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The Age of Innocence



Somewhere in this book, Wharton observes that clever liars always come up with good stories to back up their fabrications, but that really clever liars don't bother to explain anything at all. This is the kind of insight that makes The Age of Innocence so indispensable. Wharton's story of the upper classes of Old New York, and Newland Archer's impossible love for the disgraced Countess Olenska, is a perfectly wrought book about an era when upper-class culture in this country was still a mixture of American and European extracts, and when "society" had rules as rigid as any in history.


A novel so dense with cultural artifacts as to seem to be from an alien planet, The Age of Innocence shows us a world where certain virtues were of paramount importance, and other modern-day virtues, such as self-determination, were subordinate to the mores of the culture as a whole. The central struggle, between Newland Archer and his conscience, is resolved and unresolved in subtle, understated ways. Wharton gently pokes fun at the world of Old New York society in which she lived, such as when Newland is asked how he will spend the afternoon and he replies that he will "save it", but she also admits, tacitly, throughout this wonderful work, that members of that society could not violate its values without destroying themselves, and, most importantly, also destroying the people around them.

The progression of time is particularly poignant in this book, for the values of Newland Archer's youth are torn down, and, as she said, rebuilt in an entirely different way just a generation later. Wharton, writing this in 1920 and looking back at values of her youth and the generation before her (the 1870s and 1880s) has equal parts of nostalgia and condemnation. It's the kind of nostalgia that is warranted, for it is a clear-eyed understanding of both the good and the bad in the society of one's past. This novel has a number of surprises in it, along with a perhaps unparalleled understanding of the privileged class's moral triumphs as well as their hypocrisies.--Submitted by Elizabeth Hayes Smith.

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Recent Forum Posts on The Age of Innocence

Loved This Book

I should start by saying I do not read books very often because my vision is so poor, but I can manage online when I fiddle with text size and color details. Most of the reading I've done in the past few years has been audio books and yet reading in one own's voice is an altogether different experience. But this book grabbed me right away because it took me to another place and time and I loved Wharton's use of language. I poured over every sentence and often read passages out loud just to hear them trip along my tongue. A younger friend asked me recently why all the "best books" - the ones considered classics - are all older. Well besides having more time to consider their relative worth, they all seem to transport one to another place and time or some human condition that is universal. I found the ending to be perfect. You cannot recapture your foolish youth and set things right when so much time and experience has come between you and the rest of the world. In the end, Archer had a good life; it just wasn't quite the one that sparked him. I finished the book today. I recommend it to those who can open their minds up to embrace another reality. Lots has changed in one hundred and forty years and also many things have stayed the same.

Questions about the characters

I'm about halfway into this book, and I actually like it, compared to some other classics I've been reading. I've had to annotate it for english class, so I actually understand most of it. We're reading this book in a reading group, so we get together once a week and discuss it. I'm in charge of characters... I've been pretty good about all the characters (I've made an almost complete family tree of the characters), but I'm having a bit of problems. Well, one problem really: Medora Manson. Who is she? I know she is Ellen's aunt, but how? I really dont' understasnd how she is related to the Manson family, and Catherine Manson Mingott, or if she is at all. Any clarification about this would be excellent. Thanks! Leafy

The Age of Innocence

anyone wanna discuss "The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton? there are a couple of threads in the authors section but there isn't much going on in there, so i hope it's OK to post another thread here? it's the only book by Wharton I've read so far and I liked it quite a bit... yeah, it's a bit longish but i wouldn't call it "The Ages and Ages and Ages of Innocence" * how did you like the ending? could there have been a different one? * were there any surprises in the book? * what about the title? what does it refer to? looking forward to your contributions :) - Sleepy the Witch

It was awful

How can people love this book. It is the useless blabber of a mentally unstable woman from the turn of the century. It shows no real themes and has no moral. I found this book to be one of the worst I've ever read.

i loved it

i really loved this book i think it has to be one of the best books that i have ever read. i really related to the characters, and the whole story line. it really took me into the past and showed me what the world was like in the 1870s new york. thank you for writing one of the best books i have ever read.


I didn't really identify with the characters in the book as much as I'd have liked. The problem was, the society of the 1870's was so alien to me that I couldn't identify with the struggles! I also found the book long and boring, and the only good part about it was it's descriptions af hilariously outdated social customs. I really like this site, though, with it's quick searches of the text!

No Subject

I like this book very much .Newland suffered profoudly in making his final choice.In the film I appriate May' beauty and quiet personality .But just as the what kind of flower he gave to May and Ellen.He could live peacefully with May but his desire could not be fulfilled.

No Subject

How anyone could find this book boring is beyond me. I am a highschool student and I had to read this book for a class. At first, I thought this book was going to be horrible, but as I read the book, I became more entranced with the story. This book is an incredible piece of literature.

No Subject

This history behind this story relates to the society and the experience which Edith Wharton experienced herself. Edith Wharton wrote three storys using the same characters and plot based on true events with some extras thrown in. In the final drwaft Eidth Wharton writes the story as we read it and it is told through the eyes of one of the characters. Edith cleverly hides the other stories behind what appears to be the story, it is only after you read the book the second time that you will see another plot, which you will say to yourself was so obviously there, but when you then see the third story you really appreciate how good this book is. I hated reading, I had to study this book for A Level exams, and now I hail it as the best book Ive read.

No Subject

Though only a 16 year old, I found this book to be a remarkable tale of wishing for what is not and trying to hold onto some perfect, but unreachable, love. Wharton's humor is a pleasure as it often peeks through and the satirization of 19th century New York's upper echelon is entertaining as well. I found the philosophy within the book something that one must reach within one's soul to grasp, but wonderful just the same.

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