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Age of Innocence (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)
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Age of Innocence (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

3.8 337
by Edith Wharton, Maureen Howard (Introduction)

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Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:


    Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

    • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
    • Biographies of the authors
    • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
    • Footnotes and endnotes
    • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
    • Comments by other famous authors
    • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
    • Bibliographies for further reading
    • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
    All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

    Winner of the 1921 Pulitzer Prize, The Age of Innocence is Edith Wharton’s masterful portrait of desire and betrayal during the sumptuous Golden Age of Old New York, a time when society people “dreaded scandal more than disease.”

    This is Newland Archer’s world as he prepares to marry the beautiful but conventional May Welland. But when the mysterious Countess Ellen Olenska returns to New York after a disastrous marriage, Archer falls deeply in love with her. Torn between duty and passion, Archer struggles to make a decision that will either courageously define his life—or mercilessly destroy it.

    Maureen Howard is a critic, teacher, and writer of fiction. Her seven novels include Bridgeport Bus, Natural History, and A Lover’s Almanac. Her memoir, Facts of Life, won the National Book Critics’ Circle Award. She has taught at Yale and Columbia University.

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    Barnes & Noble
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    Barnes & Noble Classics Series
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    6.64(w) x 4.26(h) x 0.89(d)

    Read an Excerpt

    From Maureen Howard's Introduction to The Age of Innocence

    The Age of Innocence is Edith Wharton's most romantic novel, yet our expectations for her lovers, Ellen Olenska and Newland Archer, are disappointed at every turn. Wharton's genius lies in offering the pleasure of a romance, then engaging the reader in a stunning exploration of boundaries between the demands of society and personal freedom, illicit passion and moral responsibility. In this novel of bold design, we are the innocents unaware of the more demanding rewards to come, just as the readers of the Pictorial Review were as the monthly installments appeared in 1920. Luring us with the high comic tone of the opening chapters, Wharton admits us to Newland Archer's dreamy certainty about love and marriage, all that lies ahead in an ordered universe, his little world of fashionable New York in the 1870s.

    The strict rules of that society are rendered in detail-the moments when talk is allowed during the opera, the prescribed hours for afternoon visits, the lilies of the valley that must be sent to May Welland, the untainted girl who is about to become Newland's fiancée. In the opening scenes there are two observers, Wharton and Newland. The novelist is full of historical information about the city of her childhood and the customs of her privileged class. New York, constructed out of memory and verified by research, is not a discarded back-lot affair of an old Hollywood studio, but a place that must come alive for the writer as well as her readers. This lost world, lavish with particulars of dress, food, wine, manners, is weighted with an abundance of reality, all the furnishings of excessively indulged, overly secure lives. But as the writer calls up her New York of fifty years earlier, Newland Archer also instructs us in the mores of the best of families and the questionable behavior of flashy intruders on the rise. This dual perspective is playful: the novelist assessing her man, placing him in a rarefied world that he too finds narrow and amusing, though all the while he is a player in it.

    Wharton's education of the reader continues as each character comes on stage. Newland is a self-declared dilettante, May an innocent thing, Countess Olenska an expatriate with a problematic past. Julius Beaufort, a freewheeling climber, may be the scoundrel of the piece. The novelist is knowingly leading us into melodrama, the dominant mode of the popular theater of the age she recreates, a theater of plays in which good and evil were clearly sorted out, not tainted by moral ambiguity or shaded feelings. As we read what has so often been praised as an historical novel, we must bear in mind the year it was composed, 1919. The Age of Innocence calls upon history to inform the present, and Wharton portrays a cast of clueless characters who could not conceive the slaughter of World War I or President Wilson's ill-fated proposal for the League of Nations. Turning back to the untroubled era of her childhood, she entertains with a predictable old form that is a lure, even a joke, but not on the reader. We are drawn by the broad humor at the outset of the novel to the discovery of a darker story without the simple solutions of melodrama. Edith Wharton had a gift for comedy that has often been obscured by a reverence for the elegant lady novelist or probing for feminist concerns in her work.

