The Age of Innocence

Mortality and Immortality

New York Society, in Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence (1920), is paradoxically immortal and mortal. Like the Olympic pantheon of mythological Greek antiquity, New York Society cavorts and carouses, bickers and condemns while it feasts on ambrosia and canvas-backs. Newland Archer's sister is the gossipy Cassandra; his wife is the huntress Diana. And he, by all instances of the society around him, should be Diana's archer twin: Apollo. He, too, should be "immortal," that is, "like a god", "a deity", "never aging", "perfect", "alive although dead", "icy", "condemning" and "aloof." Surprisingly for Newland and the expectations of his society, after meeting Ellen Olenska he recognizes through the contrast between her and New York that he, like her, is different from the others in New York's pantheon. He, too, is "mortal," that is, "human", "aging", "imperfect", "feeling", "compassionate" and "warm". Once Catherine, the great matriarch of the pantheon, is able to fall from immortality and become a mortal, there is a possibility for Archer to leave the pantheon...

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