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The Age of Innocence (Bloom's Notes)

The Age of Innocence (Bloom's Notes)

by Harold Bloom
     
 

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Set in turn-of-the-century New York, Edith Wharton's classic novel The Age of Innocence reveals a society governed by the dictates of taste and form, manners and morals, and intricate social ceremonies. With amazing clarity and sensitivity, Edith Wharton re-creates an atmosphere in which subtle gestures and faint implications bespeak desire and emotion, in which

Overview

Set in turn-of-the-century New York, Edith Wharton's classic novel The Age of Innocence reveals a society governed by the dictates of taste and form, manners and morals, and intricate social ceremonies. With amazing clarity and sensitivity, Edith Wharton re-creates an atmosphere in which subtle gestures and faint implications bespeak desire and emotion, in which beauty and innocence are valued above truth, and in which disturbing the social order disturbs the very foundations of one's identity.



Newland Archer, soon to marry the lovely May Welland, is a man torn between his respect for tradition and family and his attraction to May's strongly independent cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska. Plagued by the desire to live in a world where two people can love each other free from condemnation and judgment by the group, Newland views the artful delicacy of the world he lives in as a comforting security one moment, and at another, as an oppressive fiction masking true human nature.



The Age of Innocence is at once a richly drawn portrait of the elegant lifestyles, luxurious brownstones, and fascinating culture of bygone New York society and a compelling look at the conflict between human passions and the social tribe that tries to control them.



"An exquisite delight . . . A consummate work of art. . . . New York society and customs in the seventies are described with an accuracy that is almost uncanny; to read these pages is to live again . . . The love scenes between [Newland] and Ellen are wonderful in their terrible, inarticulate passion; it is curious how much more real they are than the unrestrained detailed descriptions thought by so manywriters to be 'realism' . . . So little is said, so little is done, yet one feels the infinite passion in the finite hearts that burn. . . . The appearance of such a book as THE AGE OF INNOCENCE by an American is a matter for public rejoicing. It is one of the best novels of the twentieth century and looks like a permanent addition to literature."

—The New York Times Book Review

October 17, 1920



"THE AGE OF INNOCENCE is a masterly achievement. In lonely contrast to almost all the novelists who write about fashionable New York, [Wharton] knows her world. . . . [Her] triumph is that she had described these rites and surfaces and burdens as familiarly as if she loved them and as lucidly as if she hated them."

—The Nation, November 3, 1920



"Mrs. Wharton opens to life a free and swinging door . . . The 'best people' are, after all, a trite subject for the analyst, but in this novel Mrs. Wharton has shown them to be, for her, a superb subject. She has made of them a clear, composed, rounded work of art . . . She has preserved a given period in her amber—a pale, pure amber that has living light."

—The New Republic, November 17, 1920

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780791049181
Publisher:
Facts on File, Incorporated
Publication date:
04/28/1998
Series:
Bloom's Notes Series
Pages:
90
Product dimensions:
5.51(w) x 8.66(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Age of Innocence


By Edith Wharton

Chelsea House Publications

Copyright © 1998 Edith Wharton
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0791049183

Book One

Chapter One

On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.

Though there was already talk of the erection, in remote metropolitan distances "above the Forties," of a new Opera House which should compete in costliness and splendour with those of the great European capitals, the world of fashion was still content to reassemble every winter in the shabby red and gold boxes of the sociable old Academy. Conservatives cherished it for being small and inconvenient, and thus keeping out the it new people" whom New York was beginning to dread and yet be drawn to; and the sentimental clung to it for its historic associations, and the musical for its excellent acoustics, always so problematic a quality in halls built for the hearing of music.

It was Madame Nilsson's first appearance that winter, and what the daily press had already learned to describe as "an exceptionally brilliant audience " had gathered to hear her, transported through the slippery snow streets in private broughams, in the spacious family landau, or in the humbler but more convenient "Brown coupe"' To come to the Opera in a Brown coupe was almost as honourable a way of arriving as in one 's own carriage; and departure by the same means had the immense advantage of enabling one (with a playful allusion to democratic principles) to scramble into the first Brown conveyance in the line, instead of waiting till the cold and--gin congested nose of one's own coachman gleamed under the portico of the Academy. It was one of the great livery-lstableman's most masterly intuitions to have discovered that Americans want to get away from amusement even more quickly than they want to get to it.

When Newland Archer opened the door at the back of the club box the curtain had just gone up on the garden scene. There was no reason why the young man should not have come earlier, for he had dined at seven, alone with his mother and sister, and had lingered afterward over a cigar in the Gothic library with glazed black-walnut bookcases and finial-topped chairs which was the only room in the house where Mrs. Archer allowed smoking. But, in the first place, New York was a metropolis, and perfectly aware that in metropolises it was "not the thing" to arrive early at the opera; and what was or was not "the thing" played a part as important in Newland Archer's New York as the inscrutable totem terrors that had ruled the destinies of his forefathers thousands of years ago.

The second reason for his delay was a personal one. He had dawdled over his cigar because he was at heart a dilettante, and thinking over a pleasure tocome often gave him a subtler satisfaction than its realisation. This was especially the case when the pleasure was a delicate one, as his pleasures mostly were; and on this occasion the moment he looked forward to was so rare and exquisite in quality that-well, if he had timed his arrival in accord with the prima donna's stage-manager he could not have entered the Academy at a more significant moment than just as she was singing: "He loves me-he loves me not-he loves me!" and sprinkling the falling daisy petals with notes as clear as dew.

She sang, of course, "Mama!" and not "he loves me," since an unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences. This seemed as natural to Newland Archer as all the other conventions on which his life was moulded: such as the duty of using two silver-backed brushes with his monogram in blue enamel to part his hair, and of never appearing in society without a flower (preferably a gardenia) in his buttonhole.

"Mama . . . non mama the prima donna sang, and "Mama!", with a final burst of love triumphant, as she pressed the dishevelled daisy to her lips and lifted her large eyes to the sophisticated countenance of the little brown Faust-Capoul, who was vainly trying, in a tight purple velvet doublet and plumed cap, to look as pure and true as his artless victim.

Newland Archer, leaning against the wall at the back of the club box, turned his eyes from the stage and scanned the opposite side of the house. Directly facing him was the box of old Mrs. Manson Mingott, whose monstrous obesity had long since made it impossible for her to attend the Opera, but who was always represented on fashionable nights by some of the younger members of the family. On this occasion, the front of the box was filled by her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Lovell Mingott, and her niece, Mrs. Welland; and slightly withdrawn behind these brocaded matrons sat a young girl in white with eyes ecstatically fixed on the stagelovers. As Madame Nilsson's "M'ama!" thrilled out above the silent house (the boxes always stopped talking during the Daisy Song) a warm pink mounted to the girl's cheek, mantled her brow to the roots of her fair braids, and suffused the young slope of her breast to the line where it met a modest tulle tucker fastened with a single gardenia. She dropped her eyes to the immense bouquet of lilies of-the-valley on her knee, and Newland Archer saw her white-gloved finger-tips touch the flowers softly. He drew a breath of satisfied vanity and his eyes returned to the stage.

No expense had been spared on the setting, which was acknowledged to be very beautiful even by people who shared his acquaintance with the Opera houses of Paris and Vienna. The foreground, to the footlights, was covered with emerald green cloth.

Continues...


Excerpted from The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton Copyright © 1998 by Edith Wharton. Excerpted by permission.
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