I have been trying to go back and read a literature classic once a month, for October I chose to read The Age of Innocence (1920) by Edith Wharton. I have watched the Scorcese film with Daniel Day Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder several times, but I have never read the book. I also did not know that it won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize. Wharton’s writing is of the time and so is a little old fashioned but it is a well-written novel and entertaining.
The story is set in upper class New York City in the 1870’s where all the actions of the characters are bound by the rules of society. The main character, Newland Archer, is newly engaged to the beautiful and young May Welland, when her cousin the Countess Ellen Olenska arrives. The Countess is estranged from her dastardly husband and has come home to start her life anew; her family wants her to return to her husband for appearance sake. Archer falls in love with Ellen, but both are restricted by society norms and their desire not to hurt anyone.
Wharton was a feminist and critical of rigid society norms so I am sure at the time it was written as a critique of the rigid society of the time, but for me it was refreshing to read about characters that resisted the temptation of their desires in order to do the right thing. I think I may read Ethan Frome (1911) by Wharton next.