This was the first book I’ve read from Edith Wharton and it was better than I was expecting. The images of 1870’s New York are rich and chilling and it’s central theme so relevant and relatable.
Newland Archer aches with the constraints of his time and the absurdity and hypocrisy of the society in which he lives. He longs to break free and yet ultimately lives a life of quiet remorse. It struck me just how little has changed in that regard. Most people still fall into a conventional life simply because it doesn’t occur to them not to. You know that image of standing in the middle of the crowded room screaming at the top of your lungs and no one even looks up? That’s Newland Archer. That’s a lot of people; the sleepwalking majority. He shivered a little, remembering some of the new ideas in his scientific books, and the much cited instance of the Kentucky cave-fish, which had ceased to develop eyes because they had no use for them. What if, when he had bidden May Welland to open hers, they could only look out blankly at blankness?
And by gosh this book is funny. It was one of the great livery-stableman’s most masterly intuitions to have discovered that Americans want to get away from amusement even more quickly than they want to get to it. Ever been stuck in a mob trying to exit a movie theater, or worse, a plane?
And oh, the maddening denial, one of my favorite themes in books. The frantic desperate clinging to airs. It did not hurt him half as much to tell May an untruth as to see her trying to pretend that she had not detected him.
And love. Love. That once in a lifetime but we couldn’t be together because of circumstances love. Each time you happen to me all over again.