2011: 22. The Age of Innocence

“On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust in New York.”

The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

        I love this book.  I love Wharton, any way (except, ugh, Ethan Frome), - to me, she does everything Henry James is trying to do in terms of capturing emotional currents in a restricted society, but manages to do it English (maybe because she was able to express her feelings without a layer of complicated repressed homosexuality on top? or maybe she just had a clearer way with the English language).  And this is my favorite of her two great novels, because it’s emotionally true to the times, and doesn’t have a fake happy ending, but it isn’t so damn heartbreaking you want to kill yourself (I’m looking at you, House of Mirth).  Even the title is so great - who is the innocent, here, anyway? Not May, no matter what Archer thinks - in the end, isn’t it him - who thinks that he can somehow escape the world he lives in?  The characters are all so real, and each sympathetic in their own way.  And I adore Mrs. Manson Mingott - I’m a sucker for old ladies who know the score.

      Finally, to expand upon the theme of my last post, this is a great novel written by a woman, that is about a male character, without abandoning femininity, per se.  Which is not to say that a man couldn’t have written The Age of Innocence, or that men can’t write emotionally expansive and realistic characters, but to me, where Under the Net, felt like a woman writing like a man to the extent that it seemed to deny her femaleness (especially in the portrayal of female characters), Wharton is just a person writing about other people, male and female.  A great, great book.

Categories:  Fiction, Modern Library Top 100, Re-Read

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017