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The Age of Innocence – Review

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The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Age: Teen and up
Genre: Fiction
Location: New York

Set in the early 1900’s in New York, The Age of Innocence is a story about love, betrayal, etiquette and social norms. Newland Archer is the typical upperclass New Yorker, set to wed May Wellend. When May’s cousin Madame Ellen Olenska comes to the New York seeking refuge from her husband in France, Newland’s views of his ideal world begin to tear as he discovers a new way of living and thinking through Ellen.

Edith Wharton’s classic is much like Pride and Prejudice; filled with social commentary and distaste for elitist norms and customs. It did, however, lack the wit and humor that made Pride and Prejudice a fun read. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy Age of Innocence, particularly towards the end. The first half was very dry and very, very little happened. Most of the first half was laying the foundation for the future relationship between Newland and Ellen. I did enjoy Wharton’s descriptions of New York during that era, and the personalities she crafted that embodied certain archetypes of the time.

May Wellend represents naive innocence (not seeing any reason or cause to change), Newland represents trapped innocence (wanting to change, but unable to), Ellen lacks all innoncence as she represents change.

The book is also ripe with Wharton’s frustrations with American customs in regards to traditions, appearance and social class. Although Wharton herself comes from upper class of New York, I think this gives her an insider’s perspective of the lifestyle that she mocks in this story.

The girls in my bookclub were very unsatisfied with the final ending between Newland and Ellen Olenska, but I liked it. I have a bias towards the not-so-happy endings. They seem more realistic to me. I did think that the ending was incredibly rushed through, when compared to the rest of the book. So much happened in the last 20 pages, and it took the first 140 to lay all the groundwork.

I do want to read more of Wharton, I love learning about the elite New York aristrocrasies that reigned over classic New York. I think this book would be a logical step up from fans of Anna Godberson’s The Luxe series, although Age of Innocence lacks the intense drama and raw passion that carries The Luxe series. Age of Innocence is a more quiet, subtle and accurate portrayal of this era.

This book was read for the OATES Challenge as well as the Read, Remember, Recommend Challenge.

The Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton
The Modern Library Classics, 1920
ISBN 0375753206
270 pages

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Rumors – Review

****If you havn’t read The Luxe by Anna Godbersen, then this review will contain some spoilers!!****

At the end of The Luxe, we were left with the following scenario:

1. Diana Holland is in love with Henry Schoonmaker, who used to date Penelope Hayes, but was forced into an engagement with Elizabeth Holland at their parents urging.

2. Penelope still is in love with Henry, if only for the sake of keeping appearances and her status as an elite New York socialite.

3. Elizabeth Holland faked her own death, with the aide of Penelope, so that she could run away with her true love, Will Keller (the Holland’s coachman, and therefore a a man in a lower class than Elizabeth.)

In Rumors, aptly named by the way, rumors float endlessly over who loves who, if Elizabeth is still alive, and what is going on behind the closed doors of the New York elite. This sounds like any normal tabloid filler that you would see in US Weekly, or OK magazine, but the thrill of this series, is that it is set in 1899, when gossip and rumors were more exciting and less jaded. In Rumors, Elizabeth tries to start a new life in California with Will, but is called back to New York at her sister’s urging, due to her mother’s ailing health, and Diana’s confusion and distress at her new social status. Henry’s stepmother and Penelope are in co-hoots to win Henry over to Penelope’s side by constantly blocking his visiting to Diana. Add to all this Lina’s struggling climb to the top of the social ladder, and this book is ripe with girlish power plays backstabbing and manipulation.

As in the first book, I would have liked to see more of evil, scheming Penelope (who in my mind is quite like Blair from Gossip Girl, and I guess that would make Elizabeth into Serena, Lina into Jenny and Will Keller as Dan). I did take longer reading this book than the first, only because it seems more of the same. Although I have the third book in the series at my house, I’m not sure if I want to jump right into it. I do however, keep browsing the etiquette books at the library because it seems like fun to try to be proper and elite even though I come home to a messy apartment and a very, very casual and home-body lifestyle.

Rumors (The Luxe series; bk 2)
Anna Godbersen
HarperCollins, 2008
ISBN 9780061345715
423 pages

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