    The opening chapters of The Age of Innocence are given to caricature and sweeping mockery. In fact, Wharton mentions Dickens and Thackeray, whose comic exaggerations she must have had in mind. Newland Archer, superior and instructional, is foolish in the romantic projections of his marriage to May: "'We'll read Faust together . . . by the Italian lakes . . .' he thought, somewhat hazily confusing the scene of his projected honeymoon with the masterpieces of literature which it would be his manly privilege to reveal to his bride." An understanding of Faust, the most popular opera of the nineteenth century, with its unbridled passion and soul-selling contract, will presumably improve May: "He did not in the least wish the future Mrs. Newland Archer to be a simpleton." Meanwhile, Nilsson, the great diva, sings gloriously in the tacky garden scenery of the opera house. Early on, we suspect there will be no paradise and little innocence as the next months' installments of the novel unfold. May, corseted in virginal white with a "modest tulle tucker" over her bosom, is too good to be true. It may be difficult for a contemporary reader to find Ellen Olenska, fated to be May's rival, shocking in that revealing Empire dress, "like a nightgown," according to Newland's sister.

    Meet the Author

    Born into a prosperous New York family, Edith Wharton (1862-1937) wrote more than 15 novels, including The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, and other esteemed books. She was distinguished for her work in the First World War and was the first woman to receive a Doctorate of Letters from Yale University. She died in France at the age of 75.

    Brief Biography

    Date of Birth:
    January 24, 1862
    Date of Death:
    August 11, 1937
    Place of Birth:
    New York, New York
    Place of Death:
    Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt, France
    Educated privately in New York and Europe

