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The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

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One of Edith Wharton’s most famous novels—the first by a woman to win the Pulitzer Prize—exquisitely details a tragic struggle between love and responsibility in Gilded Age New York.
 
Newland Archer, an aristocratic young lawyer, is engaged to the cloistered, beautiful May Welland. But when May’s cousin Ellen arrives from Europe, fleeing her failed marriage to a Polish count, her worldly and independent nature intrigues and unsettles Archer. Trapped by his passionless relationship with May and the social conventions that forbid a relationship with the disgraced Ellen, Archer is torn between possibility and duty. Wharton’s profound understanding of her characters’ lives makes the triangle of Archer, May, and Ellen both urgent and poignant. An incisive look at the ways desire and emotion must negotiate the complex rules of society, The Age of Innocence is one of Wharton’s most moving works.

Edith Newbold Jones was born into such wealth and privilege that her family inspired the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses." The youngest of three children, Edith spent her early years touring Europe with her parents and enjoyed a privileged childhood in New York and Rhode Island. Edith's creativity and talent soon became obvious: By the age of eighteen she had written a novella and published poetry in the Atlantic Monthly.

After a failed engagement, Edith married a wealthy sportsman, Edward Wharton. Despite similar backgrounds and a shared taste for travel, the marriage was not a success. Many of Wharton's novels chronicle unhappy marriages, in which the demands of love and vocation often conflict with the expectations of society. Wharton's first major novel, The House of Mirth, published in 1905, enjoyed considerable literary success. Ethan Frome appeared six years later, solidifying Wharton's reputation as an important novelist. Often in the company of her close friend, Henry James, Wharton mingled with some of the most famous writers and artists of the day, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, André Gide, Sinclair Lewis, Jean Cocteau, and Jack London.

In 1913 Edith divorced Edward. She lived mostly in France for the remainder of her life. When World War I broke out, she organized hostels for refugees, worked as a fund-raiser, and wrote for American publications from battlefield frontlines. She was awarded the French Legion of Honour for her courage and distinguished work.

The Age of Innocence, a novel about New York in the 1870s, earned Wharton the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1921 -- the first time the award had been bestowed upon a woman. Wharton traveled throughout Europe to encourage young authors. She also continued to write, lying in her bed every morning, as she had always done, dropping each newly penned page on the floor to be collected and arranged when she was finished. Wharton suffered a stroke and died on August 11, 1937. She is buried in the American Cemetery in Versailles, France.