Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Edith Wharton

The Age of Innocence is the second of Edith Wharton's novels which I've read (the other is The House of Mirth). And I must say, Innocence is a great novel: it's full of life, and characters, and rich descriptions of New York in the later nineteenth century. Wharton had a gift for composition: by which I mean her novels are not only well written, but very well constructed. Innocence, especially, proceeds with a master's touch: secondary and tertiary characters circle outer orbits of the story, only to emerge, later, as critical players in the drama. Wharton's attention to character and personality is matched by her sensitivity to place: both in the sense of New York as a locale, but equally, in the sense of social status, of families occupying a certain position or place. Wharton was famous, of course, for this ability: to detail the differences between families and their social rankings. Innocence is a novel in pursuit of this detail, this serious, if sometimes humorous, hierarchy of wealth, marriages, and ambition. I greatly enjoyed Innocence (more than Mirth), and was surprised by the readability of the novel: Wharton offers pleasure, and critique, in a manner both accessible and rewarding. The last word is reserved for her: 

"Perhaps she too had kept her memory of him as something apart; but if she had, it must have been like a relic in a small dim chapel, where there was not time to pray every day." 

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