Book Notes: Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence

What a joy to read a true classic like this one! Wharton is one of the best American authors, and this is one of her best novels. I definitely liked it more than The House of Mirth because even though the characters are equally contemptible in both books, The Age of Innocence is deeper.

The novel invites us to think about what makes a life well-lived and what is more likely to create such a life, duty or excitement? A striving for novelty and originality or the familiar and the familial?

Newland Archer, the main character, makes an imperfect marriage and is tempted to chuck his unsatisfactory, prosaic wife for a sleek, mysterious femme fatale (who would, of course, become unsatisfactory and prosaic soon enough but he never realizes this). Should he choose the freedom of chasing after the lure of newness and fun or accept the routine, the propriety and the duty?

These are questions that never get old and Wharton’s writing is of such superb quality that even if the plot were boring (which it is not, it’s great), the book would still be worth reading.

I had a smashing good time reading The Age of Innocence. It’s a book-club selection and I’ll let you know what everybody says about it at the club meetings. In the pre-club discussions somebody mentioned that the novel is funny. I never know anything is funny until it’s pointed out to me but after I heard this I started noticing the funny bits a lot. Until then, I read it with what I thought was an appropriately funereal attitude.

Why Don’t You Care?

I would like the commenter who says I post too much about trans issues to watch this video and tell me why it’s abnormal or wrong to perceive this as tragic and want to talk about it. It’s only 3 minutes long and it’s one of very, very many. What do you tell yourself to make you not care about this? That this was “choice”? This is clearly a kid, so all conversations about “choices” are patently silly. That it’s rare? It’s not that rare any more but if it were, how does that make it stop being wrong?

There’s got to be some narrative that justifies this, so what is it?

Hungry Soldier

My main question is whether Cannibal ate those soldiers and now needs new ones because his next mealtime is coming up.

Russian propagandists are so stupid. They could have found any number of commanders to say the exact same thing but they went with the one nicknamed Cannibal. It actually is “people-eater” in Russian which makes it sound even worse.

Elon Musk’s Proposal

Here are some questions to consider. How will “the people who live in Donbas and Crimea” make their will known “under UN supervision”? Currently, Russian soldiers go house to house and shoot people in the head if they refuse to vote for Russia. Is Musk proposing to send in the UN troops? And have them shoot back at the Russians? That’s a great recipe for de-escalation. Or will the UN supervise remotely in cities and towns with no running water and destroyed infrastructure?

Now let’s try to define “the people who live” there. Do the hundreds of thousands of refugees who had to escape from these regions count? Do they get a vote? Do the Russians who were brought in to substitute the refugees get to vote? Technically, they are living there. If they came in two days ago, do they get a vote? Are they more entitled to decide than somebody who lived there for 60 years and was forced to become a war refugee?

How about the many people in these regions who are hiding from the forced Russian draft? Do they get to vote? My cousin’s husband in Donetsk is one of them. He hasn’t been out of his apartment since February 24. He sends his little boy out to get water and food. Every time he’s terrified the kid won’t come back and he can’t go out to look for him. How is he going to vote?

Now let’s think about the beautiful precedent this brilliant plan sets in terms of international law. It’s now OK to invade a country, kill half of the population, make the rest flee or hide, ship in your own citizens and make them “vote” for annexation. This is a mockery of sovereignty and of the very concept of the nation-state.

It is, of course, possible that Musk is this stupid. It’s also possible that he’s channeling Russian propaganda. Yesterday, every Russian news channel led with Musk’s brilliant proposal that, unsurprisingly, Russia loved. The important thing to notice, though, is that the transnational oligarchy is congenitally incapable of understanding what the nation-state is. Be they politically on the left or on the right, they hate sovereignty. They can never be on our side because for them the nation is nothing.


The administration forced me to sign a paper that I won’t request any money for lecturers if a colleague goes on sabbatical. If I don’t sign, he doesn’t get a sabbatical. But all the courses he teaches have to be covered. With no additional people.

To help out the colleague, I bunched all of my teaching into the semester when he’ll be away to cover for him. This means I’ll have to do the Chair’s work while teaching 4 courses, none of which are my usual ones. New preparations, everything.

So when I say I won’t be teaching for 2 semesters, this is the reason. It’s not “a perk,” like some people suggested but a sacrifice I’m making to be a good friend. I didn’t point this out to the colleagues or mention this in my original post because I hate making a meal out of things I do for others. I do the right thing, and that is enough of a reward.

But it’s funny how some people immediately reached the worst possible conclusion.