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    The Age of Innocence 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 337 reviews.
    BANCHEE_READS More than 1 year ago
    The Age of Innocence is a thought provoking literary piece which I enjoyed immensely. It is written in a simple, accessible style, yet deeply portrays human emotions and interactions in late 19th century New York City. This novel represents an account of high society life of the 1870s. The events of this novel are wrapped around a prevailing lifestyle of jealousy, shame, and excessive pride which colors the main characters. Not unlike many other segments of the society, then and now, the characters of this novel attempt to disguise these feelings through hypocrisy and deception. In a time where keeping appearances is everything, the protagonist, Newland Archer, is at conflict with himself. He is engaged to May Welland, who represents stability and the traditional high society life. He begins to fall in love, however, with May's cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska. After seeing Ellen and her freedom and spontaneity, he begins to question his life and why he feels the need to conform. He realizes how dull his life is and how materialistic and fake the high society aristocrats are. He loves May, but cannot stand the idea of living such a predictable life with no deeper meaning. In the end, he must choose between living the life he is expected to live with May, or being happy with Ellen, yet ruining the family name.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    So, I have to admit: this was not my favorite classic novel. However, I understand why it is a classic and I do feel it is well worth reading. I have a few issues with some of the characters and I wasn't as moved with the love story as many others were. To me, Newland did not have to marry May...he knew before he married her that he really wanted Ellen. So, I guess I don't pity him too much and I really don't know what he expected to happen other than the fact that he would never be happy with May. I'm really glad Ellen didn't allow him to cheat on May with her either. At least she showed some class. Overall, I loved seeing what old New York was like--wow, has it ever changed. Also, I loved the themes and dialogue of the novel. Follow your heart and don't live for others.
    TulaneGirl More than 1 year ago
    Loved this book. It gives an incredible view into New York society circa 1890's - all it's rules and duties. Newland Archer's conflict between what he wants to do and what he should do is engaging. It's heartbreaking to see him try to flap his wings only to have them clipped each time. One could say he should have had more character - the character to shun his duty and follow his heart. But it's hard to fault him for being an honorable man.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Newland Archer, a refined gentleman in the strict society of New York City, follows the expectations of others by deciding to lead a life of no excitement or adventure. In order to adhere to the rules of society, Archer decides to marry May Welland, a naïve, uncreative, and ignorant woman who firmly follows the rules of society. However, when May¿s cousin, Countess Olenska, comes to New York to flee from her husband, her rebellious freedom and zealous consciousness of life draw Newland Archer to her. Soon, Archer and the countess develop strong feelings for each other, but they must resist these feelings for social responsibilities. Unexpected meetings continuously occur between the two and the question of whether they will act upon their love is the main plot for this novel. As the wedding of Archer and May approaches, Countess Olenska and Archer decide to never be more than friends for the sake of May and their families. With the forgotten love and the unbearable struggle between Archer and the countess, Edith Wharton illustrates that sacrificing happiness to protect others is not an act of charity or goodness but an act of foolishness for what one loses through sacrifices cannot be regained. With the many ironic situations of uncertainty and captivating passion, The Age of Innocence powerfully portrays ¿a disturbingly accurate picture of men and women caught in a society that denies humanity while desperately defending civilization¿.
    Catherine-E-Chapman More than 1 year ago
    A Five Star Ending I've had this book for years but finally got around to reading it, spurred on by the sense that I haven't read enough American classics. I'm awarding 'The Age of Innocence' 4.5 stars and rounding to 4 for practical purposes, although, I must say, I think the ending of the novel is worthy of 5 stars. Why not 5 stars overall? I only award 5 stars to books that I really think will stay with me for life; things I'll want to keep coming back to to read again. 'The Age of Innocence' is such a very good, well-written novel, that the only reason I think it falls short of being in the 5 star category for me is maybe that the extent to which it is an incisive social observation of privileged society in latter-Nineteenth century New York compromises the extent to which it charts a very private and personal -and so timeless- love affair. However, the whole point of the book is an examination of how these private and public spheres of life interconnect (and, indeed, conflict), so I realise that my complaint is somewhat paradoxical! But I did think 'The Age of Innocence' was a great novel and I was struck by the frank modernity of Wharton's writing - perhaps due to the fact that this nineteenth century novel was published in the twentieth century. Towards the end of the book I became preoccupied with how the story would end. In conclusion, I found it ended in the only way it could, given what had gone before. And I thought it a truly five-star ending. I would recommend 'The Age of Innocence' to anyone who enjoys reading novels - it's a great novel.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book is terrific and suprisingly funny. Just a heads up....in a few places the pages are jumbled so you might read all of page 118 and turn to 119 and suddenly be reading a different part of the book then a page or two later it will go back to what you were reading. Very frustrating, paper back would have been better.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    A beautiful story that will stay with you forever
    Blitzismydog More than 1 year ago
