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on 11 November 2015
I enjoyed this novel on many levels: the writing is wonderfully precise and evocative of place and time. Clear and rich language, even synaesthetic. Streets, houses, dresses, food... everything had reality. Characters were interesting too. Everything is seen from Newland Archer's point of view and it never fails to offer an intriguing position - as a reader you question what he does and thinks yet I found him compelling and believable. The two main women characters, May and Ellen, are again true to life and to circumstance. Ellen is no Anna Karenina (despite the Russian-sounding surname) nor Helen of Troy; May is no obvious Diana, despite her archery talents, but... The plot is a terrific combination of social commentary (the upper New York echelons, class and gender) and personal drama (how is life to be lived) which of course is nothing new, but the elements Wharton combines are original and thoroughly persuasive and entertaining in the best possible way (I found myself saving loads of quotes to reread). The end is magisterial as it can be read in two very distinct ways in relation to our assessment of the protagonist's behaviour. And that wonderfully suggestive, tantalising title! Thoroughly recommend it.
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on 28 November 2017
This is the Pulitzer prize winning novel of 1920. It is centred in 1870s New York when form, etiquette and, family and social propriety were the norm. The story is remarkably simple: Newland Archer is on the cusp of getting engaged to May Welland when he sees and fancies the married but estranged Countess Olenska recently back from Europe. The well written tale is about the moving legs under the serene swan. Nothing actually happens really; but it is what is later realised by Archer as his thoughts and actions are managed by his family that makes the tale interesting.

Some quotes:
“The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend.”

“Their long years together had shown him that it did not so much matter if marriage was a dull duty, as long as it kept the dignity of a duty: lapsing from that, it became a mere battle of ugly appetites.”

And the one that virtually sums up the whole novel:- “The innocence that seals the mind against imagination and the heart against experience”.

I really like the understated classic nature of this book. It is subtle and to be fair rather unexciting and lacking a certain passionate realism for me

As a general note for the reader early on it is suggested that a secretary helped Olenska to leave her husband with certain implications – as a note it would seem secretaries were male at that time.
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on 4 February 2013
"The Age of Innocence" is my introduction to Edith Wharton's work and what an introduction it is.

The novel concerns Newland Archer, a man who (at the opening of the story) is caught up in the pre-1900 social scene of New York; a place where conventions and respectability are valued above everything else. He is betrothed to the submissive May Welland, something that Archer is perfectly satisfied with until her cousin, Ellen, arrives in town after controversially fleeing her European husband.

What follows is a subtly tragic chain of events, illustrating the suppression of upper-class America and denial of emotion that Newland experiences. Wharton beautifully writes of a suffocating atmosphere of dinner parties, balls and gatherings where all that is valued is superficial. His slowly burgeoning desire for life, for art and culture and, more than anything else, freedom slowly crumble as his responsibilities heavily bear down on him.

The power of Wharton's words come with the subtle meaning and suppression that lingers in every scene. Archer finds himself trapped in a gilded cage of money and the love of a "morally decent" woman whilst desiring a life of expression and liberation. Ellen represents a life that Newland had never considered before yet slowly finds himself lusting after, despite his fervent wish not to.

Wharton writes so eloquently and with such feeling that I found myself so engaged with the characters. Admittedly, the connections between the various wealthy families did elude me frequently, however that certainly did not impede my enjoyment of the novel, which is down to not only the beautiful writing but also the sadness that traps the protagonists, whether they are aware of it or not. The denial of feeling is so strong as is the need to be seen as respectable that characters frequently hold back their words to maintain their place in society. Wharton really manages to illustrate the concept that one false move or word means that their standing can fall so far into disrepute.

I absolutely recommend "The Age of Innocence" for how wonderfully Wharton writes... As soon as I finished, I picked up "The House of Mirth"!
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on 7 August 2014
this is a delicate and subtle love story and although really there are at least two intense relationships happening, the main focus is on the one which conveys intensity and passion with a light touch.

there are a lot of similarities with the way that Jane Austen uses humour and sly references to portray(and undercut) her characters but because it is set in America and is about Americans, there are inevitable differences. This is the first Edith Wharton I have got round to reading despite always having been aware of her reputation. Now sorry to have missed out for so long and will try another soon.
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on 25 May 2014
I found the first third of this book rather heavy going but became more and more absorbed by the longing and desire felt by both protagonists.
Even as late as the last thirty pages I couldn't see how the book would end but then realised at the end that it could have been in no other way.
This was my first Edith Wharton. I found it somewhat redolent of The Forsyte Saga. I shall look forward to reading more.
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on 26 April 2017
I am afraid not my kind of book only finished it as it was my local book club choice.
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on 31 October 2012
From a modern standpoint it is hard to get to grips with these lives. Nobody seems to put in a day's work either men or women. Ennui must have been the order of the day. Passion as felt by the lower orders was a natural driving force but in the monied class convention was apparently their passion. The prose is beautiful and the characters well drawn but you long for some red blood cells to dictate the action and to some extent near the end with the new generation you can see that coming.
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on 27 October 2017
A stunning portrait of upper middle class morality and uptight-ness in fin de siècle New York society.
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on 15 October 2014
Its a very good book, and set in a Victorian age of traditions.... At times I did get a little board with it and had to keep coming back to it... But I can understand why its a classic book of its age...
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on 15 March 2017
A beautiful book that takes place during a rarely explored era in American history, when it aped the social structures of the old country. Throughly engagingly and highly recommended.
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