The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

72%

19 Critic Reviews

Today, while not as merciless in its analysis as The House of Mirth, Wharton's late masterpiece stands as a fierce indictment of a society estranged from culture and in desperate need of a European sensibility.
-Guardian

Synopsis

Edith Wharton’s masterpiece brings to life the grandeur and hypocrisy of a gilded age. Set among the very rich in 1870s New York, it tells the story of Newland Archer, a young lawyer engaged to marry virginal socialite May Welland, when he meets her cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, a woman unbound by convention and surrounded by scandal. As all three are drawn into a love triangle filled with sensuality, subtlety, and betrayal, Archer faces a harrowing choice between happiness and the social code that has ruled his life. The resulting tale of thwarted love is filled with irony and surprise, struggle and acceptance. Recipient of the first Pulitzer Prize for fiction ever awarded to a woman, this great novel paints a timeless portrait of “society” still unmatched in American literature—an arbitrary, capricious social elite that professes inviolable standards but readily abandons them for greed and desire.
 

About Edith Wharton

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America's most famous woman of letters, and the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, Edith Wharton was born into one of the last "leisured class" families in New York City, as she put it, in 1862. Educated privately, she was married to Edward Wharton in 1885, and for the next few years they spent their time in the high society of Newport, Rhode Island, then Lenox, Massachusetts, and Europe. It was in Europe that Wharton first met Henry James, who was to have a profound and lasting influence on her life and work. Wharton's first published book was a work of nonfiction in collaboration with Ogden Codman, The Decoration of Houses (1897), but from early on, her marriage had been a source of distress, and she was advised by her doctor to write fiction to relieve her nervous tension. Wharton's first short stories appeared in Scribner's Magazine, and although she published several volumes of fiction around the turn of the century, including The Greater Inclination (1899), The Touchstone (1900), Crucial Instances (1901), The Valley of Decision (1902), Sanctuary (1903), and The Descent of Man and Other Stories (1904), it was not until the publication of the bestselling The House of Mirth in 1905 that she was recognized as one of the most important novelists of her time for her keen social insight and subtle sense of satire. In 1906 Wharton visited Paris, which inspired Madame de Treymes (1907), and made her home there in 1907, finally divorcing her husband in 1912. The years before the outbreak of World War I represent the core of her artistic achievement with the publication of Ethan Frome in 1911, The Reef in 1912, and The Custom of the Country in 1913. During the war she remained in France organizing relief for Belgian refugees, for which she was later awarded the Legion of Honor. She also wrote two novels about the war, The Marne (1918) and A Son at the Front (1923), and although living in France she continued to write about New England and the Newport society she knew so well and described in Summer (1917), the companion to Ethan Frome, and The Age of Innocence (1920), for which she won the Pulitzer Prize. Her other works include Old New York (1924), The Mother's Recompense (1925), The Writing of Fiction (1925), The Children (1928), Hudson River Bracketed (1929), and her autobiography, A Backward Glance (1934). She died in France in 1937.
 
Published October 8, 2015 by Larnaca Press. 300 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Education & Reference, Children's Books, Romance, History, Religion & Spirituality, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Action & Adventure, Humor & Entertainment, Comics & Graphic Novels, Horror, Political & Social Sciences, Health, Fitness & Dieting, Self Help, Parenting & Relationships, Gay & Lesbian, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Arts & Photography, Biographies & Memoirs, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Age of Innocence
All: 19 | Positive: 15 | Negative: 4

Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Robert McCrum on Jul 26 2014

Today, while not as merciless in its analysis as The House of Mirth, Wharton's late masterpiece stands as a fierce indictment of a society estranged from culture and in desperate need of a European sensibility.

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Guardian

Below average
on Aug 13 2002

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton reviewed in the Guardian, December 17 1920. The book is careful, studied, temperate, but it is dull with detail which does not create illusion. There is no illusion. The picture does not compose, and these three hearts do not stir us because they do not beat. They are puppets set in a period.

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Guardian

Below average
on Dec 17 1980

The book is careful, studied, temperate, but it is dull with detail which does not create illusion. There is no illusion. The picture does not compose, and these three hearts do not stir us because they do not beat. They are puppets set in a period.

Read Full Review of The Age of Innocence | See more reviews from Guardian

Examiner

Above average
Reviewed by Michelle Shannon on Jan 21 2010

I enjoyed The Age of Innocence (Barnes & Noble Classics) and found it an easy read. However, in my heart of hearts, I am disappointed with the ending.

