Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Thoughts: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
The novel is about Archer Newland, a young man from one of the “respected” families in Old New York. Archer is newly engaged to May Welland, a beautiful but oh-so-boring girl, and generally looking forward to spending the rest of his life attending dinner parties and going to the opera. The return of Countess Olenska, May’s cousin, shakes up Archer’s perfectly ordered life, forcing him to re-examine the New York Society he willingly conforms to.
I hated Archer Newland with a fierce passion—for his indecision, his weakness, his utter inability to do ANYTHING—but I saw myself in him at the same time. Fate trapped him in a loveless marriage, but he could have done something to save himself—if only he was brave enough to face the consequences. This book showed me how doing the right thing—or maybe life in general—can render people utterly helpless at times, how fate and our own actions can force us to sacrifices our dreams.
And The Age of Innocence made my inner romantic bloom and die all over again. There’s a scene where Archer Newland tells Ellen Olenska that he keeps forgetting her face, because “each time she happens to him all over again.” Holysweetjesus. How can you possibly resist a line like that? There’s another scene where Archer looks at Ellen’s figure in the distance, telling himself that he’ll leave if she doesn’t turn around. I think that scene was a wonderful metaphor for Archer’s views on life in general. He was too convinced of fate’s mastery over him that he never thought of actually doing anything.
By now, you can probably tell that I absolutely loved this book. And the ending? If you’ve read The Age of Innocence, sit down and grab a virtual cup of tea or coffee, because I really, really need to talk to someone about it. Was it insane? Did Archer just submit to fate all over again, or was there something heroic in what he did? Please tell me what you think through the comments. *Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge.*
P.S.: Ethan Frome’s ending had this same effect on me. Oh, Edith Wharton, how can you so effortlessly reduce me to a bumbling mass of nerves?