled all scruples and hesitations, and sent him hurrying through the red corridors to the farther side of the house.

As he entered the box his eyes met Miss Welland's, and he saw that she had instantly understood his motive, though the family dignity which both considered so high a virtue would not permit her to tell him so. The persons of their world lived in an atmosphere of faint implications and pale delicacies, and the fact that he and she understood each other without a word seemed to the young man to bring them nearer than any explanation would have done. Her eyes said: You see why Mamma brought me, and his answered: I would not for the world have had you stay away.

You know my niece Countess Olenska? Mrs. Welland enquired as she shook hands with her future son-in-law. Archer bowed without extending his hand, as was the custom on being introduced to a lady; and Ellen Olenska bent her head slightly, keeping her own pale-gloved hands clasped on her huge fan of eagle feathers. Having greeted Mrs. Lovell Mingott, a large blonde lady in creaking satin, he sat down beside his betrothed, and said in a low tone: I hope you've told Madame Olenska that we're engaged? I want everybody to know—I want you to let me announce it this evening at the ball.

Miss Welland's face grew rosy as the dawn, and she looked at him with radiant eyes. If you can persuade Mamma, she said; but why should we change what is already settled? He made no answer but that which his eyes returned, and she added, still more confidently smiling: Tell my cousin yourself: I give you leave. She says she used to play with you when you were children.

She made way for him by pushing back her chair, and promptly, and a little ostentatiously, with the desire that the whole house should see what he was doing, Archer seated himself at the Countess Olenska's side.

We DID use to play together, didn't we? she asked, turning her grave eyes to his. You were a horrid boy, and kissed me once behind a door; but it was your cousin Vandie Newland, who never looked at me, that I was in love with. Her glance swept the horse-shoe curve of boxes. Ah, how this brings it all back to me—I see everybody here in knickerbockers and pantalettes, she said, with her trailing slightly foreign accent, her eyes returning to his face.

Agreeable as their expression was, the young man was shocked that they should reflect so unseemly a picture of the august tribunal before which, at that very moment, her case was being tried. Nothing could be in worse taste than misplaced flippancy; and he answered somewhat stiffly: Yes, you have been away a very long time.

Oh, centuries and centuries; so long, she said, that I'm sure I'm dead and buried, and this dear old place is heaven; which, for reasons he could not define, struck Newland Archer as an even more disrespectful way of describing New York society.


It invariably happened in the same way.

Mrs. Julius Beaufort, on the night of her annual ball, never failed to appear at the Opera; indeed, she always gave her ball on an Opera night in order to emphasise her complete superiority to household cares, and her possession of a staff of servants competent to organise every detail of the entertainment in her absence.

The Beauforts' house was one of the few in New York that possessed a ball-room (it antedated even Mrs. Manson Mingott's and the Headly Chiverses'); and at a time when it was beginning to be thought provincial to put a crash over the drawing-room floor and move the furniture upstairs, the possession of a ball-room that was used for no other purpose, and left for three-hundred-and-sixty-four days of the year to shuttered darkness, with its gilt chairs stacked in a corner and its chandelier in a bag; this undoubted superiority was felt to compensate for whatever was regrettable in the Beaufort past.

Mrs. Archer, who was fond of coining her social philosophy into axioms, had once said: We all have our pet common people— and though the phrase was a daring one, its truth was secretly admitted in many an exclusive bosom. But the Beauforts were not exactly common; some people said they were even worse. Mrs. Beaufort belonged indeed to one of America's most honoured families; she had been the lovely Regina Dallas (of the South Carolina branch), a penniless beauty introduced to New York society by her cousin, the imprudent Medora Manson, who was always doing the wrong thing from the right motive. When one was related to the Mansons and the Rushworths one had a droit de cite (as Mr. Sillerton Jackson, who had frequented the Tuileries, called it) in New York society; but did one not forfeit it in marrying Julius Beaufort?

The question was: who was Beaufort? He passed for an Englishman, was agreeable, handsome, ill-tempered, hospitable and witty. He had come to America with letters of recommendation from old Mrs. Manson Mingott's English son-in-law, the banker, and had speedily made himself an important position in the world of affairs; but his habits were dissipated, his tongue was bitter, his antecedents were mysterious; and when Medora Manson announced her cousin's engagement to him it was felt to be one more act of folly in poor Medora's long record of imprudences.

