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Review: The Age of Innocence

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The Age of Innocence
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To begin, I listened to the unabridged Lit2Go audio version as read by Lorraine Montgomery for the University of Southern Florida which I found via iTunesU. I hadn’t heard anything about the plot or author before, thus making this book a bit of a mystery for me as a reader. However, in its listening, I discovered some differences in writing style from modern day dramatic romance that were refreshing. According to wikipedia, the book was originally published in 1920, hence some references to Theodore Roosevelt and the telephone in the concluding chapter.
Soon after his engagement, the disgraced cousin of his fiancee returns to New York from Europe. So begins an awareness that his life with the utterly charming May Weyland is an illusion contrived by those with a fear for the “unpleasant”. The more time he spends with Ellen Olenska, the more their feelings grow, but how can they ever hope for a future together when society is direly opposed to it?
Edith Wharton’s descriptions of each setting were often long-winded, but each scene had the rhythm of people dancing close to each other but never making physical contact. This is an apt description of the relationship between Ellen Olenska and Newland Archer as well, whose lives are essentially controlled by feelings of obligation to their family. Though their relationship is doomed from her return to New York from Europe, I found myself rooting for these two characters.
However, there are two minor issues I had with the book. The first are the first two chapters which seemed bulky and flat. Some may argue that it was an attempt by Wharton to show Archer’s state of mind before he meets Ellen again, but I found it irritating. The second was the ending which seemed so depressing as the two characters have a chance to be reunited, but Newland chooses otherwise. Depressing, yes, as I wanted these two to find happiness after they no longer had obstacles such as being married to keep them from being apart. It was a fitting end, but there was a part of me that hoped they would find each other again.
The plot plays logically throughout the novel. The characters have certain behaviors drummed into them from a young age to avoid unpleasantness for their families often at the expense of joy and love. And these notions of obligation to family honor create most of the conflict for Ellen and Newland. We see Ellen in particular trying to lessen the damage of their secret non-physical relationship as she has first-hand experience of how their society treats such things.
Though the ending was sad, it showed how time cannot always make things right. The spark can be lost and the soul separated from its desire can shrivel and die for the separation. If you are opposed to an ending where the lovers do not end up together, then this isn’t the story for you. However, if you are like myself and occasionally like to read a story where the miraculous is absent, then The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton is probably worth the read.

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Author: keikomushi

Reader, Writer, New Media Buff, Anime Fangirl, Gnome Hunter, Last Action Femme Fatale, Appreciator of Nature, Jack-of-all-trades.

One thought on “Review: The Age of Innocence

  1. Pingback: World of Keiko 06/05/2012 | Keiko Online

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