Ellen Olenska is one of the splendid women of American fiction—alluring, conflicted, vulnerable, blithely and touchingly truthful—and we see her entirely through his eyes, in a few hurried encounters; she speaks a sibylline modicum of words in the course of the novel.
A story about time and morals, delicately poised between a feeling that its abstinences were a horrible waste of spirit and a feeling that they represented a fineness of judgment since lost to the world.
…Archer’s predicament echoes passages in Wharton’s autobiography, in which she notes the divergence between the social life she was obliged by her upbringing to conduct, and her secret creative life.
The particularly stone-hearted might close the final pages of The Age of Innocence and comment on its sociological or historical relevance. But the rest of us are still languishing, unsatisfied, longing for Newland Archer to follow his son up to Ellen’s Parisien apartment.— Brian Flanagan