The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The Age of Innocence, published in 1920, by Edith Wharton won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize. She was the first female author to win this award. Wharton, an American writer grew up in New York City. Her parents, George Frederic Jones and Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander, welcomed Edith to the world in 1862. I’m sure a lot of you have heard the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses.” Many believe that it refers to Wharton’s family. Not only were her parents wealthy, but she was also a relation to the Rensselaer clan, one of the most prestigious families during Wharton’s day. She used to travel with Henry James in Europe and was acquainted with Theodore Roosevelt. It’s safe to assume, she knew about the rich and powerful. In 1885, Edith married Edward Robbins Wharton. He came from a well-known family from Boston. They both loved to travel, however, after her husband started to suffer from depression they didn’t travel as much. His mental condition became too much and the couple divorced in 1913. During her life, she published many novels and approximately 85 short stories. In addition to writing, she was an interior designer and a garden designer. How did she find the time?

Her novel, which was her 12th, describes upper-class families in New York City. Newland Archer is from one of the best families and he’s engaged to May Welland. May is also from a well-established family. Newland should be happy with his fortune. Yet, when Countess Ellen Olenska, May’s cousin, returns to NYC he begins to question his bride-to-be. Olenska has returned after her marriage to a Polish count fell apart. They are not divorced and there are questions about her separation from the count and her fidelity. Newland wants to support May’s family during this trouble so he befriends Olenska. Most of wealthy families in the city spurn the countess. As he gets to know Olenska, Newland begins to question his relationship with May. He starts to find her sheltered upbringing annoying. Shouldn’t there be more to a marriage and life than manners? What about happiness? As Newland feels stifled by his upper-class upbringing he’s drawn to the one woman who cast aside her bonds in order to be happy.

The action of this novel takes place in 1870s. Many consider this satirical novel to be Wharton’s greatest achievement. I haven’t read many of her works yet (she has six on the 1001 list), but I will say that this novel is fantastic. Is it the best of the bunch? That’s to be determined. Her satire is subtle and effective. I won’t say I laughed out loud while reading. Yet I found myself smiling and pondering what life was like during this time period.

This book is on my 1001 books you must read before you die list and it counts towards my Award Winning Books challenge.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American living in England. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs, or reading. Not necessarily in that order.
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16 Responses to The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

  1. I did not know that Edith Wharton designed gardens! What a great piece of info. Do you know if any are still in existence that are being kept according to her design? That might be worth a trip. Imagining curling up in it with one of her books. Wow.

  2. bebs1 says:

    I’ve heard of the name but have never read any of her works. Something to look for in the public library next time.

  3. Caroline says:

    I love this book. Edith Wharton and Henry James are two of my favourite writers and they wrote about similar themes from different angles. I’d like to read The House of Morth soo. Many say it’s her best. If read elsewhere that this is considered to be funny. I thought it was tragic. Ethan Frome is bleak.

  4. The Hook says:

    Very cool – and educational – review!

  5. Thanks for the link on Edith Wharton. I knew she was a great writer, but not that she designed her estate and gardens! Really wish I had visited them when I was back East. House of Mirth is near the top of the my reading list, but I haven’t read this one yet.

    • TBM says:

      I’m kicking myself that I didn’t look into that before I left Massachusetts. I recently purchased House of Mirth and now it sits on my TBR.

  6. patricia says:

    I’m always amazed by women who can fit a million things into their day and do it beautifully. I loved this book.

  7. lynnsbooks says:

    This is a great piece and has succeeded in making me now want to read some Wharton.
    Thanks
    Lynn 😀

  8. Jo Bryant says:

    So one I need to be on the look out for then

  9. pattisj says:

    Interesting class and time period. May have to look into her writing.

  10. Fergiemoto says:

    Wow, she was a busy lady…an interior designer and gardner too! Impressive.

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