a man divided has no choice but stand

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.

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6 Responses to a man divided has no choice but stand

  1. Trevor says:

    This was my first Wharton and it immediately became a book I’d use to judge others. It’s an ugly attribute to have, I know, but when someone says they hated this book, that it was boring, I realized immediately that there was little point to continuing a relationship, literary or otherwise, with that person. Thankfully, this has never sullied a relationship with a loved one!

  2. Colleen says:

    Trevor: Well said.

    Kevin: I love this book and you’ve done it tantalizing justice.

  3. Fiona Bell says:

    So glad your reading again! I love that this is a book that Trevor uses as a yard stick. I have to admit that I do that in my head with a range of things that I love, when people say things like that they hate subtitled movies, that Shakespeare is boring and that poetry is a waste of time, then I start ticking off on my list reasons why we perhaps should not be friends. I am a bad person, but I have never actually ended a friendship over it; however it may change my desire to invite them to dinner.

  4. My favorite movie of all time is in English but you actually have to watch it with sub-titles because the langague of the sub-culture is so bloody difficult to follow. One word: Brick. Two words: Great movie. I have spoken. That is all. Cheers, K

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