    This Pulitzer-prize winning novel charms from the very beginning. Unlike many contemporaries, Wharton does not dwell on mundane details (unless they contribute to the story) but focuses on character and character development. She is also at ease in the world of New York Society that she describes, having experienced it extensively as a young woman. The story's characters, predictably, are either part of 'New York' or somehow new to it or removed from the rarified air of the uppermost class. Wharton is quite aware of the significance of extreme wealth, family and class, which dominate her story. The Upper Crust wishes to mix, at least a little, with Arty People; but the Arty are generally not Upper, so cannot really mingle. Wharton adroitly demonstrates, over and over, how hypocritical and gossipy the Upper are; say one thing, behave in a different way; smile outwardly, cringe inwardly. Pretend to understand those things you absolutely cannot ken. Perhaps all of American society has seen and experienced these conflicts in a less-Victorian way. The pull of tradition--dictated by the Older Generation--is at odds with characters who think and change, or are free spirits due to extensive time in Europe. Interestingly, Wharton left the US and spent many years in France, divorced her husband at a time when 'it simply wasn't done' (in the US) and seems determined to make her points about Art/Intellectualism vs. Society's Straightjacket. She does so to dazzling effect. Newland Archer, the young protagonist, represents slavish devotion to upperclass ways, until his head and heart are turned by Countess Olenska, who thinks for herself and does not reflect on societal dictates before moving or speaking. Newland, however, is engaged to Perfectly Upper May Welland, and the conflict and story evolve from there. It is a delicious, dizzying, unforgettable journey. Read slowly, it's truly a treasure.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Fantastic book. So well written. Edith Wharton was a rare gem among the authors of all time. I also highly recommend the Film adaption directed by Martin Scorsese and starring the amazing Daniel Day-Lewis! You will not be disappointed in either!
    seimore More than 1 year ago
    The book was wonderful! It led you up to think exactly of what was going to happen. The love triangle is captivating. The entire book up until the last few chapters is wonderful! But!! Beware of the last few chapters for your own anticipation of what will happen and what the book leads you to believe will be broken. The final pieces of the story that are added at the end will make you realize that what the author was hinting at the entire time (the meaning of reality) is what wins in the end.
    BookieMa More than 1 year ago
    I had a hard time getting through this book. I kept having the feeling that I was missing parts of conversations; it seemed so much was implied. I would re-read paragraphs and still not get it. The characters are shallow & prissy; I didn't like anyone. If you're looking for beautifully written classics with wonderful characters, read Jane Eyre & The Scarlet Letter.
    Anonymous 5 days ago
    Gilded New York was filled with opulence, drama, scandal and grandeur. Many people in this time desired wealth, status, and a good reputation. In most cases, they had it. Similar titles include The Great Gatsby or Primates of Park Avenue. Also, the television show Gossip Girl is quite similar, but based in recent years. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton takes place in the late 1800’s during the Gilded Age. A young woman returns home to her family in New York City after a messy separation from her husband. This woman’s name is Countess Ellen Olenska and she is surely well gossiped about because of her unfortunate past and because of her present, her leaving her husband, the powerful Count Olenski. Divorce is not an option, despite her wishes of one. Ellen’s new cousin-in-law to be, Newland Archer, aids her to overcome the judgement and ridicule from those in their society. However, while Newland begins to spend more time with her, noticing her wit, unorthodox way of speaking her mind freely and her bold personality, he begins to fall in love with her even though he is engaged to her cousin, May Welland. The book is filled with a lot of drama and gossip. There is a time jump to when the characters are later in age and more wiser. The ending is fulfilling, but bittersweet. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and liked the language. I liked the setting, but I may be bias because I love reading about the Gilded Age and seeing houses from that era, such as the ones in Newport. The dialogue was great and the subtle criticism of the characters while not in most cases saying it directly was amusing. Overall, I believe that this book was great and certainly deserved the Pulitzer Award for Fiction in 1921. When the Countess returned to New York she wasn’t conforming to her society’s standards. She dressed the “wrong” way and spoke her mind, which was uncommon for women in that time. Since she didn’t “fit in” when first returning, she was severely criticized and gossiped about. I felt sympathetic for Ellen because she couldn’t seem to fit in on her own before receiving help from Archer. I like that somebody was there to help her instead of just gossip about her. Newland and May did end up getting married despite his feelings for Ellen. Right before he got the telegram to advance the wedding, he had professed his love to Ellen and said he would break off his engagement with May. The irony of a quicker wedding date right after professing his love was surprising to me in the way it had happened. I expected Newland to express his feelings, but not right before receiving the telegram that would bind him and May together for the rest of their lives. Later in the book, there is a send off dinner for Ellen when she is about to leave for Europe. At first glance the dinner may seem like a nice gesture, but actually the dinner’s attendees were there to celebrate her departure because they all believed that she was having an affair with Newland. It was agitating for me to read about Ellen being treated in that way, while Lawrence Lefferts was having an affair with no repercussions. I would definitely recommend this book because of the quick wit of the characters and the drama that enthralls the readers. The heroine Countess Olenska was inspiring because she stands out and she’s different in a society where everybody is expected to conform to certain standards.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Welcome to camp Half blood, where all the children of the gods and goddess go. Like Athena, Hades, Posiden, Zeus, Ares, Etc. Again, this is based of the Percy Jackson series. Like a spin-off. Bios are at ssw res 2. Chiron can be role played, and the god and goddess. But can be only one! No two Hades or nothing. Btw, Hades can be only seen in the Underworld, Zeus in the sky, and Posiden in the sea. Read the percy jackson series to understand this. Dinner will be at Rl night, 7:30 night. Cabins are located @ Cabins. All res. Have fun! Also, the coneo area, just say: he went to the coneo area.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    She sits watchhig anime.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    By the time I reached the end of the extremely discriptive Victorian New York society's lifestyle, I recognized the ending from another shortened version of the book, or perhaps a television version. Even knowing the ending, I still looked forward to re-living it with the same feelings, that it ended as most of lifes quests to grasp more or better than we already have, and realizing at the end that it was only part of life and not what makes for the best that life has given us.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    The Hunters are currently in the center of Gilhan Forest, where many mythical creatures live. It is a dense hardwood forest with few clearings and little undergrowth. The Hunters are camped in a large clearing with a stone firepit in the center. A quaint creek runs nearby. The dragon's mountains are barely visible over the treetops. There is plently of fallen wood, but much of it is wet because of the heavy and persistant rains that fall on Gilhan.
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