By , however, Wharton was divorced and free to explore her gifts as a writer of fiction. As with all her New York novels, The Age of Innocence makes an ironic commentary on the cruelties and hypocrisies of Manhattan society in the years before, during and after the Great War. Strangely, when it won the Pulitzer prize , the judges praised it for revealing "the wholesome atmosphere of American life and the highest standard of American manners and manhood".
Today, while not as merciless in its analysis as The House of Mirth , Wharton's late masterpiece stands as a fierce indictment of a society estranged from culture and in desperate need of a European sensibility. Some critics would say it remains unresolved to this day. The Age of Innocence , Edith Wharton's 12th novel, which takes its title from a painting of A Little Girl by Joshua Reynolds , was first serialised in four parts during in the Pictorial Review. In , The Age of Innocence became the first novel written by a woman to win a Pulitzer.
Topics Edith Wharton The best novels. Henry James Fiction features. Reuse this content. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. At the story's start, he is proud and content to dream about a traditional marriage in which he will be the husband-teacher and she the wife-student.
His life changes when he meets Countess Ellen Olenska. Through his relationship with her—first friendship, then love—he begins questioning the values on which he was raised. He sees the sexual inequality of New York society and the shallowness of its customs, and struggles to balance social commitment to May with love for Ellen.
He cannot find a place for their love in the intricate, judgmental web of New York society. Throughout the story's progress, he transgresses the boundaries of acceptable behavior for love of Ellen: first following her to Skuytercliff, then Boston, and finally deciding to follow her to Europe though he later changes his mind.
In the end, though, Newland Archer finds that the only place for their love is in his memories. Some scholars see Wharton most projected onto Newland's character, rather than Ellen Olenska. Raised to be a perfect wife and mother, she follows and perfectly obeys all of society's customs. Mostly, she is the shallow, uninterested and uninteresting young woman that New York society requires. When they are in St. Augustine, though, May gives Newland a rare glimpse of the maturity and compassion he had previously ignored.
She offers to release him from their engagement so he can marry the woman he truly loves, thinking he wants to be with Mrs. Rushworth, a married woman with whom he had recently ended a love affair. When he assures May that he loves only her, May appears to trust him, at least at first.
Yet after their marriage, she suspects that Newland is Ellen's lover. Nonetheless, May pretends to be happy before society, maintaining the illusion that she and he have the perfect marriage expected of them. Her unhappiness activates her manipulative nature, and Newland does not see it until too late.
To drive Ellen away from him, May tells Ellen of her pregnancy before she is certain of it. Yet there still is compassion in May, even in their loveless marriage's long years after Ellen's leaving. After May's death, Newland Archer learns she had always known of his continued love for Ellen; as May lay dying, she told their son Dallas that the children could always trust their father, Newland, because he surrendered the thing most meaningful to him out of loyalty to their marriage.
May is a picture of Innocence. May's cousin and Mrs. Manson Mingott's granddaughter. She became a countess by marrying Polish Count Olenski, a European nobleman. Her husband was allegedly cruel and abusive, stole Ellen's fortune and had affairs with other women. When the story begins, Ellen has fled her unhappy marriage, lived in Venice with her husband's secretary, and has returned to her family in New York City. She is a free spirit who helps Newland Archer see beyond narrow New York society. She treats her maid, Nastasia, as an equal, offering the servant her own cape before sending her out on an errand.
She attends parties with disreputable people such as Julius Beaufort and Mrs. Ellen suffers as much as Newland from their impossible love, but she is willing to live in emotional limbo so long as they can love each other at a distance. Ellen's love for Newland drives her important decisions: dropping divorce from Count Olenski, remaining in America, and offering Newland choice of sexual consummation only once, and then disappearing from his life. Her conscience and responsibility to family complicate her love for Newland. When she learns of May's pregnancy, Ellen immediately decides to leave America, refusing Newland's attempt to follow her to Europe, and so allow cousin May to start her family with her husband Newland.
The reception of Ellen's character has changed over time. The matriarch of the powerful Mingott family, and grandmother to Ellen and May. She was born Catherine Spicer, to an inconsequential family.
The Age of Innocence () - IMDb
Widowed at 28, she has ensured her family's social position through her own shrewdness and force of character. She controls her family: at Newland's request, she has May and Mrs. Welland agree to an earlier wedding date. She controls the money—withholding Ellen's living allowance when the family is angry with Ellen , and having niece Regina Beaufort ask for money when in financial trouble. Mingott is a maverick in the polite world of New York society, at times pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior, such as receiving guests in her house's ground floor, though society associates that practice with women of questionable morals.
Her welcoming Ellen is viewed skeptically, and she insists the rest of the family support Ellen.
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Mrs Mingott was inspired by Edith Wharton's own portly great-great-aunt, Mary Mason Jones, who is said to have given rise to the phrase " Keeping up with the Joneses ", due to her belief that fashionable society would always strive to keep up with her. May's mother, who has raised her daughter to be a proper society lady.
May's dullness, lack of imagination, and rigid views of appropriate and inappropriate behavior are a consequence of this influence. She has effectively trained her husband, the weak-willed Mr. Welland, to conform to her desires and wishes. Welland is the driving force behind May's commitment to a long engagement. Without her mother's influence, May might have agreed sooner to Newland's request for an earlier wedding date.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
After a few years of marriage, Newland Archer perceives in his mother-in-law what May will become — stolid, unimaginative, and dull. He later comes to feel the same training by May which was imposed upon Mr. One of the most prominent themes that can be seen throughout the text is the idea of wealth and social class. The characters take pride in their social standings and those that come from "old money" feel threatened by those that are coming from "new money".
The characters lives revolve around staying up to date on the latest fashion, gatherings, appearances, etc. Being accepted by this high society is the most important thing to the people in this novel and they're willing to do anything to be accepted. Being accepted by high class acquaintances is another common theme that is displayed throughout this novel. Another theme that is clear in the novel is love. Newland Archer's infatuation with May Welland's innocence can't be missed in the beginning scenes of the novel. The theme of innocence changes throughout the novel as May states she is pregnant only to ensure that Ellen stays away from Newland.
The Age of Innocence Reader’s Guide
Some believe that The Age of Innocence was one of Wharton's best pieces of literature. If people disagreed that it was her best novel, they certainly couldn't disagree that it was Wharton's most famous novel. Many believe that much of Wharton's own life came through in her work.
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Wharton often employed dichotomy in her own life: her role as socialite and author, woman of old New York and European maverick, and her life as spouse or beloved. Wharton draws this contrast by painting their psychological landscapes, relying heavily on the motifs of water and fire, elements that if combined are mutually destructive. Killoran explains in The Critical Reception of Edith Wharton that critics have always admired Wharton's craftsmanship, her attention to structure, and her subtle ironies, along with her description of interiors attributed to her time as an interior designer.
Ellen Olenska and May Welland have also long been at the heart of critical discussion. Originally perceived as having done the right thing by talking about her pregnancy in order to save her marriage, May Welland can also be seen as manipulative rather than sympathetically desperate.
Ellen Olenska brings up the general " Woman Question " in modern literary criticism. Rather than focusing on the lavish lifestyle which Newland Archer has not had to work for, some modern readers identify with his grim outlook. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other uses, see The Age of Innocence disambiguation. This section does not cite any sources.
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The Critical Reception of Edith Wharton.