But folly is as often justified of her children as wisdom, and two years after young Mrs. Beaufort's marriage it was admitted that she had the most distinguished house in New York. No one knew exactly how the miracle was accomplished. She was indolent, passive, the caustic even called her dull; but dressed like an idol, hung with pearls, growing younger and blonder and more beautiful each year, she throned in Mr. Beaufort's heavy brown-stone palace, and drew all the world there without lifting her jewelled little finger. The knowing people said it was Beaufort himself who trained the servants, taught the chef new dishes, told the gardeners what hot-house flowers to grow for the dinner-table and the drawing-rooms, selected the guests, brewed the after-dinner punch and dictated the little notes his wife wrote to her friends. If he did, these domestic activities were privately performed, and he presented to the world the appearance of a careless and hospitable millionaire strolling into his own drawing-room with the detachment of an invited guest, and saying: My wife's gloxinias are a marvel, aren't they? I believe she gets them out from Kew.

Mr. Beaufort's secret, people were agreed, was the way he carried things off. It was all very well to whisper that he had been helped to leave England by the international banking-house in which he had been employed; he carried off that rumour as easily as the rest—though New York's business conscience was no less sensitive than its moral standard—he carried everything before him, and all New York into his drawing-rooms, and for over twenty years now people had said they were going to the Beauforts' with the same tone of security as if they had said they were going to Mrs. Manson Mingott's, and with the added satisfaction of knowing they would get hot canvas-back ducks and vintage wines, instead of tepid Veuve Clicquot without a year and warmed-up croquettes from Philadelphia.

Mrs. Beaufort, then, had as usual appeared in her box just

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  • (4/5)
    The age of individualism has not yet dawned when Newland Archer, a young man from a good New Yorker family, has to make the age-old choice between an untamed true love and a marriage that fits into all the traditions he grew up and believes in. A remarkable story about love, duty, sacrifice and the power that society, its morals and traditons have over the lives of people, especially if they don't fit seamlessly into the fold. The excesses of these conventions often seems absurd to modern readers, the introspective voice of this narrative sometimes borders on melodrama, but especially as I read (listened to) it right after Pride and Prejudice, the difference how both books handle this overarching theme left a deep impression on me. Where P&P takes it with a lot of humour, optimism and exaggeration, the tone here is decidedly melancholic, introspective and much more subdued.
  • (3/5)
    I didn't really understand why this novel is so recommended and highly rated. It is a character study of several people, in the vein of the different classes and societal concerns that beset them, but I did not feel engaged or enraptured with the story or the developments that occurred during it. To me, it seemed a bit archaic in form and style and did not seem to age well. The prose was a bit stale and uninspired as well- largely dealing with the same sort of approach and taciturnity that I did not feel suited the novel very well.2.5 stars- worth skipping.
  • (4/5)
    Too depressing!
  • (4/5)
    The Age of Innocence speaks to the struggle involved in contemplating or actually escaping the family and culture one's born into. It is also an exquisite examination of human emotions and motivations. It's also entertaining.
  • (3/5)
    I came into this story with a lot of expectations. Basically, I expected it to be about the amorous affair between Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska, his wife's cousin. While it was about their love, it turned out not to be about adultery. Oh yeah, spoiler, sorry. I figure most people already know what this is about because they've seen the movie.

    Actually, the movie, which I have not actually seen, is what gave me the wrong idea. The most famous image from the film is of Archer (Daniel Day Lewis) passionately kissing Madame Olenska's (Michelle Pfeiffer's) neck. Thus the assumption that they were getting busy. Anyway, false. Turns out the book is more of a slow-moving look at how society puts constraints on people such that they cannot be with the person they love.

    Madame Olenska married a Russian man and turned out to be fabulously unhappy despite her resulting wealth. She ran away to New York, where she fell for her cousin's fiancee. Ellen hoped to obtain a divorce, but her family threatened her with shunning (not the religious kind, just the snooty kind) were she to do so. As a result, Archer could not be with her, even were he willing to leave May Welland and put up with the resulting scandal.

