It still seemed wonderful that across all those miles and miles of country--forest, river, mountain, prairie, roaring cities and busy indifferent millions-- Dallas's laugh should be able to say: "Of course, whatever happens, I must get back on the first, because Fanny Beaufort and I are to be married on the fifth."
Well, bookworms, what did you think?
I must admit after just recently finishing off the last 20 pages, I'm setting the novel aside, and feeling a little bewildered. So much time elapsed-- so much was said, so much left unspoken.
As much as many people view The Age of Innocence as a very tragic love story, I, on the other hand, was less focused on the relationship between Countess Olenska and Archer, and more on the budding society of New York that blooms before the reader's very eyes. The quotation above really emphasizes the enormous changes occuring during Archer's life admist the growth of the nation. For his character to have remained unchanged and indifferent would have been a travesty, and, of course, we'd be left without a story. Archer's struggle with new ideas that confront the only way old society's ever taught him how to live, is a very realistic account of these changes.
Despite sheer disappointment with the ending, and I'm very much open to your interpretation, as I had no idea what to make of Archer's decision to walk away from a meeting with the Countess after a 30-year absence, I really loved this novel.
So, let me just get straight to the ranting.
The second half of the novel quickly captures Archer's loss of whatever innocence he may possess as he assumes the "duty" and responsibilites of a male of his age. His marriage to May Welland being the first blow to his imagination and progressive habits. However fiery Archer may feel he still may be, and as much as he struggles to escape the life society has so neatly carved for him, he sinks deeper into his role as head of the household rather quickly. His attempts to win Olenska, and himself, over, are weak and fleeting. There are so many questions to ascertain amidst the drama. How much of a "new" man is Archer? Is the weakening of Archer's generation necessary for the production of his son's generation and the possibility of change it initiates?
Furthermore, the society, itself, is anything but innocent. Their insistence upon "saving face" is mostly absurd. While Beaufort continuously sleeps his way through numerous cities, it isn't until his bad business deals bust that he's decidely a disgusting creature in the sect. Meanwhile, his mistress, Fanny, is ostracized for the mere fact that she's involved in an affair. The double-standard appeal isn't really shocking; it's the way in which members of society are so pleasant in everyday interactions, sombre to the extreme, yet spit venom the moment it has been agreed they may do so. Descriptions of danty women, May especially, with clear blue eyes and clean, fresh skin, is such a sharp contrast to the nature of many of the "trusted" women in this little world. The society is so preoccupied with saving their family names and status, that their peers are merely the ones they were destined to interact with, regardless of whether or not they truly care for one another. It's such an enormous scene of repression. Yet, these characters hardly seem to notice that they really have no control over their own futures. Although, we only see the world through the eyes of Olenska and Archer, the reader is never sure if society members even recognize or care that they've no control.
I felt that the last chapter was a little rushed. Characters were quickly written in to fill the space of Archer and May's three children. Archer was seeing the world from new eyes, that much is clear, finally recognizing the naivete of his youth; yet, still questioning the decisions he made at that young age. We find that May has known all along of the love between Olenska and Archer, although the reader understands this early on. I've read arguments that suggest that May was relieved that Archer chooses duty over the love he could have had simply to save their names. As well as, the idea that the party thrown before Olenska leaves is one celebrating the relief of all involved, that the disgraced woman has finally gathered the sense to leave before causing further damage. The fact that May is more concerned with saving her family's name by asking Archer to remain with her is, both, very saddening, and very real in this circle. Furthermore, May in some way victorious, throws a large party honoring her cousin, only to tout that Archer will remain in his habit with her by his side.
There were so many topics to discuss in this novel that I feel this entry could span many pages, but I want your opinion, so feel free to rant and rave!
What did you enjoy most about this novel? What did you find least appealing?
How would you interpret Archer's refusal to see the Countess in the final scene?
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Thanks for participating; it's been a real treat reading together and sharing, gathering so many different perspectives along the way!