Context for The Age of Innocence (AO3)

  • Created by: lwilson23
  • Created on: 08-02-19 11:54

Wharton and New York Society

- the 1870s 'Old New York' in the novel imposed on its members set rules and expectations for practically everything: manners, fashions, behaviors, and even conversations. Those who breached the social code were punished, with exquisite politeness, by the other members. 

- Edith Wharton herself was born into the claustrophobic world of Old New York, with this first hand experience influencing her writing. The Gilded Age - shiny on surface but corrupt underneath. 

- the novel was written in 1920 when Wharton was at the age of 57, she had therefore experienced a large amount of profound social change. An 'obsession with national identity'.

- Wharton was born into an upper-class family and therefore experienced all that she describes in her novel. Much like Newland, she often felt constrained by the rigid social structure and expectations of people of her class. 

- she was also unhappily married at an early age to a man thirty years her senior, factors which  most likely massively influenced characters like Ellen Olenska. 

- being a writer - Wharton was often viewed with disdain by the fellow members of her class, who looked down upon the 'bohemian' lifestyles of artists and writers.  

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Views on Women in the Novel

- Once a woman lost her sexual purity, she was discredited in the eyes of society, much like Ellen Olenska in the novel. The Victorians strove for innocence, but never really achieved it.

- In addition to being sexually pure, a "true woman" was submissive and passive, and she recognized the need for the guidance and protection of men. The household was considered the proper domain of women in this period - The 'Angel in the House' ideal. (created by Coventry Patmore in his poem of the same name). 

- Ellen (and even Mrs Manson Mingott to some extent) can be stated as representing the 'New Woman' feminist ideal (coined by Charles Reade in his novel 'A Woman Hater') - as they defy convention - something which would be extremely difficult for anyone (particularly a woman) to do in the society of the novel. 

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