Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton


This month I joined Brona @ Brona's Books for The Wharton Review and made myself read The Age of Innocence.  I promise, I did not need to force myself read Wharton; but, often I need prompting to make a decision about what to read next. 

Exactly a year ago, I finished The House of Mirth and knew that Wharton was a significant author. However, being a juvenile student of the classics, I focused mainly on the plot, characters, and themes: What is this story about? What do the characters want?  What is the author saying to me?  In the process, I neglected to digest her beautiful writing style, which is singularly a joy and pleasure to behold.  But at the time, I was overwhelmed by having to circle so many words during the reading process. Nonetheless, shortly after completing The House of Mirth, I bought a copy of The Age of Innocence because I knew I wanted to read more.  


Now I can definitely say, after reading The Age of Innocence, that this time I fully experienced Edith Wharton's best quality: her delightful use of the English language.  She does not use words recklessly. She does not carelessly wrap thoughts or ideas with important words just to make her point bigger than it needs to be. She knows how to articulate her feelings and thoughts beautifully.  And because she explains her ideas thoroughly, she does not leave her readers clueless.

What about the plot, characters, and themes?

No spoilers here - not even a hint!  But I will opine that The Age of Innocence does not have a complex plot, nor did I find any character entirely heroic or exceptional.  Also, Wharton's typical themes included contradictions in high society, conflict with traditional values, duty verses the heart, impressions verses truth, and double standards between men and women.  But again, the outstanding aspect of this work is Wharton's exquisite use of language.  The Age of Innocence was a breath of fresh air.

What's next?

I am definitely going to see the film version (starring my favorite actor, Daniel Day Lewis).  And then I need a copy of Ethan Frome for the future - or something else by Edith Wharton.  Any suggestions?

Wynona Ryder, as May, in The Age of Innocence
(She is the picture of innocence.)

11 comments:

  1. I'm glad you enjoyed this. It's definitely my favourite Wharton and the movie is wonderful..
    The ending usually provokes controversy - why did he stay sitting on the bench? How could he stay sitting on the bench?

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    1. PS Please remember to link up to the masterpost when you get a chance :-)

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    2. I agree, about the ending, and then I wondered: for all his complaining about May - afraid of change - how interesting that he chose the same - to keep and remember things as they were in the past. He was a little like "the old ways," too.

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  2. I'm so glad you liked this one! If you haven't read Wharton's Xingu, you might try it. :)

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    1. I was going to mention Xingu! One of my absolute favorites. Wharton was also a big fan of ghost stories and wrote many of them. There is a collection of them if you want to check them out. Eerie and fun and some little known Wharton.

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    2. Oh, yes! I forgot about her ghost stories. I haven't read them yet, but I will! I also want to read her autobiography, A Backward Glance (I think that's the title.) :-)

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    3. OK, thanks. I will look Xingu up. I've never heard of it.

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    4. That's another positive for Xingu - I must check it out too.
      I've been reading A Backward Glance and it is very interesting, esp as I'm working my way through Hermione Lee's bio at the same time - which fills in ALL the blanks that Edith leaves out.

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  3. I don't think I've read anything by Wharton, but I've seen her compared to Jane Austen, in that she deals a lot with societal customs, mores, changing times, etc. Do you think that's a fair comparison?

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    1. I would agree because Wharton's work is of similar quality. And, yes, she does focus on conflicts and contradictions in society, although I would suggest she is even more forceful about it than Austen. If you do want to read Wharton, I would suggest either this one or House of Mirth.

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    2. Thanks! I've put both of those on my TBR list.

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