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Age of Innocence (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Edith Wharton

  Table of Contents


  Title Page

  Copyright Page





  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18


  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34







  Few things seemed to Newland Archer more awful than an offense against “Taste,” that far-off divinity of whom “Form” was the mere visible representative and vicegerent.

  (page 14)

  The persons of their world lived in an atmosphere of faint implications and pale delicacies, and the fact that he and she understood each other without a word seemed to the young man to bring them nearer than any explanation would have done.

  (page 16)

  “If we don’t all stand together, there’ll be no such thing as Society left.”

  (page 43)

  He always came away with the feeling that if his world was small, so was theirs, and that the only way to enlarge either was to reach a stage of manners where they would naturally merge.

  (page 86)

  “I want to be free; I want to wipe out all the past.”

  (page 90)

  “I felt there was no one as kind as you; no one who gave me reasons that I understood for doing what at first seemed so hard and—unnecessary. The very good people didn’t convince me; I felt they’d never been tempted. But you knew; you understood; you had felt the world outside tugging at one with all its golden hands—and yet you hated the things it asks of one; you hated happiness bought by disloyalty and cruelty and indifference. That was what I’d never known before—and it’s better than anything I’ve known.”

  (page 141)

  “It’s worth everything, isn’t it, to keep one’s intellectual liberty, not to enslave one’s powers of appreciation, one’s critical independence?”

  (page 164)

  His whole future seemed suddenly to be unrolled before him; and passing down its endless emptiness he saw the dwindling figure of a man to whom nothing was ever to happen.

  (page 185)

  In the rotation of crops there was a recognized season for wild oats; but they were not to be sown more than once.

  (page 249)

  It was the old New York way, of taking life “without effusion of blood”; the way of people who dreaded scandal more than disease, who placed decency above courage, and who considered that nothing was more ill-bred than “scenes,” except the behavior of those who gave rise to them.

  (page 272)

  The worst of doing one’s duty was that it apparently unfitted one for doing anything else.

  (pages 284-285)

  He had to deal all at once with the packed regrets and stifled memories of an inarticulate lifetime.

  (page 289)

  Published by Barnes & Noble Books

  122 Fifth Avenue

  New York, NY 10011

  The Age of Innocence was first published in 1920.

  Published in 2004 by Barnes & Noble Classics with new Introduction,

  Notes, Biography, Inspired By, Comments & Questions,

  and For Further Reading.

  Introduction, Notes, and For Further Reading

  Copyright @ 2004 by Maureen Howard.

  Note on Edith Wharton, The World of Edith Wharton and The Age of Innocence,

  The Inspiration for The Age of Innocence, and Comments & Questions

  Copyright @ 2004 by Barnes & Noble, Inc.

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or

  transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,

  including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and

  retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

  Barnes & Noble Classics and the Barnes & Noble Classics

  colophon are trademarks of Barnes & Noble, Inc.

  The Age of Innocence

  ISBN-13: 978-1-59308-143-0 ISBN-10: 1-59308-143-X

  eISBN : 978-1-411-43374-8

  LC Control Number 2004102763

  Produced and published in conjunction with:

  Fine Creative Media, Inc.

  322 Eighth Avenue

  New York, NY 10001

  Michael J. Fine, President and Publisher

  Printed in the United States of America


  5 7 9 10 8 6


  Edith Newbold Jones was born January 24, 1862, into such wealth and privilege that her family inspired the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses.” The youngest of three children, Edith spent her early years touring Europe with her parents and, upon the family’s return to the United States, enjoyed a privileged childhood in New York and Newport, Rhode Island. Edith’s creativity and talent soon became obvious: By the age of eighteen she had written a novella, Fast and Loose (as well as witty reviews of it) and published poetry in the Atlantic Monthly.

  After a failed engagement, Edith married a wealthy sportsman, Edward Wharton. Despite similar backgrounds and a shared taste for travel, the marriage was not a success. Many of Wharton’s novels chronicle unhappy marriages, in which the demands of love and vocation often conflict with the expectations of society. Wharton’s first major novel, The House of Mirth, published in 1905, enjoyed considerable literary success. Ethan Frome appeared six years later, solidifying Wharton’s reputation as an important novelist. Often in the company of her close friend Henry James, Wharton mingled with some of the most famous writers and artists of the day, including F. Scott Fitzger ald, André Gide, Sinclair Lewis, Jean Cocteau, and Jack London.

  In 1913 Edith divorced Edward. She lived mostly in France for the remainder of her life. When World War I broke out, she organized hostels for refugees, worked as a fund-raiser, and wrote for American publications from battlefield frontlines. She was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her courage and distinguished work.

