The Age of Innocence is a novel by Edith Wharton. Originally published in 1920, the book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1921.The story follows an upper class couple living in New York in the 1870's. Newland Archer is a lawyer who is engaged to May Welland. While he does love her, Newland ends up doubting his choice when he meets her cousin Countess Ellen Olenska. Though she has been living abroad in Europe, it is rumored that Ellen has returned to New York after leaving a bad marriage. The worldly Ellen is the exact opposite of the well-bred May. Newland soon becomes infatuated with her and begins questioning whether he should get married to May.In 1993, the book was adapted into a film. It was directed by Martin Scorsese and starred Michelle Pfeiffer, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Winona Ryder. Scorsese calls the film his most violent film. From a Certain Point of View, it certainly is.Needs More Love.
The Age of Innocence provides examples of:
Adaptational Attractiveness: In the movie, Ellen Olenska is played by Michelle Pfeiffer. However at several points in the book, she is described as unattractive, although the perception of her looks seems dependent on Newland Archer's feelings towards her—she is described as beautiful just as often.
Adaptation Dye-Job: In the book, the "perfect" May is repeatedly described as blonde and blue-eyed, but in the movie, she is played by the dark-haired Winona Ryder. Similarly, the family outcast Ellen is dark-haired, but played by the blonde Michelle Pfeiffer.
At the Opera Tonight: The film's opening scenes, where Ellen returns to New York society and she and Archer, happily engaged to May, meet. Later in the film, they meet at a play whose plot mirrors their situation. And towards the end, the now-married May and Newland attend. This is the most significant scene for several reasons—several years later, the situation is now completely reversed—Newland is suffering in his loveless marriage to May and longing for Ellen. Meanwhile, the heretofore clueless May is showing hints of her scheming—she seems to have deliberately chosen to wear her wedding dress. Although it's a tradition in Old New York society for brides to wear their dress during the first year of marriage, her real motive for wearing it is to remind Archer of his marriage vows.
The Baby Trap: When Newland tells May that he'd like to give up his law practice and travel the world (in reality, he's planning to pursue Ellen to Paris), May tells him that he can't "not unless you take me with you. That is, if the doctors will let me go, and I don't think they would. . .", thus revealing that she's pregnant.
Betty and Veronica: The love triangle between May (The Betty), Newland Archer, and Ellen (The Veronica). This is possibly even a Betty and Veronica Switch or at least a deconstruction, as it's Ellen who is far more suited to him, but ultimately it appears that both women love him very much.
Blatant Lies: Newland claims he has to go to Washington to argue a court case when in truth, he's planning to visit Ellen. However, when Ellen has to come to New York for a family emergency, Newland changes his plans, claiming that the case is postponed as one of the other lawyers told him so. However, May mentions having spoken with the lawyer in question, forcing Newland to fumble and come up with an even lamer excuse. It's painfully obvious—to both of them—that May not only knows Newland is lying, but the reason for his lie, yet she can't bring herself to confront him.
Broken Treasure: May wears her wedding dress to the opera (it's a tradition in Old New York for brides to do so during the first year of marriage) the night before Newland intends to consummate his relationship with Ellen. As they return home, it gets caught on the wheels of their carriage, leaving it torn and muddied—very symbolic of what's happening to their marriage.
Captain Ersatz: The Valley of Love community is a collectivist free-love community based on Oneida.
Christmas Cake: Newland's sister Janey, said to be nearing the age where "grey poplin and no attendants would be more appropriate" for her wedding, rather than the white gown and elaborate ceremonies meant for younger brides.
Color-Coded for Your Convenience: In the book, the "perfect" May is blonde, while "bad girl" Ellen is brunette, as well as frequently dressed in colors like red or pink. Also, the yellow roses Newland impulsively sends to Ellen—a bright splash of color—and a far more romantic flower—than the white lilies he sends to May.
Costume Porn: And how. Gorgeous, stunning, late 1800's dresses and suits galore.
Cultural Rebel: Most of New York's high society are superficial, with poor taste in art, culture and conversation and care mostly about gossip. Newland Archer reads English and French literature, collects Japanese prints and is highly knowledgeable. This leads to his love for Ellen, who represents his imaginative ideal(but who herself is fleeing the world he wants to be a part of, being less romantic than he is). In the end, his failure to break away or make the world around him adjust to his desires lets it being crushed.
