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Diane L. Schirf

Edith Wharton

The Age of Innocence

Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence is set in upper class New York society in the 1870's. Newland Archer is engaged to May Welland and when May's cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska arrives to escape from an unhappy marriage in Europe, Archer agrees to help with to introduce her to the ways of New York society. But he soon sees her as much more than May's cousin. Now for other men the consequences would be simple, a respectable marriage to May and a clandestine affair with Ellen. Archer doesn't want that - but what exactly does he want?

The book illustrates well the struggles to come to terms with life in a claustrophobic society. Archer often considers starting a new life with Ellen, but in the end cannot bring himself to go through with it.

Wharton does have a disconcerting tendency to skip a few months, and it is during these months that the reader might expect a significant part of the plot to occur - but it doesn't. You might think that you would be screaming at Archer to make up his mind, but I didn't find that - part of Wharton's skill is in creating a scenario where his behaviour seems rational. In the end one sees that it isn't a sign of indecisiveness, rather it represents the only way that he can be true to himself.

You can read The Age of Innocence at  |  Chronon Critical Points  |  Recent Science Book Reviews