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.

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