I chose to read this book because a) its been sitting on my shelf for years and b) for the Decades and Book Awards challenges. There were some parts of the plot that I really liked, but mostly it was enjoyable reading about the social obligations of New York’s uppercrust in the late 1800s. But overall, I was a little disappointed in the actual story. Blah!
The story follows Newland Archer who is engaged to May, a beautiful and naive young woman; both Newland and May are members of New York’s upper class where strict social protocol dictates much of their lives. Everything is going well for Newland and May and their engagement, but the arrival of Ellen, May’s intriguing cousin who is recently separated from her European husband, shakes up Newland’s emotions. Ellen is everything that May is not–particularly “free”–and Newland finds himself falling for her. The remainder of the story deals with whether Newland will settle for a safe and predictable life with May or leave her to be with Ellen.
There were a few parts of the book that I found really confusing–it seemed as though Wharton was more subtle in discussing some of the scandals that occurred in the book and because the social conventions of the 1870s are lost on me I didn’t always quite follow what was going on. This was a pitfall of the book for me. What I missed I was able to supplement with secondary reading, but too much was lost in “translation”. I would recommend the book for a study of social conventions, but that is really the only part of this book that truly appealed to me.