  The Age of Innocence, a novel about New York in the 1870s, earned Wharton the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1921—the first time the award had been bestowed on a woman. Wharton traveled throughout Europe to encourage young authors. She also continued to write, lying in her bed every morning, as she had always done, dropping each newly penned page on the floor to be collected and arranged when she was finished. Wharton suffered a stroke and died on August 11, 1937. She is buried in the American Cemetery in Versailles, France.


  1862 Edith Newbold Jones is born January 24 in New York City, the last of three children. Her parents are wealthy and socially well-connected.

  1866 The Jones family leaves for Europe, where they will live for the next six years.

  1870 In Germany, Edith falls ill with typhoid fever and for a time hovers between life and death. When she recovers, the fam ily moves to Florence. Edith begins writing stories, which she recites to her family.

  1872 The Joneses return to America, where they live in New York City and Newport, Rhode Island.

  1877 Edith finishes a novella, Fast and Loose, which will be pub lished a century later, in 1977. Henry James’s novel The American appears.

  1878 Edith’s mother pays to publish a collection of Edith’s poems, Verses.

  1879 Edith is presented to society in New York City.

  1880 A wealthy young man, Henry Leyden Stevens, proposes to Wharton. The Atlantic Monthly magazine publishes five of Wharton’s poems.

  1881 Henry James’s novel Portrait of a Lady appears.

  1882 Edith’s father dies in the south of France. Edith and her mother return to the United States to find that Henry Stevens’s mother disapproves of the engagement. It is broken off, and the Jones women return to France.

  1883 While summering in Bar Harbor, Maine, Edith agrees to marry Edward Wharton, an independently wealthy sportsman from Massachusetts.

  1885 Edith and Edward wed and over the next several years divide their time between Europe, New York, and Newport.

  1889 Wharton’s poems appear in Scribner’s Magazine and the At lantic Monthly.

  1891 Wharton’s first published story, “Mrs. Manstey’s View,” ap pears in Scribner’s Magazine.

  1897 The Decoration of Houses appears; it is a nonfiction work on interior design written by Wharton and architect Ogden Codman, Jr.

  1898 Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw is published.

  1901 The Whartons begin to build The Mount, their summer home near Lenox, Massachusetts. Edith’s mother dies in Paris.

  1905 The House of Mirth is published. The novel quickly becomes one of the best-selling books of the year; its popularity so lidifies Wharton’s reputation as a major novelist. Wharton and Henry James develop a close friendship. George Bernard Shaw’s play Major Barbara is performed in Lon don.

  1908 Wharton publishes A Motor-Flight through France, in which she recounts her travels with her husband, Edward, and Henry James. She meets Morton Fullerton, an American journalist living in London who is a friend of Henry James, and the two begin a passionate though short-lived love af fair.

  1911 Wharton’s Ethan Frome is published; it was inspired by the bleak New England setting the author witnessed near her home in Lenox.

  1912 Wharton begins a friendship with art historian Bernard Berenson.

  1913 Edith and Edward divorce. Wharton moves to France, where she will spend most of the rest of her life. Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! is published.

  1914 Wharton travels to Tunisia and Algiers, then undertakes re lief efforts during World War I. She finds homes for hun dreds of Belgian orphans and raises money for refugees.

  1916 Wharton receives the French Legion of Honor award for her war relief activities. Henry James dies.

  1917 T. S. Eliot’s book of poetry Prufrock and Other Observations appears.

  1918 Willa Cather publishes My Ántonia.

  1920 The Age of Innocence, a novel about New York society, is pub lished to great success.

  1921 Wharton becomes the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, which she receives for The Age of Innocence. Eugene O‘Neill’s play Anna Christie opens in New York City.

  1922 T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land is published.

  1923 Yale University awards Wharton an honorary doctorate. Edna St. Vincent Millay receives the Pulitzer Prize for po etry.

  1924 Wharton publishes a collection of novellas and short stories as Old New York.

  1925 Sinclair Lewis publishes Arrowsmith, which he dedicates to Wharton. Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is published. Gertrude Stein publishes The Making of Americans. Virginia Woolf publishes Mrs. Dalloway.

  1926 Ernest Hemingway publishes The Sun Also Rises.

  1928 Edward Wharton dies. Poet Carl Sandburg’s Good Morning, America is published.

  1930 Wharton is elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She continues to write, although her health is fail ing. Robert Frost’s Collected Poems is published.

  1933 Wharton publishes Human Nature, a collection of short sto ries.

  1934 Wharton publishes “Roman Fever” in Liberty magazine for the then-astronomical sum of $3,000; one of her best known short stories, it is based on her travels in Italy. She continues to write and publish stories and novels. A Back ward Glance, an autobiography, is published.

