In The Age of Innocence, none of the characters unexpectedly dies or suffers massive bodily trauma. There’s no self-slaughter or death by way of accidental overdose. There’s no muffled gunshot against the temple. No wreckage after a giddy sled ride. Instead, we’re presented with a spiritual death, or the loss of an opportunity or a potential to be one’s self entire.
Meet Newland Archer.
He is a perplexed man. He is sincerely yet sedately in love with his wife, a simple, conventional, and unimaginative woman. Newland is also passionately in love with his wife’s cousin, the exotically named Countess Olenska. She is the antipode of her highly traditional and staid cousin.
What makes Newland’s conflict such a fascinating study is that he is largely the cause of his own troubles. Sure, the habits and manners of his social tribe are ranged against him. But he has many opportunities to free himself from a passionless marriage. He doesn’t because he’s a slave to the very conventions that he has the imagination to vehemently criticize. He is a profoundly divided man who loves two women, and is unable to summon the courage to swim against the tide of fashion and respectability.
The result is a novel whose ending is as poignantly stifled as the beginning of Love in the Time of Cholera is passionately effusive.
And hopefully that’s enough to interest you in the book.