The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I find period pieces fascinating, because whether it's Wharton or Fitzgerald, some things never change (and pretentious rich people is one of them). Set in the 1870s, The Age of Innocence is a critical examination of New York "Society." Wharton does an excellent job of foreshadowing future inventions, whether its the telephone, or tunnels connecting Manhattan to the mainland, or the trend of placing flowers in separate vases around the room. It gets a bit tedious with the long descriptions of Family linkage and society rules, but that's what it takes to get the reader to understand all the implications of character's actions. Questions raised are whether 'tis better to be safe or free, and how much should you let your Family control you. I wouldn't call this a must-read, but parts of it really spoke to me.
Newland Archer is a foolish boy who lets society pressure him into marriage with a "nice girl," who never really develops a personality and only desires to see his life pain free. Enter the Countess Ellen Olenska a magnificent character, in whom I felt a kindred spirit. Raised traveling through artistic circles in Europe, she is considered both an exotic "foreigner" and a abhorring dissident to Society. Newland seems clever enough, but will he choose love or duty? We are kept guessing until the last page.
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