Title: Age of Innocence
Author: Edith Wharton
Number of pages: 352
Rating:2 out of 5 bookmarks!
Edith Wharton is a classic, and I have friends who love her. But I have to start this out by saying that I’m not a huge fan. Or even a fan at all, really. I just didn’t really get in to it the way I was expecting to.
Wharton writes in a style that reminds me a little of Fitzgerald – shorter, abrupter, a sort or scarcer working of prose. However, Wharton’s story carried absolutely none of the bang that Fitzgerald does. I found her characters, for the most part, to be too dull to care about or too far fetched to believe. Even the endind which was, granted, my favorite part, was lacking in punch that I usually hope to feel at the end of a book like this.
Age of Innocence is, essentially, the story of Newland Archer, who is in love with his fiancee’s cousin Helen Olenska. Ellen was married to a Polish Count who wasn’t very nice to her so, at the risk of shaming her family, she has left him and come to New York. It’s there that she meets again (for the first time since childhood) Newland Archer, engaged to May Welland, Ellen’s cousin. The Wellands and the Archers are “old money” from “old New York”, a society with a rigid social structure. It’s not a society readily prepared to accept Ellen and all of the drama she brings with her from Europe. She’s been accused of an affair, she’s actively seeking a divorce, she refuses to return to her husband and, lastly, she hangs out with the “bohemian” crowd. Needless to say, the only reason shes accepted at all is because she’s a relative of a wealthy, old money family. Despite all of this, however, Newland is desperately in love with her to the point that, if Ellen would let him, Newland would leave May and go off with her. Ellen can’t stand any more scandal, however.
Here is where the most interesting part of the story occured. Newland marries May with the hopes, essentially, of redefining what a proper marriage is. He has grand ideas of becoming a “new kind of husband” and May will become a “new kind of wife” – the two will be intellectual, will travel where ever the wind blows them, will pay little regard to what are, according to Newland, the completely ridiculous nature of societies social constraints. However, once the marriage occurs, Newland finds it easier to comply with societies norms than to fight against them. Which is the main problem I have with Newland. He’s completely spineless. He has all of these great ideals, the amazing ideas and propensities that he wants to execute. But he doesn’t. Why? Because its too hard. Yes, I’m being harsh and perhaps even a little unforgiving. But thats just the way it goes.
The only part of the book I did love was the ending (and not in an “oh-my-God-I’m-so-glad-its-done way, but in a this-is-a-really-poetic-ending way). When Newland sits outside of Ellen’s apartment, thinking back to how he spent his life, all of the things he wishes he could have changed. Its a time, and one of the few of them, that I felt myself connecting to Newland. There was something about him standing on the brink of what had been versus what could be again, wishing and realizing that what had happened could never be changed, and what would happen shouldn’t ever come about. It was heartwrenching and beautiful, and a good ending (although not a happy one, though a happy ending in this case just wouldn’t have fit) to a not so good book.
There are some people who LOVE Wharton, who LOVE this book. I’m just not one of them. I’m glad I read it because its a time period I don’t often read about (late 19th century, post-WWI and pre-WWII) but there wasn’t anything there for me to hang on to. For me to love, to admire, to make me want to pick it up and keep reading. I’m just hoping that the short stories I have to read by Wharton do a bit more to make their reading worthwhile.
One last thing before I go: a musing Monday!
This weeks Musing Monday asks:
This week I was wondering what your policy was on lending books. Do you lend books to anyone? Just friends? Only big readers? How long are they allowed to have them?
This is a tricky question for me to answer because I’ve gone through different lending policies so often in my life! It used to be, when I was just starting to really pick up steam with my reading (probably about my 8th grade year) that I would lend books to anyone who asked me for them, or anyone I thought might be interested in what I was reading. Needless to say, this lost me a significant number of books, some of which I remember loving, but don’t remember enough about to go buy again. Now that I’m a little older and, more importantly, now that I’m the one funding my book buying, I’m much more specific about whom I lend my books to! My mother gets a free pass, because she’s a homebody and I know won’t destroy or loose my books. Certain friends, who have proved their worth as book borrowers, can take from me if they promise to return in the same condition. Everyone else, however – no go. I’m all about offering titles, locations, even going with someone to pick up a book, but never my own. For Christmas I usually give out gift packs of my favorite books from the year to those I know will love them. But my books and my babies, and lending them out feels a bit too much like giving them up for adoption!