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The Age of Innocence

From Academic Kids

The Age of Innocence is a 1920 novel by Edith Wharton. The work won a Pulitzer Prize in fiction that same year.

The novel is set in the middle and upper classes of 1870s Old New York. Newland Archer, a lawyer set to enter into a marriage with the naÔve but beautiful May Welland, must re-consider his choice with the intrusion of recently divorced Countless Ellen Olenska, May's cousin. Ellen has returned to New York because she is trying to separate herself from a bad marriage. Newland is at first confused and then intrigued by Ellen, while he becomes more and more disillusioned with May, who is seen as the perfect product of Old New York society. When Ellen wants to divorce her husband, Newland convinces her otherwise and realizes how much he cares for her. He begs May to push up their wedding date but she refuses at first. He then admits to Ellen that he loves her and receives a telegram pushing up his wedding date.

Newland and May are married in the second part of the novel and Newland tried to forget about Ellen but sees her while he and May are in Newport. Ellen agrees that she will stay in America if they do not consummate their relationship. Newland soon discovers that Ellenís husband wished she would return to him and she has refused. Ellen comes to New York to care for her sick grandmother and agrees to consummate her relationship with Newland. Suddenly, she decides to return to Europe inexplicably. May and Newland throw a farewell party for her and May tells Newland that she is pregnant and told Ellen so a few days before. Twenty-five years pass and Newland and his son are in Paris after Mayís death. They arrange to meet Ellen in her Paris apartment but Newland changes his mind at the last minute, happy to live with his memories.


A 1993 movie adaptation was directed by Martin Scorsese and starred Winona Ryder, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daniel Day-Lewis, Richard E. Grant and Miriam Margolyes. Winona Ryder won a Golden Globe for her protrayal of May Welland Archer and the movie won an Oscar for costume design.

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