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Archive for the ‘Monthly Classic’ Category

The Age of Innocence

Title: The Age of Innocence

Author: Edith Wharton

Published: 1920

Genre: Fiction

Rating: 4.5 of 5

This Pulitzer Prize winner examines New York’s upper crust society through the life and decisions of Newland Archer.  Archer hails from one of New York’s top families and his engagement to sweet May Welland sets him up for a lifetime of perfect affluence – and perfect monotony.  He doesn’t seem to mind, until May’s cousin, Ellen Olenska arrives.  Fleeing from an unhappy marriage to a Polish Count, ‘Poor Ellen’ looks and acts differently than the rest of society.  Archer is captivated by her freshness and under her influence, begins to view his social circle through a new lens.

I was captivated by this book.  When I started reading, I did so more because it was a ‘classic’ than because I was interested in the plot.  By the second chapter, I was completely hooked by the clever satire and wittiness, by the ridiculous and hilarious characters, and by Edith Wharton’s lovely, lovely writing.  She painted every scene with such detail that I could almost hear the faint opera strains wafting from the pages and see the questionable dishes presented by the Archer’s lackluster chef.

What I most enjoyed about Wharton’s writing was her ability to subject this elite world to such exacting scrutiny without ever appearing bitter or mean-spirited.  In fact, she often did so with humor:

The immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middle life like a flood of lava on a doomed city had changed her from a plump active little woman with a neatly-turned foot and ankle into something as vast and august as a natural phenomenon.

As for the characters and their stories, I followed Archer and May’s and Archer and Ellen’s relationships with great interest.  I struggled with which to cheer for, as I found great beauty and great flaw in each of the potential pairings.  I don’t want to give away the end, but I ended the book with very mixed feelings.  I wanted to keep reading.  I wanted things to end differently.  And I was surprised by how much I had misjudged several of the characters.

If you haven’t yet had the chance to read this book, please go find a copy.  It really was lovely.

A brief warning:  I was so determined to not let the book end that I ran out and got the movie version with Michelle Pfeiffer, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Winona Ryder.  Don’t make this same mistake.  I’m still mystified about how the movie could turn such an enjoyable and beautiful book into 2 hours of sheer boredom.  If you want to keep living the book, let me know.  I’m dying to discuss it with someone!

~~~~~

Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about The Age of Innocence:

50 Book Challenge – 28. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Book-a-rama – The Age of Innocence: Review

Joy’s Blog – Review: The Age of Innocence

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