The Age of Innocence Study Guide

The Age of Innocence Study Guide

Original title:
The Age of Innocence

“The Age of Innocence” is a romantic novel about duty, independence and unrequited love, that brought to its author fame and the unofficial title of “The First Lady of the Letters”. It is a beautiful story that lets us immerse into the radiance of Gilded Age and face the conflict between rigid morals and social expectations and the human desire to be happy no matter what. Edith Wharton claims that this work of her is mostly nostalgic, a memory about America long gone. Maybe that’s why her eloquent descriptions of life of the upper-class society of New York are so stunningly bittersweet.

The novel centers on the story of love of the beautiful, strong and exotic woman, Countess Ellen Olenska. She is divorced, and the society expects her to be forever ashamed by her new status, but the Countess chooses to live, love and be happy. Despite she isn’t the main heroine of the story, Ellen is the brightest one here, while our main character serves mostly the role of the narrator.

“The Age of Innocence” is the story about the conflict of the duty, put on one’s shoulders by the society and the inner feeling of right and wrong, the code of honor that may make the person sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of their loved ones. The author never straightly condemns the rigid social structure which provides the limited amount of roles and strict rules of proper behaviour for everyone, but we can feel the overall disapproval of it, especially when it contrasts with much more natural and human behaviour of the main characters. In the end they overly deny the social norms, yet they stay beautiful and tragic in their nobility, making the decisions that allow them to live their lives with dignity. “The Age of Innocence” may leave your heart aching for a while, but it is a truly beautiful piece of literature to read.

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