Discussion One of The Age of Innocence Read-Along

What was or was not "the thing" played a part as important in Newland Archer’s New York as the inscrutable totem terrors that had ruled the destinies of his forefathers thousand of years ago.
If asked to provide one quotation that I thought would best represent the work, I would no doubt cite the one above.  After completing Book One, I’m so glad to have picked this title for a read-along; its pages encourage the reader to amorously continue flipping the pages, and also discuss the many intricacies of New York society.  It’s been quite fascinating thus far and I’m hoping everyone is enjoying it as much as I am. 
Because this is my first read-along and I wanted to make the experience unique, I haven’t created a list of questions to press to the readers.  Feel free to pose your own questions for the blogging community to answer, list any qualms you have with what you’ve read so far or mention anything you particularly like about the novel.
At this point, I’m very much intrigued by the many rules that govern this budding New York society.  I say budding, because New York’s society is nothing more than an infant in comparison to the great and learned cities of the world.  The author makes several references to the frailty of purity and how it is easily broken.  New York society thrives on the purity of their crowd, and is handled with utmost care by these rules and regulations in the hope that this carved out upper crust remains unbroken. 
The protagonist, Newland Archer, is very much a lover of the thinking man (and woman to an extent), enjoying literature and the arts.  However, the society surrounding him is very much disinterested in these habits.  New York society shuns most activities that encourage any individual to question the rules that govern this essentially unstable set.
One of my favorite quotations:  
“An unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of the English speaking audiences.”
This quotation not only helps to elucidate the stringent rules of society, but also contains Wharton’s flair for such sly wit.  
Another fascinating aspect is Archer’s view of women.  He strongly wishes that May think for herself and develop habits much like his own.  He admires these qualities in Countess Olenska, and is most likely the source of attraction.  He frequently voices his disagreeable opinion that women be able to experience, for the most part, the same freedoms as men.  However, Archer, himself, does not always recognize that he wishes to shape his women even though he disdains this treatment in larger society.  Archer explains that women are blindly led through life, retaining their purity, and leading a life generally uneducated to the trials of the real world until a man suddenly removes the veil and creates meaning.  Furthermore, frailty plays an even larger role as women, who may remain pure their entire lives, can be reduced to nothing with the faintest hint of misconduct.  Archer specifically states in one particular instance, “when 'such things happened' it was undoubtedly foolish of the man, but somehow criminal of the woman.”  It’s really unclear for me how much Archer truly believes his own proclamations of the status of women, as his motivation might strictly be for the benefit of the Countess.
With the conclusion of Book One, I’m really anticipating the events that will occur in Book Two.  When I first picked up reading I was feeling hesitant, but after finishing off Book One last night, I can’t wait to pick it up again.
Link below so that other participants can view what you have to say about The Age of Innocence, or comment below if you've read the novel and wanted to share!


  1. Beth, I've got to agree with you that this turned out to be a great choice for the read-along! There is so much to discuss.

    I think the passage you chose to open your discussion is a perfect one - the idea that "Old New York" plays a significant role in Archer's life, dictating his thoughts as well as his hesitations. As you mentioned, I think he believes he encourages freedom for women, while at the same time labeling them in a negative way as they do think for themselves, demonstrates his struggles with these new ideas.

  2. I agree completely. Archer certainly has this tamed inner dialogue and very much struggles to work against the grain of societal norms. He understands that in situations his ideas are largely contradictory; however, in a growing age it's to be expected.

  3. I wish I had joined you! I have this book on my TBR pile and I've been meaning to get to it. I love your analysis of book one, especially the gender angle.

  4. Great quote! I love how Wharton sneaks in those shrewd criticisms of society.

    Archer's attitude toward women is so interesting. He wants them to have opinions and 'freedom', but only under his own guidance (unless he can't figure out his own opinion). Even still, he influences Ellen's decision on her divorce, but is then unhappy with the choice he made for her - same thing about his wedding being sooner than later.

    I can't wait to read more of Book 2. (I didn't realize how much time passes in the book.)


  5. Nymeth- Join in! I'll be hosting the discussion of the entire novel on March 3rd! I'd love to hear your thoughts!

    Melissa- Wharton is the queen of snark and probably one of the reasons I enjoy her work so much. I agree completley. Brenna made a great point in that Archer is exploring sudden realizations that he maybe never considered before. By today's standards it's completely backwards, but then it was definitely more progressive than the majority of men in his position and age. I'm really loving it, too! Thanks for participating!

  6. Archer makes me cringe when he talks about how he will open Mays eyes after they are married, it reminds me off pygmalion and I don't think May wll change now.

    The countess is very different to what I was expecting, she is going against the grain and living her own life but at the same time she is very vulnerable.

    I am finding the characters interesting but I have to admit that the whole New York thing with its describtions of all the social rules are boring me abit.

  7. To be honest, I've been struggling a great deal with this book! While I understand that Wharton is poking gentle fun at NEW YORK society of that time, I find her method of doing so very tedious and boring. Through most of the first book I feel like she keeps 'telling' me WHAT I should think of each character - I am not allowed any leeway to form my own opinion. Perhaps, this is intentional, but I don't care for it at all!

    As regards NY society, itself, I find it quite interesting. As Beth says in her main post, it is just an infant when compared to European societies. I found myself constantly comparing its stringent rules to that of English society at around the same time or perhaps even before that time.

    So far, I'm struggling with Archer's character, though I find May and Ellen rather interesting. I think in portraying these two women Wharton has done a pretty good job thus far. And, I see more life in May than Archer seems to give her credit for.

  8. Jessica, I was definitely feeling the same way about Archer; he's a character you'll most likely love and hate. The rules are a bit daunting but maybe that's another aspect. Archer frequently confesses that most of these rules are dull and it lets the reader in on that feeling.

    Risa- Initially, I had my reservations but am really loving it. We're only seeing things from Archer's perspective and I can see where it would be annoying with the way he changes his opinion so frequently. I like that you made the comment about May; I agree! Glad you're participating. Can't wait to discuss again in March!


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