The Age of Innocence Book Summary, Characters, Analysis, Edith Wharton

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What is the summary of the book The Age of Innocence written by Edith Wharton? Information about the summary, characters and analysis of The Age of Innocence.

the age of innocence

The Age of Innocence

“The Age of Innocence” is a novel by American author Edith Wharton, first published in 1920. The novel is set in New York City in the 1870s and tells the story of Newland Archer, a wealthy young lawyer, who is engaged to May Welland, a beautiful and innocent young woman from a prominent New York family. However, Archer’s world is turned upside down when he meets May’s cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska, who has recently returned to New York after a scandalous divorce from her European aristocrat husband.

The central theme of the novel is the conflict between individual desire and social expectations. Archer is torn between his love for Ellen and his duty to marry May, in order to maintain the social order of his wealthy and prestigious society. The novel explores the rigid social norms of the time, particularly with regard to marriage, gender roles, and class distinctions. It also depicts the struggle of individuals to break free from these societal expectations and pursue their own desires, even if it means going against the norms of their community.

Throughout the novel, Wharton portrays the upper-class society of New York as a closed and insular world, where people are trapped by their own social expectations and conventions. She exposes the hypocrisy and shallow values of this society, where appearance and reputation are more important than genuine feelings and emotions. At the same time, the novel also depicts the beauty and elegance of this society, with its lavish parties, exquisite fashion, and sophisticated manners.

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Wharton’s writing is noted for its realism and attention to detail, particularly in depicting the physical and social landscape of New York City during the Gilded Age. The novel also explores the changing role of women in society, as well as the tensions between traditional and modern values.

“The Age of Innocence” won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1921, making Wharton the first woman to win the award. The novel has been adapted into several films, including a 1993 adaptation directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder. It remains a classic of American literature and a landmark work in the genre of social realism.

Book Summary

“The Age of Innocence” is a novel by Edith Wharton, first published in 1920, which explores the social customs and traditions of 1870s New York high society. The story follows Newland Archer, a wealthy young lawyer who is engaged to May Welland, a beautiful and innocent young woman from a prominent New York family. However, Archer’s life changes when May’s cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, returns to New York after separating from her abusive husband, a European aristocrat. Archer is captivated by Ellen’s beauty, independence, and unconventionality, and begins to question his own life choices and the expectations of his society.

The novel explores the themes of love, duty, social class, and gender roles. Throughout the book, Wharton depicts the upper-class society of New York as a rigid and insular world, where individuals are expected to conform to social expectations and conventions. Archer is torn between his love for Ellen and his sense of duty to May, and struggles to reconcile his personal desires with the expectations of his social class.

Wharton also explores the changing role of women in society, particularly with regard to marriage and family. May Welland is the ideal “perfect” woman of her society, embodying the traditional ideals of purity, innocence, and obedience. In contrast, Ellen Olenska challenges these ideals, as a woman who has experienced the challenges of a failed marriage and who refuses to conform to the expectations of her family and society.

“The Age of Innocence” is known for its richly detailed depiction of the physical and social landscape of New York City during the Gilded Age. Wharton paints a vivid picture of the city, with its ornate mansions, bustling streets, and vibrant cultural scene. The novel also explores the role of art and literature in society, and the tension between traditional and modern values.

As the story progresses, Archer becomes increasingly disillusioned with his society and his own role within it. He begins to question the very foundations of his life, including his marriage to May and his future as a member of the New York elite. Ultimately, the novel ends with Archer reflecting on the choices he has made, and wondering whether it is possible to find true happiness and fulfillment within the constraints of his society.

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“The Age of Innocence” was a critical and commercial success when it was first published, and is considered one of Wharton’s greatest works. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1921, and has been adapted into several films and television adaptations. The novel remains a classic of American literature, and continues to be read and studied today for its insights into the social and cultural history of the Gilded Age.

Characters

“The Age of Innocence” features a number of memorable characters, including:

  1. Newland Archer: The novel’s protagonist, a wealthy young lawyer engaged to May Welland. Archer is torn between his love for May’s cousin, Ellen Olenska, and his duty to conform to the social expectations of his society.
  2. May Welland: Archer’s fiancée and later his wife. May embodies the traditional ideals of purity, innocence, and obedience that are prized in her society.
  3. Ellen Olenska: May’s cousin, who has recently returned to New York after separating from her abusive husband, a European aristocrat. Ellen challenges the social conventions of her society, and becomes a source of fascination and controversy among New York’s elite.
  4. Mrs. Manson Mingott: Ellen and May’s grandmother, who is a formidable and influential figure in New York society. Mrs. Mingott represents the old guard of New York’s upper class, and is a strong advocate for tradition and social conformity.
  5. Julius Beaufort: A wealthy financier and social climber, who is a close friend of Archer’s. Beaufort embodies the new money that is starting to challenge the dominance of the old guard in New York society.
  6. Lawrence Lefferts: A prominent member of New York’s elite, known for his charm, wit, and philandering ways. Lefferts represents the hypocrisy and shallow values of his society, and serves as a foil to Archer’s own struggle to reconcile his personal desires with his sense of duty.
  7. Sillerton Jackson: A well-connected and observant member of New York society, who serves as a narrator and commentator on the events of the novel.

These characters, along with many others, form a complex and nuanced portrait of New York’s upper class during the Gilded Age, and help to explore the novel’s central themes of love, duty, tradition, and social change.

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