Title: The Age of Innocence
Author: Edith Wharton
What I think So Far: On initial reading, the most striking aspect of this novel appeared to be its similarity to Pride and Prejudice. However, it soon became clear that Wharton’s critique of New York’s elite lacked Austen’s subtlety – and for the better. The Age of Innocence chronicles the inner turmoil of its protagonist, Newland Archer, throughout his engagement and marriage to May Welland, a young woman “who knew nothing and expected everything”. Following the arrival of the intriguing Countess Olenska, Archer’s narrative takes a desolate turn as the hypocrisy and double standards that underpin New York society become all the more apparent.
Would I recommend? Undoubtedly – to Jane Austen fans in particular. Wharton’s mastery of prose shows in her exquisitely crafted sentences, which make for a very satisfying read. This in turn creates beautifully fleshed out characters and a suspenseful, haunting love affair. Furthermore, Archer’s character development is a brilliant reflection of the author’s views. While the novel initially comes across as subtly satirical via amusing anecdotes of society’s rites and rituals, the consequences of such are demonstrated through Archer’s realisation that his life has been paved by the unspoken rules that both dominate and underlie every interaction to be had in Old New York.
“Women ought to be free – as free as we are” – Newland Archer
Words by Rose Wolfe-Emery