Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Age of Innocence: Review

I'm afraid there may be some folks out there in classic literature land who will be disappointed with me. I've tried to get on with Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence several times over the last few months and it's just not doing it for me.  It should.  The time period is right--the setting is all one could want.  But I just can't get into it.  In order to count it for various challenges, I have forced and skimmed and read enough that I feel justified in counting it--but I just cannot get into this book.  None of the characters interest me. I really don't care about Newland Archer and his thing with Ellen Olenska.  His battles with duty to the rules of upper class society and his love for the independent, free-thinking, scandalously separated from her husband, Ellen don't provoke the kind of deep-thinking about society and expectations and "playing by the rules" that I'm quite sure they're supposed to.  I'm not interested in the decisions Archer needs to make about his engagement and marriage to May Welland, their standing in New York society, and where his ultimate loyalty lies.  I don't want to examine the mores of a time that find Ellen's behavior so outrageous.  

This is billed as Edith Wharton's most famous novel.  It was written immediately following World War I and is a careful examination of the New York Society of the 1870s.  It is, I'm sure, an interesting contrast--in the first few pages (and off and on through the first several chapters), Archer contemplates how he (the all-knowing male) will "educate" his new wife, May.  He will open her mind to all sorts of literature; they will spend idyllic moments on their honeymoon reading together at lake sides; it will be oh-so-noble of him.  But then along comes Ellen Olenska who winds up teaching him--forcing him to question the values and assumptions of his narrow little world.  

That's great.  That's fine.  But it still didn't grab me the way I expect great literature to grab.  I may just be in a funk.  I may have missed the perfect moment to read this one.  Or maybe it hasn't come yet.  But I don't plan on saving it up for a reread.  Ms. Wharton, I'm afraid we're done.  But--I recognize my limitations as a reviewer on this one, so no rating.  I don't think I can be fair to the work.

8 comments:

geoffwhaley.com said...

:(

I bought this after going to a Wharton panel at the most recent Boston Book Festival. I'm interested in reading it, but I know it's one of those ones people like or don't like. I hope I can get through it.

Bev Hankins said...

Geoff: I hope you do better than I did. I really, truly gave it the ol' college try--repeatedly. I just couldn't....

Level 1 Homemaker said...

I enjoy many of her contemporaries, but have never been a fan of Wharton. You are not alone! :)

Creations by Laurel-Rain Snow said...

Now I'm really curious, as I just downloaded it a few weeks ago. Haven't started it yet....I hate when I have books that I end up not enjoying!

Belle Read said...

I have wanted to read Age of Innocence for some time. I hope that I like it better than you did. I love Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.

Bookworm1858 said...

I love society books so Wharton really works for me but I understand how she doesn't work for everyone. Have you tried any of her other works?

Bev Hankins said...

Bookworm1858: This was my first try with Wharton. I may do another...but it will be a while.

Roof Beam Reader said...

Bummer. I really enjoyed this one. Countess Olenska is actually one of my favorite females from literature.