Age of Innocence (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Age of Innocence (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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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:
  • 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593081430
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 09/01/2004
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 15,771
Product dimensions: 7.96(w) x 5.26(h) x 0.89(d)

About 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.

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

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.

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The Age of Innocence 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 399 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.
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.
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
This book is terrific and suprisingly funny. Just a heads 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
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i have often heard of people crying over books. this is the only one that has ever made me cry.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Convoluted love story embodying the customs of NYC upper crust. It moved too slowly.
KarenHerndon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well, I read this for my book club reading. I guess since this is a classic etc. and so highly praised there must be something wrong with me because I found this book VERY boring! I did not like her style of writing where she had three or more things happening in every sentence and thankfully she let up on this style after the first couple of chapters and only back slid to it a couple of times further on in the story. Perhaps this was a favored writing style when this was written but I almost put the book down several times in the beginning (and also after on just from boredom). As it was, I read four other books while reading this just so that I would finish it. Again, the whole book was very boring for me.Classic or not, I would not recommend this book to any of my reading friends. I will be interested to see what feelings my book club fellows have towards this book this next Saturday.
ammie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ya know how many great books are marked by their superb first lines?"Call me Ishmael," for instance, or the bewildering assault of death by firing squad, innocent boyhood, and the discovery of ice that opens the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude?Well, this novel instead marks its greatness through a tension that is consistently and harmoniously carried through the story and to the final lines of its pages. Marital, social, and individual duty paint a discordant melody with each other, and then proceed to sound off against self-deception, false direction, and unavoidably doomed desire.The finale passionately signals multiple notes at once, so that I feel the weight of failure to be true to oneself, the burden of fear, the relief of an acceptance of a fated past, and also the beautiful desire to cherish one's youth and innocence.Let me be a little more specific.The novel is written in two parts, or books. The only bad thing about this was that as much as I really really liked Book 1, I was afraid to read Book 2.Book 1 was elegant in prose and poignantly provoking in its explorations of class, individuality, love, family, community, and honesty. So many of the characters are rich, full beings. Each of the noble characters is at times silly, self-contradictory, petty, naive, vulgar, vain, delightful, etc.I found the biased but thoughtful, idealistic but disillusioned perspective of the narrator-protagonist, the young Newland Archer, disarming. He insists that his fiancée, May, is perfectly--consistently--innocent and kind, when in fact sometimes her innocence is folly. By stubbornly denying this, he mirrors her destructive naiveté.The tragic overtones of the story begin early on, and though I was utterly engrossed in the novel and devoted to the characters, I was afraid of what might happen. Of course there is another woman, one who brings out in Archer some of his most admirable, honest, rebellious, and stupid qualities. I was as enamored with (and at times afraid of) May's beautiful, odd, and compassionate cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska, as I was comforted (and at times disturbed by) sweet May. And I did not want to find myself cheering for adultery.So it was that I read the first pages of Book 2 four or five times before I finally could bear to head into what I hoped was only the beginning of the end of the story, and not the beginning of the end of Archer.I will say no more, so as not to spoil the book.
nd1524 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Edith Wharton¿s The Age of Innocence, was my favorite read of the summer. I had previously read Ethan Frome which I also enjoyed, but Edith Wharton¿s Pulitzer Prize winning novel was definitely a cut above. The character of Newland Archer is truly a work of art. His internal struggle between fulfilling his societal duty (and staying with his wife May), or running off with his true love (Ellen), is filled with suspense and passion. The emotions of these three main characters seem to emanate from the pages of the novel. Edith Wharton brings the novel to a marvelous (albeit stunning) close, and wonderfully completes the novel. The Age of Innocence is an emotional powerhouse, and a must read for any fan of Wuthering Heights or Middlemarch.
jaimjane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A novel of exceptional beauty and depth. One must understand the culture of Victorian high society in order to truly appreciate its themes.
briannad84 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An okay book. It was my first time reading anything by Edith Wharton. She has a beautiful way of writing, and it was a nice change to read about rich people for once. I understand it was a long time ago, but these people were a bit ridiculas in my opinion! If I were May, I'd be wondering why my fiance was sending another woman roses! I'll still try more of Wharton's work though.
