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MonkeyNotes Free Study Guide-The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

The action of the novel takes place primarily in the early 1870s in New York, but there is brief action in St. Augustine, Florida; Newport Beach, Rhode Island; Boston, Massachusetts; and Paris, France.

Aside from historical and geographical setting, it is importance to note that The Age of Innocence has a social setting that is both historical and geographical, but that also has its own unique classification. Social forces that seem to exist and even breathe independently of time and space govern the New York of the novel. People know what is expected of them and there are invisible boundaries of class and propriety that one must never cross. These social guidelines, which encompass matters of "family" and "form," define late nineteenth century New York as much as any other qualities. The love story between Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska would not be nearly as compelling were it not for the restrictive forces of the social setting that keep them apart and force them to make their ultimate sacrifices in the name of family and society.

LIST OF CHARACTERS

Major Characters

Newland Archer

A wealthy young man torn between his love for a woman acceptable by the social conventions of his time and his passion for a woman who is not. He begins the novel content with his role in society but undergoes a drastic change in which he longs to be free from tradition. Ultimately, he sacrifices his passion and proves to be a good citizen and a faithful husband to his conventional wife.


May Welland

The young woman whom Newland Archer becomes engaged to in the first scene. She is a product of the social setting, a young girl raised to be perfectly innocent in order for her husband to teach and train her to suit his wishes. She is completely happy living her life within this social setting and maintains her position throughout the novel.

Ellen Mingott, the Countess Olenska

A married woman who returns to New York after living abroad. She has left her husband, the Count, because of his abuse. New York society disapproves of her because she has left her husband, because she supposedly had an affair with another man, and because she lives her life unconventionally. She is not acquainted with the rigid rules of the New York elite. She is in love with Newland Archer, but refuses to have an affair with him out of a sense of honor.

Minor Characters

Mrs. Manson Mingott

May's grandmother, an obese woman who is indulgent with her grandchildren. She has a tendency to admire unconventionality, but she still abides by the strict letter of social form.

Mrs. Lovell Mingott

The daughter-in-law of Mrs. Manson Mingott.

Mrs. Augusta Welland

Mrs. Lovell Mingott's daughter and May Welland's mother.

Lawrence Lefferts

A young man of New York society who is "the foremost authority on 'form' in New York."

Sillerton Jackson

An older man of New York who is "a great authority on 'family'" and who knows all the scandals of all the old families.

Mrs. Julius Beaufort

A woman who belongs to "one of America's most honored families." She married a man of questionable reputation who was also quite wealthy. She became one of the most admired social hostesses of New York. Most members of the New York social elite frown on her marriage with an outsider but tolerate it fairly well.

Julius Beaufort

An Englishman who came to America and became extremely important in New York financial circles, despite his questionable reputation. He is not faithful to his wife. His bank fails as a result of his illegal stock market speculations and he ruins several of the oldest New York families.

Mrs. Adeline Archer

Newland Archer's mother.

Mrs. Lemuel Struthers

The widow of the owner of Struthers' Shoe-polish. She is invited to the Beauforts' ball at the opening of the novel, signaling her acceptance into New York society despite the fact that she is an outsider.

Miss Sophy Jackson

Sister to Sillerton Jackson. She collects minor gossip in society.

Janey Archer

Newland Archer's sister.

Mrs. Thorely Rushworth

The married woman with whom Newland Archer conducted an affair for two years.

Medora Manson

Ellen Olenska's aunt, who raised her after her parents died. She is the daughter of Mrs. Manson Mingott.

Mrs. Gertrude Lefferts

The wife of Lawrence Lefferts. She has been "formed so completely to her husband's convenience" that she tells people about how strict he is and blushes when she hears of other men having extramarital affairs, all the while that her husband conducts conspicuous and frequent love affairs with other women.

The van der Luydens

One of the three New York families who comprise its highest "aristocracy." Of them, Mr. and Mrs. Henry van der Luyden are represented in the novel. Mrs. van der Luyden is cousin to Mrs. Archer.

Miss Fanny Ring

Julius Beaufort's mistress.

Mr. Letterblair

One of the partners in the law firm for which Newland Archer works.

Ned Winsett

A writer who works as a journalist. He is a long- time acquaintance of Newland Archer.

Dr. Agathon Carver

Founder of the Valley of Love Community. Medora Manson momentarily entertains the idea of marrying him.

Mrs. Carfry and Miss Harle

Two Englishwomen who are sisters. They befriend Mrs. Archer and Janey Archer when the latter two are visiting Europe. Newland and May Archer visit them in London while on their honeymoon trip.

Monsieur Riviere

A French tutor and secretary. He was secretary to Count Olenska and helped the Countess Olenska escape her husband.

The Blenkers

A family with whom Ellen Olenska and Aunt Medora Manson stay while in Newport.

Dallas Archer

Newland and May Archer's first son. He has a part in the last chapter of the novel.

Fanny Beaufort

Dallas Archer's fiancée and daughter of Julius and Fanny Beaufort.

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