The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

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Audiobook.  The beautiful language of Edith Wharton is ideal for an audiobook; along with the other qualities of her books, they just sound lovely. 

I wanted to read Edith Wharton after reading The Master (see previous post) which is based on the life of Henry James.  Although she corresponded with Henry James, she did not appear in Toibin's book. 

Newland Archer is engaged to May Welland when her cousin who is fleeing an unpleasant marriage with a count appears on the scene of the upper levels of society in New York.  The Countess Olenska, having spent many years in Europe, can't manage the rules of the game despite efforts of her family, including Newland who is soon to be in the family.  Before long Newland finds he is madly in love with the Countess and as a defense, asks May to shorten their very long engagement.  Just as he professes his love to the Countess, a letter comes from May, agreeing to a quick wedding.  No surprises here. 

The power of the pointless social norms enforced by the family with the most subtle of gestures or words is conveyed so beautifully.  And some of the characters are wonderful.  I love the descriptions of the old family matriarch, Mrs. Manson Mingott, who is so fat she can hardly move.  There are several references to her hands that are priceless.  The van der Lydens' role is delicious — they are very powerful in society and at the outset are approached to help the Countess become accepted in society.  Giving a dinner party to which she is invited changes everything (until the Countess goes off the reservation). 

The 25-years-later epilogue has the son of May and Newland marrying the daughter of a completely disgraced banker.  This younger generation, what are you going to do…..

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