Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Age of Innocence

I woke up about a month ago and realized something shocking: I hadn't read any literary fiction in more than a month.  

I drove myself to the bookstore immediately to rectify this horror, and ended up selecting The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, because I love modernist literature and wanted to get myself back on track with something I knew I'd love.

This novel has got everything: a scathing indictment of the heteropatriarchal order that Wharton cleverly puts in the mouth of Newland Archer, a member of said order; an exotic Italian countess; star crossed lovers and tragic self sacrifice.

Instead of ending the book with a marriage, Wharton lets Newland Archer's nuptials with the conventional May Welland fall in the middle, because there is so much more story to tell.

From a writer's perspective, the book's ending is a perfect example of a "ten years later" ending, in which the writer flashes forward by a number of years in order to provide satisfying narrative closure. And Wharton's ending really makes the book.

The final scene moved me so much that I started crying when trying to explain the meaning of the scene to my husband, and I couldn't quite tell why I was crying.  The ending wasn't sad, but somehow Wharton managed to endow those five pages with a lifetime of emotion, and that is the stuff of great writing.

1 comment:

Cindy said...

I'm glad you posted this review! I liked The House of Mirth better, but Age of Innocence was also a good read. Like pulling back the curtain on a drawing room in the past.