  1936 The World Over, a collection of short stories, is published.

  1937 After a severe stroke, Edith Wharton dies on August 11. She is buried in Versailles, France.


  The Age of Innocence is Edith Wharton’s most romantic novel, yet our expectations for her lovers, Ellen Olenska and Newland Archer, are disappointed at every turn. Wharton’s genius lies in offering the pleasure of a romance, then engaging the reader in a stunning exploration of boundaries between the demands of society and personal freedom, illicit passion and moral responsibility. In this novel of bold design, we are the innocents unaware of the more demanding rewards to come, just as the readers of the Pictorial Review were as the monthly installments appeared in 1920. Luring us with the high comic tone of the opening chapters, Wharton admits us to Newland Archer’s dreamy certainty about love and marriage, all that lies ahead in an ordered universe, his little world of fashionable New York in the 1870s.

  The strict rules of that society are rendered in detail—the moments when talk is allowed during the opera, the prescribed hours for afternoon visits, the lilies of the valley that must be sent to May Welland, the untainted girl who is about to become Newland’s fi ancee. In the opening scenes there are two observers, Wharton and Newland. The novelist is full of historical information about the city of her childhood and the customs of her privileged class. New York, constructed out of memory and verified by research, is not a discarded back-lot affair of an old Hollywood studio, but a place that must come alive for the writer as well as her readers. This lost world, lavish with particulars of dress, food, wine, manners, is weighted with an abundance of reality, all the furnishings of excessively indulged, overly secure lives. But as the writer calls up her New York of fifty years earlier, Newland Archer also instructs us in the mores of the best of families and the questionable behavior of flashy intruders on the rise. This dual perspective is playful: the novelist assessing her man, placing him in a rarefied world that he too finds narrow and amusing, though all the while he is a player in it.

  Wharton’s education of the reader continues as each character comes on stage. Newland is a self-declared dilettante, May an innocent thing, Countess Olenska an expatriate with a problematic past. Julius Beaufort, a freewheeling climber, may be the scoundrel of the piece. The novelist is knowingly leading us into melodrama, the dominant mode of the popular theater of the age she recreates, a theater of plays in which good and evil were clearly sorted out, not tainted by moral ambiguity or shaded feelings. As we read what has so often been praised as an historical novel, we must bear in mind the year it was composed, 1919. The Age of Innocence calls upon history to inform the present, and Wharton portrays a cast of clueless characters who could not conceive the slaughter of World War I or President Wilson’s ill-fated proposal for the League of Nations. Turning back to the untroubled era of her childhood, she entertains with a predictable old form that is a lure, even a joke, but not on the reader. We are drawn by the broad humor at the outset of the novel to the discovery of a darker story without the simple solutions of melodrama. Edith Wharton had a gift for comedy that has often been obscured by
a reverence for the elegant lady novelist or probing for feminist concerns in her work.

  The opening chapters of The Age of Innocence are given to caricature and sweeping mockery. In fact, Wharton mentions Dickens and Thackeray, whose comic exaggerations she must have had in mind. Newland Archer, superior and instructional, is foolish in the romantic projections of his marriage to May: “ ‘We’ll read Faust together... by the Italian lakes...’ he thought, somewhat hazily confusing the scene of his projected honeymoon with the masterpieces of literature which it would be his manly privilege to reveal to his bride.” An understanding of Faust, the most popular opera of the nineteenth century, with its unbridled passion and soul-selling contract, will presumably improve May: “He did not in the least wish the future Mrs. Newland Archer to be a simpleton” (p. 8). Meanwhile, Nilsson, the great diva, sings gloriously in the tacky garden scenery of the opera house. Early on, we suspect there will be no paradise and little innocence as the next months’ installments of the novel unfold. May, corseted in virginal white with a “modest tulle tucker” over her bosom, is too good to be true. It may be difficult for a contemporary reader to find Ellen Olenska, fated to be May’s rival, shocking in that revealing Empire dress, “like a night-gown,” according to Newland’s sister.

  As they set the scene, Wharton and Newland are gossips who have the scoop on who’s in and who’s out, and on intricate family histories—the Chiverses of University Place, the Dallases of South Carolina, the Rushworths, Mrs. Manson Mingott, with two daughters married off to Europeans. We begin to hear the difference between Newland Archer’s view of his set, for it is his more than ever with his engagement to May Welland, and Edith Wharton’s parody of society tattle recreated from memory and notched up a bit. Old Sillerton Jackson, the expert on family, is a cartoon figure, one of the many minor characters who make up the closely worked tapestry of the novelist’s old New York. There’s Lawrence Lefferts, with his prissy attention to correct social form, and the newcomer Mrs. Lemuel Struthers in “her bold feathers and her brazen wig,” but it is in the portrait of Mrs. Mingott that Wharton creates a true grotesque. “The immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middle life like a flood of lava on a doomed city had changed her from a plump active little woman with a neatly-turned foot and ankle into something as vast and august as a natural phenomenon” (pp. 24—25). She is immobile, though far more flexible in her views than those who seek her approval, among them Newland’s mother and May’s.