This book’s claim to fame is the 1921 Pulitzer price for Fiction making Edith Wharton the first woman author to receive this prestigious award.
Skeletal plot is that Newland Archer, the protagonist, is eagerly wooing May Welland, but gets distracted by May’s cousin – Ellen Olenska. It is a love triangle set in the upper class New York society in 1870s.
I like the way the book ends. But the story is predictable. This is the first time ever that I did not enjoy the way the book is written. This was such an unfamiliar feeling that for a long time I was puzzled about what was bothersome about it.
I felt that the author kept yo-yo-ing frequently from the main story to the home décor to the landscape gardening, going into the details, often times arbitrarily without furthering the main storyline.
The greatness of some authors is their ability to weave the circumstances and the story in a manner that you gradually come to understand the characters the way they want you to. But Edith Wharton just laid bare the soul of the characters, depriving us of any such imagination.
Having said that, there were good moments too. The introspective and contemplative dialogues were appealing and kept me engaged. For example:
“…the difference is that these young people take it for granted that they are going to get whatever they want and that we almost always took it for granted that we shouldn’t. Only I wonder – the thing one’s so certain of in advance, can it ever make one’s heart beat as wildly?”
“…there were moments when we felt as if he were being buried alive under his future…”
I have met people like May who are beautiful and guileless but predictable and disinterested about world in general. They find comfort getting into a rut, tend to see things as black and white, victory or loss, their way or not. The author has described this character pretty well-
“…he said to himself with a secret dismay that he would always know the thoughts behind it, that never in all the years to come, would she surprise him by an unexpected mood, by a new idea a weakness, a cruelty or an emotion. She had spent her petry and romance on their short courting; the function was exhausted because the need was past. Now she was simply ripening into a copy of her mother…”
“…he did not want May to have that kind of innocence, the innocence that seals the mind against imagination and the heart against experience…”
The depiction of the aristocratic New York society was interesting…rich people with boring lives who are caught up in a monotonous social cycle, with the highest excitement in their life being the scandalous incidents in someone else’s. But this story is not new.
I had great expectations from the book but was left with mixed emotions. I give it 3 out of 5