“In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs.”
Winner of the 1921 Pulitzer Price for fiction and the basis of the sumptuous 1993 Martin Scorsese movie, Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence shows no sign of losing popularity as each new generation embraces this devastating tale of love and loss set amongst the upper classes in 1870s New York. The story centers on a couple's impending marriage, and the introduction of a woman plagued by scandal whose presence threatens their happiness.
Newland Archer, the story's protagonist is a young, popular, successful lawyer living with his mother and sister in an elegant New York City house. Since childhood, his life has been shaped by the customs and expectations of upper-class New York City society. His engagement to May Welland is one in a string of accomplishments. At the story's start, he is proud and content to dream about a traditional marriage in which he will be the husband-teacher and she the wife-student. His life changes when he meets Countess Ellen Olenska. Through his relationship with her—first friendship, then love—he begins questioning the values on which he was raised.