Published in 1920, The Age of Innocence was Edith Wharton’s twelfth novel and the one which would win her the Pulitzer Prize in 1921; the first woman to do so. This [below left] is the American first edition, published by D Appleton.
It is said the first choice of the Pulitzer judges was Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, which was rejected on ‘political grounds’. Wharton’s story first appeared in 1920 in the magazine Pictorial Review, serialised in four parts, then published in book form in the USA by D Appleton.
It is believed the title of the novel was taken from the painting by Joshua Reynolds [above] which was much reproduced in the late 18th century and came to represent the commercial face of childhood.
The current edition by Wordsworth Classics [above] dates from 1994.
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Set in 1870s upper class New York society, The Age of Innocence was set around the time of Wharton’s own birth. She wrote the book had allowed her to find “a momentary escape in going back to my childish memories of a long-vanished America… it was growing more and more evident that the world I had grown up in and been formed by had been destroyed in 1914.”
Gentleman lawyer Newland Archer is due to marry the shy and beautiful May Welland until he encounters May’s cousin. The exotic Countess Ellen Olenska pays no court to society’s fastidious rules and, scandalously, is separated from her husband, a Polish count. To avoid scandal, Ellen is advised to live separately from her husband rather than pursue divorce. Newland tries to forget Ella and marries May but their marriage is loveless. Newland and Ellen meet again and as Newland falls in love with Ellen his behaviour breaks the rules of accepted behaviour. When he finally decides to follow Ellen to Europe, May announces she is pregnant.
The 1993 film [above] starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Newland Archer, Michelle Pfeiffer as the Countess Olenska and Winona Ryder as May Welland, was directed by Martin Scorsese. Watch the trailer.
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A 1934 film [above] with the same title took inspiration from the Wharton novel but set the action two generations later. Dallas Archer has fallen in love with a married woman, to the displeasure of all his family except his grandfather Newland Archer. And in 1924, a black and white film of The Age of Innocence [below] starred Elliott Dexter as Newland.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
First Edition THE AGE OF INNOCENCE by Edith Wharton #oldbooks #bookcovers https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4aX via @SandraDanby