    The ending of the book was a bit odd and unsatisfying, the latter of which was likely intended. In the last chapter, you suddenly zoom ahead to the future to see what became of Archer. At first, this didn't make sense to me, but why became evident. Unfortunately, I thought the end was lame. Oh well.

    All in all, I'm glad to have gotten through this book, as it was definitely on my list of things to read. I may even try reading the physical book at some point, since I already owned a copy before I was given the audiobook. At any rate, I would rate this far better than the only other Frome novel I have read, Ethan Frome. This may be her most optimistic famous novel, as I believe The House of Mirth is anything but mirthful.
  • (4/5)
    Edith Wharton's Pulitzer Prize winning novel is a classic story of one man's struggle over obsessive love and his duty to his family and class.Archer Newland is a well-bred New Yorker from the best of families in the late nineteenth century. He has his calm and serene life well mapped out for him including his fiancee and future wife, May. Every thing is going along without a hitch until one night he goes to the opera to meet May and her family and meets May's older cousin Ellen, the Countess Olenska who has fled her aristocratic husband and returned to New York to find safety among her family.Archer finds himself being drawn more and more into Ellen's orbit and also finds himself questioning the self-satisfied life of his family and friends. He is torn between wanting to follow his grand passion and his feelings of obligation towards his finance (and then wife) who more and more appears to be vapid and conventional when compared to his heart's desire.Wharton's writing draws the reader into the closed society of New York in the 1870's -and deftly shows how society closes around May and her family and makes sure that Archer does the right thing.This is a classic story that is told magnificently.
  • (5/5)
    Set in the high New York society of the 1870s, The Age of Innocence is an interesting book about the role of the individual in society, a woman's place, and marriage. Wharton takes the reader to the world of Newland Archer, a newly engaged young man who battles with what society expects from him in his role as a gentleman and what he wants for himself. Despite his romantic notions of marrying May Welland, Archer is drawn to May's recently separated cousin, Ellen Orlenska who's most attractive quality is not her physical beauty, but the beauty of her mind, something the current Mrs. Archer, May, seems to lack. The timelessness of the novel, seems to be Newland's inner conflict between what others, or society, expects of him and what he truly wants for himself. Despite the fact that Archer seems to have inherited wealth and doesn't really work, he feels trapped by his social group's values and social mores. Throughout the novel, Wharton introduces us to minor characters with less social standing that Newland is envious of because they are not as constrained by tradition and expectations. One of the highlights of the novel is Wharton's use of humor to point out the hypocrisy of the social order, which most readers can view in their own everyday interactions. Anyone who has felt they needed to live up to certain expectations from family or social groups can relate to Newland's feelings. Wharton also gives the reader a glance into the culture of New York in the 1870s through her descriptions of setting and notable artists, writers, and businessmen of the era. The book takes place right before the United States entry into international politics, WW I and the stock market crash and is therefore instructional is how the United States had already begun to create its own identity of new wealth, evolving social orders, and a break from the dominance of European culture.I really enjoyed this book and will definitely read more of Wharton's works as I loved how she takes the reader on a journey with some surprising stops. I also loved her use of wit in showing the nonsensical and often hypocritical things we do in society for the sake of tradition.
  • (3/5)
    The Age of Innocence…….Edith Wharton…issued 1920….Perhaps this is a good book for linguists and students of a prior NY sociology. I did complete this book as a prerequisite to attending a history class. I did however appreciate the art of under-statement and evasive or elliptic conversational skills evident in this work. This book as a Pulitzer Prize winner however was to me a disappointment. I read on but found myself reluctant to get re-started; as a consequence, it took me four weeks to complete my reading of the 377 page book. The vocabulary, the plot and sentence construction are first rate. Perhaps by osmosis I gained an appreciation of the static society and the mores of the “Gilded Era”. Only time will tell. Maybe this is a better book for romanticists than for those wishing to gain an understanding of the broad sweep of a historic age of the 1870-90 eras.
  • (2/5)
    Well, I read this for my book club reading. I guess since this is a classic etc. and so highly praised there must be something wrong with me because I found this book VERY boring! I did not like her style of writing where she had three or more things happening in every sentence and thankfully she let up on this style after the first couple of chapters and only back slid to it a couple of times further on in the story. Perhaps this was a favored writing style when this was written but I almost put the book down several times in the beginning (and also after on just from boredom). As it was, I read four other books while reading this just so that I would finish it. Again, the whole book was very boring for me.Classic or not, I would not recommend this book to any of my reading friends. I will be interested to see what feelings my book club fellows have towards this book this next Saturday.
  • (5/5)
    I loved this book. It had the atmosphere of a Henry James novel mixed with the social critique of Jane Austen. It makes me want to run out and read Wharton's oeuvre (and I have a goodly number in my TBR, so that won't be a problem).Life of New York's idle rich in the 1870s, written by one of their own after WWI, when she has put that society in perspective. Young Newland Archer is engaged to marry the perfectly perfect--but boring--May Welland, when her cousin Ellen returns in semi-disgrace from Europe. Newland finds himself smitten, and oh, what to do? None of the characters are particularly likeable--but they sure live in an interesting world. Old New York is a foreign world to me, and I loved this peek behind it's heavy mahogany doors and layers of velvet drapery.Recommended for: The language and psychology isn't as tortuous as Henry James, and it's not quite as sharp as Jane Austen (and also not British), but if you like those authors, you'll like this too. It also reminded me a little of Anna Karenina, except much shorter. Age of Innocence won the Pulitzer in 1921, so I'm not the only one to love it.
