Age of Innocence Summary
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton is a two-part book that chronicles the life and love of Newland Archer and May Welland, two New York socialites. May’s cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska, has left her husband in Poland and has come to New York to be with her family. Despite Newland and May announcing their engagement at the time of Ellen’s arrival, the gossip surrounding her has left them in a precarious position. Newland begins to spend time with Ellen, hoping to convince her to refrain from divorcing her husband. He finds her intriguing, a sharp comparison to his fiancée, and begins falling in love with her. He travels to Florida to remove any temptation and asks May to extend their engagement. When she tells him that he can have his freedom if he is in love with someone else, Newland is moved by her kindness and returns home, despite proclaiming his love for Ellen.
The second book chronicles the marriage of the young couple; a year later, they are in the midst of their domestic life in a wealthy part of New York. Ellen has since left for Washington, D.C., followed there by Newland after he lied to his wife. Ellen, about to leave the country, promises to stay for Newland as long as they do not have an affair; she does not want to hurt her cousin. He persists for some time, and Ellen ultimate concedes, agreeing to have a one-time tryst with him in the future. Newland prepares to tell May the truth about his feelings, but is stopped when she tells him of her pregnancy and Ellen’s impending departure for Europe. He soon realizes his future with his wife is set in stone. Time passes, and the May and Newland have been married for some time; they have adult children named Dallas and Mary. The now-widowed Newland travels with his son to Paris on a business trip where the two are invited to dinner with Ellen. As they arrive, Newland tells his son to go upstairs to see her without him; he wants their relationship to exist just as it is in his memory, pure and innocent and full of love and adoration.