Sunday, November 15, 2009

Review: The Age of Innocence

Following on from The House of Mirth, I recently finished Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. Published in 1920, this novel focuses on the morals of 1870s-era New York Society. The title is intended to be ironic, as the protagonist, Newland Archer, definitely has some inclinations that Society would not approve of. The point, however, is that in the end Archer chooses to repress his true feelings.

Archer, a young lawyer from a fashionable family, faces a problem that is not unique to his time or place. Should he marry the woman he is engaged to--the beautiful but dull and passive May, or the exciting, foreign-influenced, and curious (and already married but nearly divorced) Ellen? What a choice. Clearly, in the end Archer does the Right Thing and carries on through life and marriage as he is dutifully expected to. This is made all the more apparent by the final chapter which revisits Archer and his engaged son 25 years later. His son lives essentially in the times depicted in The House of Mirth, a detail that adds a fascinating backdrop for Wharton's depiction of the way things were.

I quite enjoyed my 2009 perspective on Wharton's 1920 perspective on what things were like in the 1870s. There isn't anything deep or nuanced in the story, but the commentary on society and shifting morals and marriage is still fertile territory.

The obvious questions is, all things considered, did Archer pick the right woman? But, really, he never actually had a choice. And, more importantly, no body was nearly as independent, educated, or--dare I say it--modern as the characters in The House of Mirth.

No comments:

Post a Comment