  • (4/5)
    Newland Archer, one of Old New York society's crowned princes (so to speak) is overjoyed about his recent engagement to the perfect May Welland. She too has a perfect pedigree, is a pretty young rose just starting to come into bloom, is innocent and beyond reproach in every way, well trained to be the ideal dutiful wife. But when he gets better acquainted with May's spirited and independant-minded cousin Ellen Olenska, just recently returned from Europe and scandalizing all of New York with her revealing dresses and foreign way of speaking and behaving, Newland is at first shocked and then completely taken over by passionate love. So much so that he is in fact determined to drop May and marry the countess Olenska instead. What he forgets to take into account is that his desire to embrace a life of freedom and equality will not be tolerated by his peers. A wonderful look at New York's upper crust in the 1870s, whose lives revolve around being seen at the opera and inviting the right people to dinner parties. Wharton exposes a world she knew firsthand from the distance of the 1920s, and what she shows us is just how regulated life was among the elite in a New York which was cosmopolitan, but prided itself on it's rigid and old fashioned conventions. Because this is Wharton, we know this love story is not likely to end with a Happily Ever After, but along the way she touches on interesting themes and presents us with a fascinating cast of characters who may not be likeable, but don't lack for entertainment value. A story I will definitely revisit in future. This audiobook version was narrated to perfection by David Horovitch and is definitely recommended.
  • (2/5)
    Edith Wharton's "The Age of Innocence" is very much akin to Jane Austen's books, only in that the setting is America. In a word: boring and predictable. I could find not discernible plot. This book is being donated!
  • (3/5)
    The Age of Innocence is the story of a young man from the upper class in New York at the end of the 1800s. He is engaged to the perfect girl, but then meets her intriguing cousin, who doesn't fit in with society. First the positives: the writing is really very good, as it the portrayal of society and its expectations in that time. As a reader I could really feel how stifling it could be. Then the main negative: I just didn't feel for these characters. I couldn't understand Newland's decisions and felt frustrated with him. So, although the book is obviously well written, I won't be picking it up for a reread.
  • (5/5)
    In this novel of society and manners, Edith Wharton has sculpted a masterpiece of late 19th C. New York City mores so good that Jane Austen must step aside.Ultimately, within the rich comforts of the smug Social Register set there is no indulgence for an independently operating female, especially a "foreign" one, even if she's family.Newland Archer, engaged then married to the embodiment of NYC perfection in young women, May Wellend, is the starch stiff representative of the best young man NYC can produce until Ellen Olenska, his bride's cousin and herself a woman married but separated from her European husband, arrives.What ensues is a sustained waltz of suppressed emotions within and between Newland and Ellen that are buried under the weight of their conventionality, in his case; moral compunctions, in hers; and the manipulative pressures of their kin and friends determined to maintain the glass smooth surface of appearances against their ambitions to upset the status quo. Everyone's efforts to protect others from the truth and probably harm, to preserve their individual and collective innocence, devolves ironically into an age of conspiracy.Faithful in his body to his wife, Newland divorces himself from her emotionally and spends his "real" life sequestered among his books and memories inside his library. Faithful to her principles, Ellen eventually divorces herself from Newland's presence when she returns to Europe, unable to sustain an existence among those who initially embrace her then subtly push her out of the "tribe." "The Age of Innocence" is a novel about marriage and society that tells us they both are devoted to traditions bent on restricting individuality and killing love. The action is entirely domestic, consisting of meetings in homes, at dinner parties, balls, operas, and stolen moments in carriages and aboard steamers. It is largely internal action that raises tension when the pair break small societal rules, yet are never quite able to sever the restraints that tie them to earlier commitments. The tension spirals upward only to collapse on itself as Newland is incapable of decision and Ellen is disinclined to make him choose.Wharton's novel is atmospheric, period perfect, and damning in the most polite and socially acceptable way. Put it on your Must Read List.
  • (4/5)
    My grand daughter read this book in her high school class last year. I realized that I had never read it. As I read it and thoroughly enjoyed it, I wondered at girls of today trying to understand the constraints of society way back when.
  • (5/5)
    I remember being taught that classic literature is in part a successful depiction of a universal truth or feeling that people from all times and walks of life can relate to. I'm not a big fan of fiction, but to read a book written almost ninety years ago and find yourself and your situation described nearly perfectly is a pretty amazing experience. Add to that the writing of style of Wharton, which is elegant without being dull and moving without being florid, and this was a wonderful book.
  • (3/5)
    Love and scandal in the Golden Age.
  • (5/5)
    "The immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in the middle of life like a flood of lava on a doomed city had changed her from a plump active little woman with a neatly-turned foot and ankle into something as vast and august as a natural phenomenon. She had accepted this submergence as philosophically as all her other trials, and now, in extreme old age, was rewarded by presenting to her mirror an almost unwrinkled expanse of firm pink and white flesh, in the center of which the traces of a small face survived as if awaiting excavation" (25).

