Thursday, September 15, 2011

"The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton Review

Disappointment is a heavy burden to bear. Unfortunately, this burden will be mine until next year. I knew that it was coming, but I didn't want to acknowledge it. However, my denial doesn't wipe away the truth. Wuthering Heights 2011 won't be coming to America until 2012. Is this karma for the late release of Jane Eyre 2011 to the UK? Who knows. Either way, Wuthering Heights 2011 is no longer Wuthering Heights 2011 to us here in the states.

To temper the state of defeat, however, I still have the consolation that the much anticipated A Dangerous Method (starring Viggo Mortenson, Michael Fassbender, and Kiera Knightley) will actually be released in late November in the US; a full three months earlier than it was actually expected to be released. Still, my feeling of despair at not having Wuthering Heights on a screen in front of me before 2011 is sour. What does one do when they're faced with such a letdown? They read.

In my case, they read The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.

After years of keeping my nose in British literature, I was surprised to find that such a marvelous work could be written by Americans (I do not have much of a taste for American lit). Literary critics call pieces like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn the epitome of American literature, but my humble opinion refutes that idea to the fullest. Obviously, those people have not read The Age of Innocence. The artistry with which Edith Wharton composed the novel is astounding. The literary genius present in her writing is among the best I've ever read.

Newland Archer, a wealthy aristocrat of 1870's New York, lives a seemingly perfect life in a high social sphere amongst the best and brightest. Related to one of the most powerful and well-respected families in the area, armed with a commendable position, and endowed with appealing manners, it isn't surprising when Newland proposes to the equally beautiful and wealthy May Welland. Newland is taken with his future bride, truly convinced of his affection for her, and eager to publicize their engagement.

As Newland travels a smoothly paved road towards a happy marriage, a slight pothole comes into the picture. May's european cousin, Countess Olenska, arrives in New York, bringing with her rumors of her separation from her rich husband. Her carefree attitude and rather otherworldly view of life sharply contrast to the norms of old New York society, but as he and May's marriage creeps closer, Newland finds himself becoming more intrigued by this European woman who contradicts everything he has come to know.

Newland acknowledges his growing attachment to Countess Olenska, and with the certainty that a relationship between them could never be, he pressures May to hasten their engagement. However, Newland soon finds that the very feelings he tried to so hard to overcome will haunt him and the steps he takes to eliminate them will lead him down a complex path filled with decisions. He is no longer confronted with the simple choice between two women, but of the man he is and the man he longs to be.

Of a completely different breed than a Bronte novel, but decidedly much more conflictual than an Austen piece, The Age of Innocence holds its own. I'm a reader who finds a thrill in figurative language, an element that this novel possesses in bundles. It's not a long read, nor will it probably ever rival the great British works of literature that the world has come to know so well. It is underrated; a book that may easily slip under the radar. It is the movie that should have won an Oscar, but failed to because of an early release date. Nevertheless, it is tantalizing. It is the kind of novel that one will close in a state of serenity because of its beauty, and yet the reader will feel such unrest wishing that it might not have gone so fast. 


  1. Lovely review! I watched the film a couple of weeks ago, which I loved and the book is very high on my to-be-read pile.

  2. Thank you very much. I loved the film as well, though the actors weren't personally what I originally had in mind. I'm glad that you're looking into reading it. You won't be sorry.

  3. nice review, helped me with my English essay, needed some more information and this just helped me understand a little more with the comparisons to Wuthering Heights, thanks!

  4. @Anonymous: Thank you! Glad I could help. :)