The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

age of innocenceI sometimes read classics, and this one especially appealed to me.  The setting is New York City in the 1870’s, and the characters are among the upper classes.  This was the society in which Edith Wharton lived as a girl.  Her maiden name was “Jones,” and there is speculation that the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” referred to her family.  As an adult, Wharton became interested in anthropology, and, in this novel, she describes the society of her youth, much as an anthropologist would study a primitive tribe.

The main character, Newland Archer, is a young lawyer.  Living in a class of society that offers few options in choosing a career, he finds his job dull and meaningless.  It bothers him that his beautiful fiancée, May Welland, so closely follows the customs of their society, rejecting, usually with astonished laughter, any idea that departs in the slightest way from these rules of etiquette and behavior.  He becomes intrigued by May’s cousin, Ellen Olenska.  Ellen, who has returned from Europe to escape her unhappy marriage, is finding difficulty in adapting to New York society.  As Newland advises her, they fall in love.

I enjoyed the glimpse into another time and place, as seen by someone with extraordinary literary gifts and the advantage of having been part of that world.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

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