Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence. A beautiful novel about unfulfilled desires, useless self-sacrifice, manners, and life in a restrictive society that could easily have been titled "Keeping up Appearances". Reading about an "atmosphere of faint implications and pale delicacies" is naturally frustrating, because the point of the book is that there is no action, no emotional climax, no "scenes" of any sort. Newland Archer's repressed rebellion doesn't seem worth pursuing anyway: the reality of a love affair with Countess Olenska would have been disappointing, and he's too lazy to have been successful in any of his imagined literary or intellectual circles. I think that his repression gave him a feeling of self-worth that an unrestricted indolent life would not have provided because he could feel himself a martyr for his wife and children while secretly contemplating his wasted alternate life. Somehow characters who don't barge on through and grab what they want always irritate me - although I suppose that includes every person in every novel of manners ever written - and if Newland had barged on through the story would have been boring and pointless.

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