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Patheos

Good
Reviewed by Paul D. Miller on Aug 31 2012

Why does Newland Archer walk away? That is the parting question of this powerful story. This novel is a fascinating and minute observation of broken relationships, the power of convention, and the tempting pull of vain dreams. It is almost mournful and yearning in posing, but not answering, troubling questions.

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Portland Book Review

Above average
on Mar 05 2012

Wharton’s novels are unflinching examinations of the best and worst in all of us-especially when outside influences dictate our decisions and thwart our desires.

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Heroes and Heartbreakers

Above average
Reviewed by Jill Slattery on May 22 2011

The genius of Wharton’s Innocence (and of Scorsese’s adaptation) is that it cuts through the veneer of etiquette to reveal that Old New York society was plagued by the same desires and machinations, comprises and dashed hopes, as we are today.

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http://www.bookdrum.com

Above average
Reviewed by npaxtonwilson on Sep 19 2015

New York society, through its own performative gestures, cultivates an artificial life similar to a stage set with actors playing parts. The society members create their own stage where performances of individuals, couples, and families enact a uniquely New York drama.

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Inverarity is not a Scottish village

Above average
Reviewed by Inverarity on Apr 30 2011

I must confess, this book bored the hell out of me. It's not that it's not well-written. It was witty, even humorous at times, and Wharton beautifully captures the essence of her characters, the fine details of the setting, and everything she wants to say about the mores of the era in beautifully-constructed paragraphs...

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Lit Lovers

Above average
Reviewed by Molly Lundquist on Sep 28 2011

It's tempting to read Wharton's novel as a condemnation of New York's highest social circles. But Ellen's renunciation implies her embrace of a code of standards within those circles...The novel's final chapter is poignant, even devastating. There are no spoilers here, but to my mind, it's worth the price of admission.

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Chrisbookarama

Good
Reviewed by Chris on Feb 04 2009

Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence is a story of Old New York manners and traditions...The writing is beautiful...I sometimes felt sorry for Newland but most often found him arrogan...In the end, I would recommend The Age of Innocence for it's view of Old New York Society and the terrific writing.

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The Mookse and the Gripes

Good
Reviewed by Trevor Berrett on Mar 12 2009

This is a great story about a society afraid to approach the brink of change except by paying it lip service only to create the illusion of an enlightened mind. Fascinatingly, and...Wharton also shows the intricacies of that society’s power...And underneath these giant themes are the lives of three individuals—the heart of the story.

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The Novel World

Above average
Reviewed by Nari on May 03 2010

Edith Wharton’s classic is much like Pride and Prejudice; filled with social commentary...It did, however, lack the wit and humor that made Pride and Prejudice a fun read. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy Age of Innocence, particularly towards the end. The first half was very dry and very, very little happened.

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Books And Movies

Excellent
Reviewed by CarrieK on Sep 19 2009

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton will now hold a permanent place on my list of all-time favorite classics. Wharton is a brilliant wordsmith, and she perfectly captures the heyday of New York society...Highly recommended.

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Melody & Words

Good
Reviewed by MELODY SCHREIBER on Jan 28 2011

Wharton uses her extensive knowledge of this high society’s manners and speech to fully immerse the reader in an authentic and complex world, while simultaneously exploring the extent to which societal norms and expectations shape a person.

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A Work in Progress

Excellent
Reviewed by workinprogress on May 20 2009

Every once and a while a book will come along that's pretty much perfection. Everything about it is just right. The story is absorbing, the writing is beautiful and elegant, the characters have depth and breadth and they mature and change over the course of the story...I highly recommend this one.

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Hungry like the Woolf

Above average
Reviewed by Kerry on Dec 14 2010

I cannot say I will have the same love for Age of Innocence, but it is an outstanding work of literature and a pleasure to read...The Age of Innocence is about the power of women and the cluelessness of men rather than the tragedy of women’s subjugation. Wharton is delightful.

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A Novel Approach

Above average
Reviewed by matttodd on Jan 26 2010

Wharton’s gift is character. It’s been a long time since I’ve read about characters that are so real in their motivations and actions. And it’s not just the three young people involved in the love triangle – the supporting characters are also perfectly pitched...A true classic.

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Gudrun's Tights

Good
Reviewed by GUDRUN'S TIGHTS on Jun 19 2011

What I was unprepared for was the depth of emotion and strong mixture of reactions that Wharton’s complex tale provoked in me...It is a tragic story of star crossed lovers and the power society and family traditions have on our life choices. It is one of the most memorable and dynamic books I’ve read in years.

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