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Age of Innocence, The

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: 110A Piccadilly to Nelson Algren Biography

a novel by Edith Wharton, published in 1920. It won the first Pulitzer Prize to be awarded to a woman and was dramatized in 1928 by Margaret Ayer Barnes. The young lawyer Newland Archer is about to announce his engagement to May Welland, a beautiful girl from a high society New York family of the 1870s. Although he loves her, he perceives her innocence as artificial. Before their marriage, Countess Ellen Olenska, May's cousin, arrives from Europe after a failed marriage to a debauched Polish count. Owing to social taboo, Ellen has not divorced him, and is shunned by her friends. However, May encourages Newland's support of Ellen, and through his friendship with her he discovers that she possesses the qualities that he sought but did not find in May. Despite his love for Ellen, Newland is forced into a convention-bound marriage to May. Upon learning of May's pregnancy, Ellen returns to Europe. After May's death, Newland visits Paris with his son, Dallas, but whilst now free to marry Ellen, prefers to retain her ‘as the composite vision of all that he had missed’.

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