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The Age of Innocence Illustrated


The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton: Summary


"The Age of Innocence" is a novel by Edith Wharton, first published in 1920. Set in the 1870s, in upper-class New York City, the novel explores themes of societal expectations, love, and betrayal.


  • Newland Archer: The protagonist, a young, affluent lawyer.
  • May Welland: Newland's fiancée, embodies the traditional values.
  • Countess Ellen Olenska: May's cousin, challenges societal norms.

Plot Summary

  1. Engagement and Conflict: Newland Archer is engaged to May Welland. However, he becomes enamored with May's cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska.
  2. Ellen's Struggle: Ellen, who is considered scandalous due to her separation from her husband, seeks a divorce.
  3. Societal Pressures: The strictures of high society play a significant role, influencing decisions and relationships.
  4. Internal Turmoil: Newland is torn between his duty to May and his passion for Ellen.
  5. Resolution: The novel concludes with Newland choosing to uphold societal norms, marrying May but forever haunted by his feelings for Ellen.


  • Conformity vs. Individual Desires: Struggle between personal happiness and societal expectations.
  • Hypocrisy in High Society: The novel critiques the superficiality and rigidity of the upper class.
  • Illusion vs. Reality: Characters grapple with the disparity between their true desires and the roles they play in society.


"The Age of Innocence" is notable for its detailed depiction of New York society and its critique of the constraints placed on individuals by societal norms. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1921, making Wharton the first woman to win the award.