Hello, friends! Wednesday marks the beginning of Book Club Classics with Edith Wharton’s novel The Age of Innocence. I thought it might be nice to have a bit of an introduction to the book, and I also have tons of random questions that I kept track of while reading the book, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. Oh, and there may be a little surprise at the end. I guess you’ll have to read and see for yourself!
First of all, a little background on the author herself, Edith Wharton. She was born in good old NYC in 1862, and traveled around Europe with her family until the end of the Civil War. Wharton was a bit of a feminist and wanted more from her education than woman typically received, so she took it into her own hands, reading from her father’s library whenever she could. She published her first two poems in the Atlantic Monthly when she was 16, then at age 23 married a man very much her senior, traveled the world, had an affair with a journalist, divorced her husband, and formed a lifelong friendship with one of my favorite authors, Henry James.
By the outbreak of World War I, Wharton was an expat living in France, and she became a bit of a superwoman with all of her efforts helping soldiers, refugees, and unemployed French women. She also wrote about her experiences on the front lines in France and working with the homeless, exposing the high society of youth to the struggles of the lower classes. And the French took notice, naming her a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (which certainly sounds like a pretty big deal)! She spent the rest of her life in France, finishing The Age of Innocence in 1920 and becoming the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the following year. Basically she was such a badass female author at a time when women writers were still not in vogue. She even wrote an autobiography three years before she died (and I completely believe it’s because she didn’t trust anyone else with her life’s story). Wharton is buried in Versailles, France, and if I had known that a month ago, I would have a pretty little picture to show here of her tombstone. I guess we’ll just have to make another trip to Versailles…
Wharton’s life very much mimicked the society that she portrayed in The Age of Innocence with winters in New York and summers in Newport. Also, the term “keeping up with the Joneses” is supposed to be based on her father’s family, so that’s a little crazy! I think you can definitely pick up on some of the issues Wharton had with her upbringing based on her writing, and I love that she gives a real anthropological sense of the times through her portrayal of 1870’s upper-class New York.
Now that we have a bit of an idea of Wharton’s life and potential influences behind writing The Age of Innocence, here are a ridiculous number of questions that I had when reading the novel. Answer some of them, answer none of them, take them, leave them, the decision is yours. If, however, you’re looking for some inspiration for our discussion on Wednesday, consider yourself inspired!
- What do you make of Wharton’s title, The Age of Innocence?
- Why do you think Wharton chose to write from the view of a male protagonist, knowing her feminist tendencies?
- What did/didn’t you like about Wharton’s style: imagery, narration, dialogue, etc.?
- What role did the van der Luydens play in Wharton’s novel?
- Do you think Wharton’s experiences as an expat/wartime experiences influenced the novel at all?
- Was Newland more naïve than he realized in regards to his relationship with Ellen?
- Did you personally identify with any of the characters?
- What did Newland want from his life, and did it really change during the novel?
- What did you think of the very sudden shift at the end of the novel? Were you surprised?
- Should Newland have entered the Parisian apartment?
Congratulations! You made it all the way to the end of this book club intro. Since you’re so awesome (and will most likely be joining me to discuss Age of Innocence on Wednesday), I want to know which classics you want to read in 2015.
Check out this SurveyMonkey to let me know how you would change our book club lineup for the year! Which classics have you always wanted to read?
Don’t forget to come back to the blog on Wednesday to link up your book club blog post, leave some comments on my discussion post, and join the Twitter conversation using #bookclubclassics! I can’t wait to start off my literary year with you all.