By making Newland Archer’s age at the end of The Age of Innocence (1920) the same as hers at the time of writing, Edith Wharton clearly urges a comparison between herself and her protagonist. Pursuing this comparison, I argue that what Wharton shares significantly with Archer is neither character nor biography, but rather a particular situation: that of outliving the world that had formed her. Wharton, in this novel, explores the shape and consequences of this distinctly modern experience of historical dislocation and seeks to come to terms with her own belatedness as a novelist of manners. The Age of Innocence, I further claim, represents Wharton’s solution to the central impasse facing the realist tradition in the post-Nietzschean, post-WWI intellectual climate. Her last major artistic achievement, the novel also stands as her most self-conscious and ironic work.


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pp. 37-51
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