Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The age of innocence (Wharton) 298

Owing to the generosity of Fleur Fisher, I was able to spend a recent morning off escaping into the world of the New York aristocracy. Although it took a while to draw me in, I ended up enjoying The age of innocence by Edith Wharton, and even while I was struggling to be gripped by it, I could see that it was indeed a worthy winner of the Pulitzer prize.

It's a tale of society, and how the conventions and beliefs of society can oppress those who are too naieve to manipulate it. Unusually for a Virago Modern Classic, the principle character, Newland, is a man, Newland Archer. We meet him awaiting his marriage to May. Into his world comes May's cousin Ellen, on the run from her unhappy marriage. She shuns convention but finds herself often rejected by the society which May seems to represent. Newland feels sorry for her, and ends up being intoxicated by her difference and the potential for life outside an otherwise stifled existence. This book is a story of society, but also a love story, and I was desperate to see how it would be resolved.

I liked this novel for its well written prose, but also for introducing me to a social mileu with which I was not familiar; I have read many books of similar period, describing a similar society, set in England but not in New York.

This book has been unsurprisingly been published many times by a range of different publishers, but there are three Virago editions. Mine is the earliest green edition. I love the flowers on the second cover, although I think that the third, most recent one, best sums up the book for me. 3*


  1. I was sure my film tie-in copy was also a Virago but now I think I'm wrong.

    I remember reading this on a train from London to Glasgow, first-class (appropriate), and horrendous delays that allowed me to finish the book.

  2. The Age of Innocence was the first Wharton I ever read. I don't know if Virago ever published The House of Mirth, but I hope you get a chance to read it. It's absolutely brilliant.

    Lovely covers, especially the last.

  3. Claire- that sounds like good train reading - I found it perfect escapism. I've never travelled first clas though.

    kate - yes, House of mirth is on the list and I quite look forward to it. I think ym favourite cover is the lovely flowers on the second one.

  4. I am pleased that you enjoyed this Verity - as I did too. I am also interested by what you say about it giving a strong sense of time and place - what I read it I remember thinking that it was very distinctively American.

    Great post - thanks for sharing,


  5. Hannah - from what I've read thus far of Wharton, she does seem to have a distinctively American voice which is rather good. I've only read some novellas (review forthcoming) so look forward to reading more.

  6. I've not read this yet - The House of Mirth was brilliant though and I long to read more Wharton! Lovely editions from Virago, especially the most recent one.

  7. Wharton really captures this era beautifully! Have read several of her novels, but not Age of Innocence. My favorite, by far, is The Custom of the Country. Will get to this one soon, I hope.

  8. JoAnn - I'd not heard of that one but I checked and it is a VMC so I shall try to get hold of it sooner rather than later to follow up on your recommendation...

  9. I love that first cover the best, the one you own. But I will be getting the third one as it's the only one available at The Book Dep.