Thursday, June 22, 2023

Edith Wharton - The Age of Innocence

Edith Wharton's novel The Age of Innocence won the Pulitzer Price in 1921 and it was the first time the price was given to a woman. The story is set in the 1870s, in upper-class New York City. Wharton (1862-1937) wrote the book in her 50s looking back at her own experiences as a girl and young woman. 

The Age of Innocence centres around Newland Archer and May Welland who are supposedly the perfect couple. He is a wealthy young lawyer and she is a lovely and sweet-natured girl. But then May's cousin Ellen Olenska returns from Europe who left her husband. This causes some disturbence in New York society, but Newland enjoys Ellen's company and her way of thinking and her different approach to life. But when he realizes that he is starting to feel more for Ellen it threatens his relationship with May. Ellen is too clever to give in to Newland's and her own feeling. On more than one occasion she flees the situation and the city which leaves Newland to stick to his marriage, his family and the conventions of society. Although Newland sees his wife May as a dumb and uninteresting woman there are several scenes in the novel that emphasize that she is very aware of Newland's feelings for Ellen. At first she offers him escape before their marriage, after that she manipulates him into an appropriate behaviour. 

I can see why this novel is a classic and why Wharton was awarded with the Pulitzer Price. The characters are complex although they appear to be stereotyped and it depicts the society of that time in a realistic but uncovering way. The latter has the unnerving side effect of long descriptive passages of interior design (Wharton's second most important interest) and social bantering and drivel which - although some of them ironic - bored me eventually. It took a lot of willpower to finish the audiobook although the librivox recording by Elizabeth Klett was excellent. 

Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence. Librivox 2010.

1 comment:

Herr Rau said...

Same here. I never got into Edith Wharton. Or Henry James for that matter. Not my literary period.