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The Age of Innocence/Edith Wharton

Having enjoyed The Reef I moved onto Edith Wharton’s best-known work The Age of Innocence.

Published in 1920 when she was 58 it won her the Pulitzer prize , the first woman to achieve this.

The central character is Archer Newland, a young and rich lawyer, and the novel is set in the Gilded Age of New York high society of the 1890s. Newland marries the rich and beautiful May Welland. If not an arranged marriage, it’s a suitable one except for one thing: he falls in love with her cousin Ellen Lenska.

The theme of convention v. passion is central.

Newland feels trapped by convention. Perceptively, May Newland realises there is another woman and indeed praises her fiancé for sacrificing his desires.

Eventually he has an affaire and the novel ends with his son and Newland going to visit Ellen in Paris.

Having now read two of her novels I feel competent to assess her.

At first I thought her novels were dated and mannered – like Henry James’s – but now admire them for their observation.

America has a distinguished group p of woman writers like Anne Tyler and Anne/Marie Proulx. They belong to a different era and place but have much to thank Edith Wharton for.

Finally I must comment on the passing of Martin Amis.

I thought his earliest novels like The Rachel Papers and Money brought a freshness of writing to the literary world but he never maintained this.

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About Melanie Gay

A former literary agent with three published novels of her own, Melanie retains her life-long love of the written word and recently mastered the Kindle. She is currently writing a historical novel set in 17th Century Britain and Holland. More Posts