Depraved Bisexual: Several snide comments imply that Count Olenski's infidelities included men as well as women.
Domestic Abuse: Aside from being unfaithful, it's hinted that Ellen's estranged husband Count Olenski was also abusive to her.
Double Standard: Played with. New York's high society shuns Ellen for leaving her husband, even as they condemn his behavior that led to this. Also, at least two characters who are unfaithful to their wives condemn another character for his infidelity, because his mistress isn't of the proper social class.
The Ghost: Ellen's husband, Count Olenski, who is frequently referred to but never seen. A few other characters as well—Annie Ring, etc.
Ellen herself, at the end, who is never seen again after the final dinner at Newland and May's, though she's often alluded to.
May also, aside from a few brief flashes in the montage covering the subsequent 20-something years afterwards. In fact, she's a literal example of this trope, as The Narrator informs us that she died at some point during this time.
Hidden Depths: May, who has quite a crafty nature hidden under her vapid exterior. And touchingly, was apparently the only one to truly realize the extent of Newland's love for Ellen and have compassion for him as he spent years pining away for her.
Hoist by His Own Petard: Frightened by his burgeoning feelings for Ellen, Newland asks May to accelerate their wedding plans. Not only does she refuse, she pinpoints the exact reason for his haste, asking if there's someone else and offering to break off the engagement if that's the case. He denies it and continues to press the issue. Just as Newland finally confesses his feelings to Ellen (who herself encouraged May to hasten things) and admits that he wants out of his impending marriage, they receive a telegram from May confirming that they wedding date has been advanced. The close-up of his hand crumpling the paper says it all.
I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: May suspects Newland has feelings for someone else (though she doesn't know it's Ellen) and offers to release him from their engagement. Ellen gets a familial version when she cuts all ties to Newland and returns to Europe, after May tells her she's pregnant.
Actually both the book and the film paint this as a final triumph by her to show her son that she was an understanding mother and loving wife.
Loving a Shadow: One of the reasons suggested to why at the end, Newland doesn't go up to see Ellen, aside from a sense of disappointment to how his life turned out to be, but another being his belief that, as the narrator says, "she had become the complete picture of all that he had missed."
Magnificent Bastard : Martin Scorsese expressed this as his opinion of May, believing that Newland, his sympathetic hero, keeps underestimating women around him and the one who seemed to be the most placid was the smartest of them all.
Mistaken for Cheating: A very close subversion. Newland and Ellen engage in a very intense emotional affair, but physically, it never goes beyond a few kisses. However, at the going-away dinner that he and May host for Ellen, Newland realizes that everyone present, including May, assumes that the relationship is physical, the one thing that they have either refrained from or been unable to achieve.
More Than Mind Control: In the coda, Newland discusses his relationship with Ellen to his son, who tells him that his mother had told him that she had asked him to give up the one thing he wanted most for the family.
Newland (terse): She never asked.
Essentially, Newland was in the end too good and moral to truly abandon his wife or actually commit infidelity in a way to hurt her, and all May had to do was manipulate his own conscience against him.
Obfuscating Stupidity: May comes across as vapid, clueless, and superficial, but as the story progresses, it's hinted that she's known all along about Newland's feelings for Ellen, and finally confirmed with the stunt she pulls to get rid of Ellen once and for all. The stunned look on Newland's face when she tells him she's pregnant—but admits that she told Ellen this without being 100% certain—tells you how vastly he underestimated her.
New York's high society in general. Newland is shocked to realize just how much everyone has conspired to separate him and Ellen, all without ever saying anything that implies that they're aware of their relationship.
Oh Crap: Essentially Newland's reaction when May tells him she's pregnant ". . .he gave a sick stare. . ."
Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: It's a lucky thing that Newland doesn't raise his voice often, because this often happens when he does.
Your Cheating Heart: The heart of the story is Ellen and Archer's emotional affair. The irony is that everyone in New York society, including his wife, believes the relationship is physical as well, the one things they have either refrained from or been unable to achieve. Meanwhile, we learn Ellen left her husband because he was unfaithful to her (it's implied his lovers included men as well as women) and that she herself fled into the arms of another man, while several other characters are revealed to have mistresses.