Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thoughts: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton sat on my shelf for months, before I finally decided to read it. I hesitated, because I own the movie tie-in edition with Michelle Pfeiffer’s mouth half-open in ecstasy on the cover.

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.*

Rating: 5/5

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?

9 comments:

mel u said...

I read this book about 2 years ago and I loved it-try to see the movie based on it-it shows on Sky Cable once and a while-it is totally gorgeous movie-I enjoyed your post a lot

Risa said...

I read this book earlier this year. Quite honestly, I didn't care for it at all. For me, the style was rather tedious, and yes, Archer annoyed me no end as well. However, for me, the best part of the book was its end. I thought Wharton ended the only logical way it could end. And that's about the only time I truly respected Archer. I felt he understood that he and she were both different people from when they were young. As young people in love Ellen was on the rebound and Archer was fascinated by her because she was like no other woman he knew. They had absolutely nothing in common. As older people, set in their ways, they wouldn't have got along more than friends. I think Archer realises this, and figures he would rather keep the dream of her than realise that it was all just young love. You can read my review and my thoughts on the end of the story here if you'd like to.:)

Btw, I really like how you've likened that incident of Archer gazing at the back of Ellen, with his attitude in general. Lovely comparison!

Brenna said...

I reviewed this back in March and this is what I wrote about the ending: I think Wharton really does this entire novel justice when Archer walks away from Ellen without even saying hello years later. I don't think this novel was ever just a love story, which is what it would have been had Archer and Ellen ended up together. I think this is a story about a life of regret. I think this is a novel that articulates the importance of timing in life and the mutability of of our everyday world. It highlights the repercussions of the choices we make and the inability to go back and do things differently. I think it's about understanding societal constraints and despite a yearning for something more, facing the inability to break free of those constraints. All in all, the ending as it was made me think about the book as a whole more than I would have had Ellen and Archer lived happily ever after. Well played, Edith Wharton. Well played.

Sam said...

This book has never appealed to me, but you do make it sound interesting. I've moved it from the 'will never read' to 'may read at some point' column of my mental book inventory!

And I know what you mean about dodgy covers. I read a version of Anna Karenina that looks like a dodgy porn book, I was embarrassed to take it out with me.

Shann said...

I have a few Edith Wharton books on my shelf including this one but I haven't tackled any of them yet. I may have to do that sooner rather than later, you make this book sound wonderful! Your description of Archer reminds me of an F Scott Fitzgerald character. His men drive me crazy with their inactivity!

Rebecca Reid said...

I read this in my early days of blogging and loved it too! You've made me want to revisit it. Just don't watch the movie. Snore fest. But then, I never like movies of books I love.

Zibilee said...

I haven't read this one, but love Wharton, and would love to give this one a try. I think I did see the movie at some point, and wasn't very fond of it. If I do get the chance to read it soon, I will let you know what I think!

reviewsbylola said...

Wharton is one of my favorite authors and The Age of Innocence is far and away my favorite book of hers!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

This is such a beautiful book. It's funny because it's one of the few books with characters that drive me crazy that I still love. I agree with Brenna's comments about the book being moer about a life of regret than about the actual love story. Archer just watches as everything happens to him instead of acting. Then in the end he final makes one decision to act and it's the opposite one you'd expect him to make.

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