The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

“The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend!”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 304 pages.
Read from August 31, 2018 to September 7, 2018.

Winner of the Pulitzer prize in 1921, Wharton’s talent has continued to be celebrated with her widely cultivated novels. I first read Wharton when I was in university with The House of Mirth, a book I did not expect to like but became enthralled with the writing style and characters.  While many of Wharton’s books are about unhappy marriages, what continues to make them so popular is Wharton’s fantastic prose as well as an in-depth analysis and commentary on women in society.

Newland Archer, a man living in high-class society New York in the 1870s, has recently become happily engaged. May Welland is well-suited to him and the two of them appear to be the perfect match. However, Newland’s whole foundation is shaken as he makes the acquaintance of May’s curious and beautiful cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska. Ellen has become the scandalous talk of the town as she has abandoned her very wealthy husband in Europe. In all appearances, she seems to be attempting to walk away from a perfectly matched marriage that has made her a Countess and very wealthy. However, she is willing to sacrifice it all. Newland is entreated by May to be kind to Ellen and to make her feel comfortable in New York as well as advising her legally, that she should not file for divorce or risk losing everything. Headstrong, Ellen does not seem to care for the societal rules in New York and brushes them off as having been raised with European customs. Newland soon learns that Ellen has her own set of ideals and above all else, yearns to be free.

“Women ought to be free – as free as we are,’ he declared, making a discovery of which he was too irritated to measure the terrific consequences.”

Without meaning to, Newland falls hard for Ellen as he begins to question his own feelings for May, his own identity, as well as the basis and cultural rules of the society he lives in.

Women wanting to be free, it is that very theme that keeps women, no matter what the ear, coming back to books like this. While things may have changed and have improved for women since Wharton’s era, many men and women, still feel trapped by certain aspects of society and by what is expected of them. Society is so prominent in this book it is the antagonist. It is a character in and of itself. Wharton does a phenomenal job of drawing you into this superficial life and then shatters it for you like she does for Newland’s. Ellen shows Newland the other side of society, what its like when you don’t fit it and once that facade is broken there isn’t any going back. The characters and their inner dilemmas stay with you long after you have finished their story. This is truly a beautiful book and if anything, should be read and marvelled for its prose.

“He had built up within himself a kind of sanctuary in which she throned among his secret thoughts and longings. Little by little it became the scene of his real life, of his only rational activities; thither he brought the books he read, the ideas and feelings which nourished him, his judgments and his visions. Outside it, in the scene of his actual life, he moved with a growing sense of unreality and insufficiency, blundering against familiar prejudices and traditional points of view as an absent-minded man goes on bumping into the furniture of his own room.”

I would recommend this book for anyone who has ever wanted to read Wharton and doesn’t know where to start, prose-lovers, classics-lovers, romance lovers and historical fiction lovers.

 

The Beautiful and the Damned by Scott Fitzgerald

Two young, immature, wealthy and unemployed people living in the Jazz Era of excess get married. The drink a lot and party hard because YOLO!

3/5 stars.
Paperback,  364 pages.
Read from September 18, 2017 to October 3, 2017.

Two young, immature, wealthy and unemployed people living in the Jazz Era of excess get married. The drink a lot and party hard because YOLO!

Bricktops_Midnight.gifThey start to run out of money and lose an inheritance. They realize they are pretty shallow people in a shallow marriage and are not able to cope and do what is necessary to get by, you know, like keep a job. Money saves them… The end.

The redeeming quality of this book is that the writing quality is exceptional but the characters are of an unrelatable timeframe. In summary, while the novel is not what I would call timeless, Fitzgerald is not untalented. Still worth reading? Yes, if you need a literary historical window into the Jazz Era, Fitzgerald’s works are the way to go.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

“Dear old world’, she murmured, ‘you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 333 pages.
Read from June 13, 2017 to June 19, 2017.

Don’t ask me how I did not manage to read this book when I was a child. Most Canadian girls have read this yet some how it alluded me. However, I am glad I read this book as an adult as I do not think I would have appreciated it in my youth.

Anne’s young life has been a trying one. She has spent the last few years in an orphanage after both of her parents passed away. Despite the fact that they specifically wanted a boy, Anne is temporarily taken in by Matthew and Marilla Cuthburt who live in the Green Gables house on Prince Edward Island. Anne must then convince the couple that she is worth keeping. The problem being that Anne is wildly imaginative, talkative, and has a temper that is as fiery as her flame-red hair. Matthew instantly takes a liking Anne, despite him normally being shy and reserved, but Marilla however, will take more convincing. Anne wants nothing more than to be loved after feeling unwanted and abandoned for so long but can she still be herself and convince the Cuthburt’s that she worthy of their home?

“I’ve just been imagining that it was really me you wanted after all and that I was to stay here for ever and ever. It was a great comfort while it lasted. But the worst of imagining things is that the time comes when you have to stop and that hurts.”

Anne has a wonderful imagination. That was by far my favourite aspect of the book, however I found Anne to be so damn dramatic that it was borderline annoying. While I appreciate how brave and ballsy she can be at times, which I would have adored in my youth, her dramatics would have also likely put me off the book. For example:

  • “I can’t cheer up — I don’t want to cheer up. It’s nicer to be miserable!”
  • “I can’t. I’m in the depths of despair. Can you eat when
    you are in the depths of despair?”

However, you have to give it to Anne, she is unique through and through and her story is fun and adventurous. Montgomery’s writing style is lovely as well. She mixes chapters that have a third person narrator to direct first person accounts from Anne’s diary (spelling mistakes and all). It is easy to see how this book became so acclaimed and how it wormed its way into the hearts of so many readers.

While I enjoyed the book and all of Anne’s little adventures, I do not feel inclined to read the rest of the book in the trilogy as I did not connect with Anne’s character as much as I was hoping to. However, the Canadian setting was gorgeously depicted and I can’t fault any details of the plot line as the book kept me highly engaged. Overall I would recommend this book for any young girl of reading age or for any Canadian who has yet to read this timeless classic.