I’ll be honest. This wasn’t the first time I tried reading Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Maybe I was too young last time to understand that this is a subtle book in which all of the action comes between the lines. Only through reading the sentences for their implications can a reader feel the tremendous emotion lurking behind Wharton’s careful, pithy, witty language–itself a mask as much as the society Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska are confined by.
But there are some times when the curtain is dropped, the corset is untied, and the reader and Ellen and Newland all can breathe a deep quick breath of sweet truthful air. My favorite moment of these is when Newland is walking with Ellen. Their lives are hurtling towards inevitable and opposite directions, but still, they meet on this small island of a moment where they are together again. And he turns to her and he says this:
Lines like these stick with me. They run through my head at strange moments of the day. They remind me of the possibilities still alive in books. Because in these eight words, Wharton captures *love.* The love of two fictional characters, sure, but that’s not to say that it’s not a real love. It’s a love that exists only in stolen moments and in implications between the lines. When it is verbalized, it’s in short, small sentences like this one that practically tremble with everything Newland isn’t saying. But this is enough.
The Age of Innocence immerses readers into a world that is gone by the time Wharton is writing this book. Even she can’t help but infuse it with sepia-tinted nostalgia. It was a claustrophobic, phobia-ridden world, but it was one in which a love like this grew. As a reader sometimes I’m grateful for these horrid bygone societies because they made love stories like Newland and Ellen’s possible. A love so strong it barely can be verbalized–because if it were, the whole facade would tear at the seams.
For now, golden lines like this will do.