Wharton’s novels are disclosures of the pressures of society to exact compliance from its members. In The Age of Innocence, those members make choices that are within and/or beyond the strictures of early 20thC established, wealth New York society – the “old families” of Colonial origin.
Edith Newbold Jones Wharton’s narrative style is descriptive and rich. Like The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence is critical of the upper-class society of which she was a privileged member. Neither offers hope but the perpetual subordination of the human spirit to the expectations of Society.
As much as we may urge the unfortunate Lily Bart (The House of Mirth) to escape, her nobility of spirit rises far above the petty manners of her family and back-stabbing friends, a tragic heroine to surpass Anna Karenina.
Of Newland Archer (The Age of Innocence), we may wish him to discover his backbone but his love for Ellen Olenska is not sufficient to warrant the decimation of his place in Society. Ellen is the hero of this novel but she too capitulates to regain the comforts of wealth and place.