    Anyone who can write a physical description such as that has my vote.

  • (4/5)
    The Age of Innocence follows Newland Archer, who is about to marry May Welland, both from New York's upper class families. Everything seems superbly perfect to Newland, until the Countess Ellen Olenska returns to New York after fleeing her husband in Europe. After several stops and starts and subtle inflections of politeness, Newland discovers that he and Ellen are in love. But the wedding with May goes on, leaving them both caught between following their heart and following the norms of society. The Age of Innocence garnered Edith Wharton the 1921 Pulitzer Prize, the first time it was awarded to a woman. Though apparently there was some frustration for her about this, because her book was chosen over another author's merely because it was the "safer" choice. In her view, the book is far from safe, as it satirizes the standards of marriage and criticizes the edicts that society holds dear. I personally found The Age of Innocence to be readable and enjoyable with much subtly of personalities, contradictory natures, and wonderful rendering of the upper class culture and its hypocrisies. This book didn't have nearly the emotional punch in the gut that the fantastic House of Mirth had, but it was still wonderful in its own right.
  • (4/5)
    I listened to this on CD, and the narrator, David Horrowitz, had just the right kind of refined, elegant, voice to set off the rather elegant text. Set in New York Society, it is difficult to work out to whom the title is referring - there are a number of characters that could be considered "innocent". Ellen Olenska seems innocent in the ways of Society - incurring her family's displeasure and censure, but with no-one to understand her plight, nor to guide her on what to do. She seems out of her depth, but has a moral core, in that she refuses Newland. Newland goes through quite a shift in the book, starting as moulded by his upbringing, but seemingly unsatisfied with how his marriage to May is going to turn out - hence the attraction to Ellen, but he's not given opportunity to do anything about it - no matter that the rest of his society thinks he has. May strikes me as a typical young society woman - bred not to have a brain in her head and tought to believe she shouldn;t think - although i do sense, particularly in the epilogue that she maybe wasn't quite as naive as she appeared. The tale is beautifully told, with lots of sly glances at the ills and illogicality of society. You do think that Newland is going to set the world afire, but he kind of backs off and it becomes clear he hasn't, but it seems his offspring might.
  • (3/5)
    A very good novel, with exquisite detail of the characters and the society they live in.

