The return of the beautiful Countess Olenska into the rigidly conventional society of New York sends reverberations throughout the upper reaches of ...Show synopsisThe return of the beautiful Countess Olenska into the rigidly conventional society of New York sends reverberations throughout the upper reaches of society. Newland Archer, an eligible young man of the establishment is about to announce his engagement to May Welland, a pretty ingenue, when May's cousin, Countess Olenska, is introduced into their circle. The Countess brings with her an aura of European sophistication and a hint of scandal, having left her husband and claimed her independence. Her sorrowful eyes, her tragic worldliness and her air of unapproachability attract the sensitive Newland and, almost against their will, a passionate bond develops between them. But Archer's life has no place for passion and, with society on the side of May and all she stands for, he finds himself drawn into a bitter conflict between love and duty.Hide synopsis
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Edith Wharton's classic novel "The Age of Innocence" is a quietly sad tale of two anachronistic people. Ellen Olenska is eminently modern; she simply does not see the social restrictions and rules that govern everyone around her. She lives her life according to her own code of honor, and has no concept of "the way things are done."
Newland Archer, on the other hand, is painfully aware of social trappings and cannot overcome them to live in accordance with his inner beliefs. Because of this, Archer strikes the reader as slightly less noble than Ellen. He's something of a coward, and as the protagonist of the story, his constant waffling lends drama to the narrative.
At its core, "The Age of Innocence" is the deftly told story of two people who find each other too late. Both are paired to other people; one is unwilling to cause an innocent person to be hurt, the other totally willing but ultimately chooses the safe, staid path. I've made it sound very dour, but the book is actually a lively examination of the trap that was the rigid social structure of the time.
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