Questioning The Age of Innocence

“The Victory of Maize” original acrylic abstract, sold at auction to benefit


The Age of Innocence


  1. What does it mean to be innocent?  Who in the book is innocent?


  1. Is innocence something to be valued according in this story?  If innocence stands in contrast to “worldliness” what kinds of “worldliness” does Archer value and what kinds does he reject?


  1. Contrast the ways Archer describes May before he sees Ellen, during the engagement, after marriage and through the eyes of his children.  Is May a static or dynamic character?


  1. Edith Wharton was probably the most privileged American novelist, yet she criticized the society she came out of, how do her criticisms succeed?  How do they fail?


  1. Would Archer and Ellen have been happy if they had married?  If they had run away to a far country?  If Ellen had come to Archer once and then run back to Europe?


  1. What motivated Archer’s decisions in the book?  Did his motivations change as the story progressed?  Why or why not?


  1. Is Archer’s final action (or inaction) consistent with his character?  Does it change the interpretation of his love for Ellen or May?


  1. Do you think any characters from the novel reveal Wharton’s own character?


  1. In the novel, how is America portrayed differently than Europe?  Why do these differences exist?  After reading this book, why do you think Edith Wharton decided to leave America and live in Europe?


  1. Referencing the discussion of the rejection of “people who write” by members of society, why does Archer believe it to be important for these two groups to mix?  What are the dangers if they do not?

One comment

  1. “People on the margins see some things more clearly than do those privileged to live at the center. When the elite and the powerful silence the voices of outsiders, culture hardens into convention. Any secular reader who wishes Catholic voices away unknowingly furthers the narrowing and standardization of American letters.” Dana Gioia, from his essay “The Catholic Writer Today,” published in First Things.

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