curls_99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Age of Innocence is probably one of my favorite books of all time. I read it in college and, because of that and for the sake of time, I have chosen not to re-read the Pulitzer winners that I have already read. But, I couldn't resist writing a short note on this one.Wharton wrote The Age of Innocence after World War I. She reflected back to a time when things really did seem innocent - especially in high society. But, things are not always as they appear and Wharton seeks to make that point. High society in the Victoria era was full of rules and regulations about how one was to act regardless of how one really felt. This is a book that I believe is required reading for all. It is very important to be able to step back, examine society, and see it for what it really is. It is easy to condemn those in the past for their social quirks. It is much harder, if not impossible, to step back from our own society and look at it objectively - to see it for what it really is.
drivingsideways on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wharton's tale is a classic story of doomed love, choked to death by a society that values the appearance of truth over truth itself; one that has so successfully deceived itself as to it's true nature, that it has forgotten what it looks like. Wharton's vision is devoid of pretence, yet there's compassion and understanding as well.
MissWoodhouse1816 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really loved this story, even though I didn't expect to do so. I read it in one sitting at Starbucks- the story gripped me so much that I couldn't put it down! The story in itself is not too complicated- it's the story of a man who loves a sweet, innocent woman until her cousin with a bad marriage and a questionable reputation comes back into the picture. His struggle to do the right thing by both his wife to be and her cousin is difficult to read. I wasn't sure which woman I wanted him to marry.Overall, Wharton appears to have had her finger squarely on the pulse of the society of that day. Our hero does 'the right thing' as they say. However, when faced with the perfect chance to have his heart's greatest desire, he finds himself unable (or unwilling) to reach out and take it- the grip of society is still to strongly at work in him. Though I found the book to be slightly depressing, I enjoyed the realism of Wharton's writing and can't wait to read more of her works!
LisMB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Yes, I know I should absolutely love it, but I guess as it is told with a man's voice that it didn't grasp me as it should have. I was vcery irritated with what "society" expects and the snobbery. The descriptions of characters and places are delightful though, it was easy to picture in my mind through the printed words.I probably read this many moons ago, but memory fades with time.
MorganGMac on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very good read when you have a little time to be patient with Wharton's descriptions of old New York society. The Age of Innocence is a classic angst-filled romance with bit of dry humor hiding beneath the surface. The last third of the book is surprisingly suspenseful. Wharton keeps you guessing just which of the women our protagonist will choose, and the end just might dampen your eyes.
pru-lennon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
well-written book. newland archer seems set to condition in the path of tradition created by his well-off new york ancestors by marrying, may welland, another descendent of well-off new yorkers. that is until the arrival of her cousin, countess ellen olenska. she rocks newland's world and that of the tight-knit, upper-crust new york society. ellen is off the cuff and unconventional and she draws newland in; his love is not only for her but for that of change and throwing off the shackles that nice, conventional, duty-bound new york has chained him in. may represents all the things of that society and, therefore, doesn't make newland's heart skip a beat but makes him feel he's done what he should and that's what bothers him!wharton draws her characters well (reading the descriptions of old catherine are awesome) and makes you empathize with the deadened spiritual crisis newland fights through in wanting to strike out on his own from the path that's been laid out for him.
br77rino on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Using the main character, Archer Newell, as narrator, the novel superbly describes the aristocracy of New York City of the late 19th century, and nearly ridicules the rigid standards by which they conducted themselves. He is torn between his duties to these traditions, and to breaking these traditions out of both reason and his love for a divorced countess in exile from Europe.
snat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Part of why I love The Age of Innocence so much is for the very reason my students hate it--the subtlety of action in a society constrained by its own ridiculous rules and mores. In Old New York, conformity is key and the upper-crust go about a life of ritual that has no substance or meaning. Both men and women are victims in this world as both are denied economic, intellectual, or creative outlets. All the world's a stage in Wharton's New York and everyone wears a mask of society's creation. Such is the norm until Newland Archer.Symbolically, Newland represents an America on the cusp of modernization, the awkward period of transition between the Victorian era and World War I. At first a devout member of New York aristocracy, Newland is awakened as one from a trance with the arrival of Countess Ellen Olenska. Ellen decides to separate from her abusive husband, Count Olenski, and is rumored to have escaped the Count by having an affair with his secretary--a scandalous circumstance that brings her back home to her native New York. Vibrant, intellectual, and free-spirited when compared with the dowdy and restrained women he's known, Ellen's predicament is a revelation to Newland. As he himself has just ended an affair with a married woman and seen the ease with which society forgave his indiscretion when contrasted with Ellen, Newland begins to acknowledge the inequality amongst the sexes. However, there's a serious roadblock to Newland ever being with the captivating Ellen: Ellen is the cousin of May Welland, Newland's fiancee. Wharton writes with cutting wit about the hypocritical and ludicrous customs of blue blood society and cunningly plots events to work against Newland, the archer whose target is a "new land" in which he and Ellen can be together. The pity is that, ultimately, May proves to be the more cunning huntress who cleverly hunts and traps her quarry in the labyrinth of society.