    I only wish (on a personal level) the story didn't revolve around the exact same love triangle as is found in every other novel about some man or woman who realises a moment too late that they're marrying the wrong person; anachronistically conservative as I am, I've never been able to sympathise with people angsting over whether or not to be unfaithful, and the plot is always so drearily predictable. I always end up sympathising with the May of the story, and wishing we could see her through more than implication.
  • (3/5)
    If you feel like picking up a classic, this is a great one. Set at the beginning of the 19th century, the book paints a vivid portrait of life in high society New York - the strict rules of how to behave, who to mingle with, and even who to marry. The hero, Nuland Archer, is all set to marry beautiful May Welland when he meets her cousin, Ellen Olenska who has scandalized New York society by leaving her disastrous marriage to a European count. What a great tragic love story! I had two different audio versions of this book, one narrated by Dick Hill and the other narrated by Alyssa Bresnahan. Although I loved Dick Hill's narration of Huckleberry Finn, after listening to the first cd, I switched over to Alyssa Bresnahan's version. Her portrayal of the high society New York women was perfect!
  • (3/5)
    I really dislike the flash-forward scenes at the end of the book. Also, I can't get the image of Michelle Pfeiffer as Countess Olenska out of my head from when we had to watch the movie in high school.
  • (5/5)
    "In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs."

    Through Newland Archer is who we see Old New York. Archer's opinions of May is to believe that she is an innocent and hollow person, Archer does not realize his wife's depth until the end when his son reveals:

    " 'She said she knew we were safe with you, and always would be, because once, when she asked you to, you'd given up the thing you most wanted.'

    Archer received this strange communication in silence. His eyes remained unseeingly fixed on the thronged sunlit square below the window. At length he said in a low voice: 'She never asked me.' "

    I watched the movie version directed by Martin Scorcese, immediately after reading this. It was brilliantly done and lush in setting and emotion.
  • (5/5)
    A heart-breaking book which is both fast-paced and brilliantly written. Archer is an interesting character and Wharton does a great job of showing how much easier it is for him to conform than to follow his heart, but it is the way Wharton portrays Archer's wife, May, that shows Wharton's incredible ability to create believable characters. Great story, sad ending.
  • (3/5)
    I wish I could give this 3.5 stars because I definitely liked it more than 3 stars, but not enough to give it 4.

    The book is relatively predictable, plotwise. You can kind of tell from the beginning what is going to unfold, but at the same time you keep reading to see what happens next.

    I had kind of a love/hate relationship with this book because I loved the potential scandal, but I have such a strong dislike toward adultery. Like such a strong dislike that I ended up kind of liking May the best. I'm pretty sure that isn't what is supposed to happen.
  • (4/5)
    Big characters lashing emotions big and small left and right while at the same time trying to keep very agreeable with the norms of a society busy with busying itself with... itself, mostly. Freedom and individual views are not the norm and are frowned upon, and "innocence" is more or less well-played, but certainly not what is really going on. The futility of the attempts to do as one really pleases teaches the misbehaving ones a lot about the society around them, and about themselves. Wharton plays her characters back and forth, especially the two main ones, until we do not fully understand their motivation. Are their emotions real and what are they? Their actions and reactions are not always easy to comprehend, but still they remain real, and very human-like: failing, lying and cheating. Strong forces and "values" of the society play with characters at will. No one is safe and no one seems to be able to trust his next of kin or friend. The end of innocence happens on many levels and Wharton is particularly skillful in playing with meanings, tones, ironies to show us just how lowly the society has fallen (or has always been).
  • (4/5)
    I found Laural Merlington's narration to be excellent, especially her voice of Ellen Olenska.

    (listened to May 2013)
  • (5/5)
    I hate the ending, although I understand it had to be that way . why? why? Later on I will write a more coherent review ... the last word! it killed me
  • (4/5)
    Set amongst New York City's societal elite during the late 1800's, The Age of Innocence reads like a grown up version of Gossip Girl. Scandal, love triangles, parties and gossip. This books has it all. Newland Archer, just engaged to to the sweet and innocent May Welland, finds himself attracted to her newly arrived cousin, The Countess Olenska, who's arrival is filled with scandal.This is a smart, fun book. It is rich in language and setting and a wonderful look into the lives of NYC in the 19c.