The Big Read Blog (Archive)


October 9, 2008
Washington, DC

At center of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence is Newland Archer, a prototypical late-19th?century New York City lawyer. He must choose between two ways of life, symbolized by May and her cousin Ellen. Archer's feelings toward the two women are deftly sketched by Wharton in the following passages.

On May . . .

?His eye lit on a cluster of yellow roses. He had never seen any as sun-golden before, and his first impulse was to send them to May instead of the lilies. But they did not look like her?there was something too rich, too strong, in their fiery beauty.?

On Ellen . . .

"He was not sure that he wanted to see the Countess Olenska again...He simply felt that if he could carry away the vision of the spot of earth she walked on, and the way the sky and sea enclosed it, the rest of the world might seem less empty."

In this NEA Literary Moment, writer P.J. O'Rourke comments on how Newland Archer helps to make The Age of Innocence such a compelling read.