Age of Innocence

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Novel by Edith Wharton, published in 1920. It received a Pulitzer Prize, and in 1928 was dramatized by Margaret Ayer Barnes.

In the highest circle of New York social life during the 1870s, Newland Archer, a young lawyer, is the fiancé of May Welland. Before their engagement is announced, he meets May's cousin Ellen Olenska, the wife of a dissolute Polish count, from whom she is separated although she does not divorce him because of the conventional taboo. The taboo extends so far that she is nearly ostracized by her former friends, and only the efforts of Archer and his mother save her position. She wins the toleration of her grandmother, Mrs. Manson Mingott, but even then she is distrusted. Archer's taste and intelligence distinguish him in this dogmatic society, and he discovers in Ellen the companion spirit he has sought but not found in May, who is the product of her strict, formal environment. The two fall in love, but it is too late for Archer to withdraw from his engagement. He marries May but is dissatisfied with their convention-bound relationship. Ellen moves to Washington, then returns to care for her grandmother, and her relation with Archer is rekindled. When May reveals to Ellen that she is pregnant, the situation becomes intolerable for the Countess, who goes to live in Paris. Archer is never sure how much his wife knows until after her death, many years later, when he visits Paris with his son Dallas. Ellen invites them to visit her, but at the last moment Archer sends Dallas alone, feeling that, though they are now free to marry, he prefers his ideal vision of Ellen to the reality.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Edith Wharton (1862—1937) American novelist and short-story writer

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