Who wrote this book and when?
Edith Wharton in 1920.
Has there been a film version?
Yes, starring Daniel Day Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder – who won a Golden Globe for her role as May.
Who are the important characters?
Newland Archer – a lawyer in the 1870’s New York, promised to the beautiful May Welland and part of upper crust society
May Welland – a beautiful but naieve young woman who is the pearl of New York society
Countess Ellen Olenska – May’s cousin, recently returned from Europe who is supposedly fleeing a bad marriage, she challenges every decorum of New York society.
What’s it about?
Newland Archer is a young man recently engaged to one of the most beautiful girls in New York society – Miss May Welland. May has been raised to be perfectly innocent when she enters into her marriage. She supposedly knows nothing of passion and is nearly simple in her outward expressions of emotion. Newland believes he is happy until May’s older cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska, arrives from Europe fleeing an unhappy marriage to a Polish count. Her modern views on what is enjoyable, acceptable, and permitted challenge everything Newland believes in.
Why is this book a classic?
It is supposedly one of the best representations of the “Age of Innocence” in New York society – the late 1800’s before electricity and the mechanical revolution made it more important what you did rather than the bloodline that ran in your veins. It is very similar to Booth Tarkington’s “The Magnificent Ambersons” in its wistful recollective style.
Do you recommend I read this book?
No. It is incredibly dry and lifeless.
Why did this book make your list?
It is a Pulitzer Prize winner, and most of those are on my list somewhere…
Has it won any awards?
The Pulitzer Prize in 1921, but only because Sinclair Lewis turned it down for his novel “Main Street.”
I don’t really have any, sorry.
When she wrote this novel, Edith Wharton was an expatriot living in Paris.
Oh man, did I have a hard time finishing this book. Nothing, I repeat Nothing in this book interested me in the slightest. The characters were either too simplified to be interesting or were gratingly shallow. Which I know was part of the point made, but it was unbelievable the lengths which Wharton went to in order to display this. Honestly, I read this book a few pages at a time when I wanted to fall asleep. It was like reading a very boring and dry psychology history textbook. Eesh. However, the movie made from it is slightly more entertaining and utterly flamboyant in its portrayal of the color and opulence of 1870’s New York society. Daniel Day Lewis, as usual, does an exquisite job as Newland. I highly recommend the movie. But not the book. Just don’t try the book. Please.