Posted: December 2nd, 2013
The Age Of Innocence
The age of innocence is a book on choices. It is the story of how the character Newland Archer finds himself happily engaged to May Welland a beautiful young woman who happens to be sophisticated, polite and well mannered, and it certainly does not hurt that she is an aristocrat. He believes that he has finally found what he was looking for and is looking for a life of blissful happiness with her. He then meets Countess Ellen Olenska, May’s cousin from America, who is in the process of separation from her husband who he finds to be beautiful but lacking charm.
At first, he is concerned that his innocent young fiancée is sitting next to a woman whose morals he considers questionable notwithstanding the fact that they are cousins. He has heard gossip among men and is surprised by rumors of her infidelity toward her husband, whom she is planning to divorce. The beginning of the book the author sets a scene of elegance, affluence where the author distinguishes between what is proper in that time and age, and what is distasteful conduct. She also shows the close bond between Archer and May, which is evident in the fact that even through non-verbal communication they understand each other perfectly and are in harmony. The author also shows that acceptance into this “club” is characterized by affluence, good etiquette and how well one can conceal their unpleasant side.
Archer considers his own good fortune at his engagement to May who he deems perfect. On the subject of Ellen’s divorce, He opines that it should be granted as he advocates that she is deserving of the same rights, as any man should. He listens to Ellen’s critiques and opinions and though he feels they should not be brought up, he nonetheless finds them insightful. He also muses that his fiancée is a product of the society she was brought up in, and regards her as so bonded with her lifestyle that anything different would be unsuited to her persona. As Archer learns more of Ellen’s background, he becomes somewhat sympathetic toward her. Ellen narrates to him how it feels when the society in new York wishes her to be someone she is not. Moreover, she states that the reason society imposes this on her is that it causes them discomfort to view anything different than what they are used to. She believes that the society judges her more harshly than necessary. While keen to fit into the New York scene, she is not willing to subject her personality to any changes.
After a spell, bored of the monotony of his life, Archer tries to convince May to move up the wedding date even suggesting elopement, which May finds funny. Here, he begins to view her imperfections are such that she cannot even think for herself going as far as comparing her to a cavefish. He thinks her too set in her ways. Meanwhile, he comes across a letter that would be damaging to Ellen’s reputation and attempts to convince Ellen’s husband not to go through with his intended divorce. The letter makes Archer judgmental of Ellen, and he views her disdainfully due to the allegations of adultery against her.
Archer watches a scene, which particularly moves him and makes him contemplate his relationship with Ellen. In the scene, he watches an actor turn back and not notice her lover kissing a ribbon that hangs from her neck. This reminds him of his and Ellen’s relationship, which he feels, is filled with chances that were missed and which he cannot reclaim. Archer meets his friend Ned, a failed author and during their conversation, he is reminded of how narrow and constricted his own life is.
Archer joins May on vacation and is happy to see her, but his mind is dulled by the simplicity of her’s. He again tries to convince her to shorten their engagement. She mentions to him that he is trying to do so because he may still be in love with a past mistress. Archer meets Ellen after he comes back from his vacation and states his love for her, telling her that he would break off his engagement, and she would finalize her divorce, and they would be together. Ellen refuses this stating that she would not like to cause anyone pain. She asks him to be practical and after he states that, he would rather see her dead than return to her husband she states, “You say that because it’s the easiest thing to say at this moment—not because it’s true.”
After the Archers’ wedding, while on honeymoon, archer is still surprised by May’s naïveté and gives up on her stating, “There was no use in trying to educate a wife who had not the dimmest notion that she was not free.” Their honeymoon is three months long and Archer slowly forgets Ellen referring to her as a “ghost”. On return to New York, he is sent by Ellen’s grandmother to go see her. He finds her at a beach with her back to him and states that he will not go to her if she does not turn to face him. After she refuses, he leaves her alone, mentally ending his relationship with her.
Archer is soon bored of the repetitiveness of his married life. He decides to visit the country hoping to bump into Ellen there, but does not find her. He decides to go to Boston on business where he runs into Ellen. He questions her about the day on the beach, and she states that she purposely did not turn back. She reveals to him that her husband is offering a vast amount for her return and that she is considering it. She also reveals to be heartbroken about their separation and claims that she cannot even return to Europe because she does not wish to be far from him.
Ellen and May become friends to the delight of Archer. Ellen stays close to take care of her grandmother who has had a stroke and Archer is glad that she is close. Abruptly, Ellen leaves and May reveals to Archer that she is pregnant. She then tells him that she had told Ellen of her pregnancy tow weeks earlier. It becomes clear to Archer during Ellen’s farewell party that everyone thought they had been having an affair for years and this surprised. May dies of pneumonia abruptly after nursing their youngest son back to health. At the end of the book, we see that Archer had misjudged May too harshly. He saw her as a naïve, foolish woman whose only assets were her beauty but it seems that she was much more perceptive that he gave her credit. May was on many occasions able to deduce Archer’s feelings, and this is most clearly seen at the end, when her son tells his father that she had once “made him give up what he wanted most” referring to his relationship with Ellen, which she had known about.
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