The Age of Innocence

Time Blurred: The Juxtaposition of Past and Future in Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence

The past permeates the lives of New York Society as portrayed by Edith Wharton in The Age of Innocence. Society appears to be an inherently conservative institution with extreme attention to ritual and tradition, evidenced by our introduction at the beginning of the novel to one character who can explain even the most intricate of Society family trees, and another who is the authority on "form" (7--9). Thus it appears that members of Society are conscious, if not explicitly so, of the past through their every ritual and tradition. Newland Archer, through his Harvard education in anthropology, continually makes references to pre-historic ritual with respect to Society: most notable are during his wedding (153pp) and engagement (59). The motif of the furs and feathers worn by the women and the use of words such as "clan" in the narration reinforces this focus on the past by comparing the current society to an ancient one. The future is also explicitly discussed: as an author of a historical novel, Wharton dangles her knowledge of Society's futures before them; often, characters will discuss technological innovations that they've heard speculation about.

This continual reference to time provokes the...

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