“The Age of Innocence”

April 13, 2009 at 6:11 pm | Posted in Book Dreams, Fiction | 5 Comments

I went to bed with about 75 pages left in The Age of Innocence.  I dreamed about it, and in my dream I compared it to other books.  (Then I dreamed there was a crab in my bed and I threw it into my closet).  Anyway, let’s see whether any of my dream observations make any sense in real life.

I hadn’t read Edith Wharton before.  I read The Age of Innocence because I’m reading through the Pulitzer winners for fiction.  I was surprised at myself for putting it off so long, because it’s so gossipy and highly approachable.

In my dream, I kept making the connection between Isabel Archer of Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady and Newland Archer of The Age of Innocence.  It would be easy to imagine them as relatives, especially since they seem to suffer a somewhat similar fate.

I also kept making a connection between classic literature and the theme of troubled marriages.  Can someone make a warning sticker to keep the affianced from reading these things?  Tolstoy, Proust, Fitzgerald… It seems like there’s a pattern going on.  Is the  ideal representation of a happy marriage just not a suitable topic for literary fiction?

I woke up with the book still on my mind.  Somehow I actually managed to finish it during my commute to work.  I was pleased with the ending, which I was in no way able to predict.  Every time I was sure I knew what was going to happen, it didn’t.  This also means I was lucky enough not to come across a spoiler anywhere in my reading of literary criticism, which seems like a miracle.  So I won’t spoil it for you either, in case you have yet to enjoy this book.

So far the Pulitzer experiment has been going quite well, as I’ve really enjoyed each volume I’ve read.  I got off to a slow start because I insisted on reading the Growth trilogy, of which The Magnificent Ambersons is the second volume, and it took me a while to track them all down.  Then I was waiting on my book group to read Wharton, but it looks like, after six months, we’ve dropped the idea.  Ah well.  I have all year to get through the 65 I have left.


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  1. I agree that a lot of literary fiction deals with troubled marriages. I don’t like it, either. I think, maybe, it’s partly to do with how character-driven so much literary fiction is?

  2. Well, sure, but why can’t the characters have a happy marriage? 🙂

    I mean, for instance, Marilynne Robinson. The only characters I’ve seen her describe who are both living and have a happy marriage include a husband who is much older and knows he is dying. Hmph.

  3. I loved this book myself. I’ve read a lot of Edith Wharton, and she doesn’t pull any punches. I think they did an excellent job with the movie adaptation – if you haven’t seen it, now that you’ve read the book, I think you will really appreciate the subtlety of the performances.

  4. I love Edith Wharton. She and Henry James were aiming basically for the same thing in their fiction, but she kicks his ass all over the place.

  5. I love Edith Wharton. She and Henry James were aiming basically for the same thing in their fiction, but she kicks his ass all over the place.
    BTW I love your blog!

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