The Age of Innocence (1920) is a novel by Edith Wharton, which won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize. The story is set in upper-class New York City in the 1870s.
In 1920, The Age of Innocence was published twice; first in four parts, July – October, in the Pictorial Review magazine, and then by D. Appleton and Company as a book in New York and in London.
The book was warmly received; the Times Book Review considered it "a brilliant panorama of New York's 45 years ago. The novel is in demand mostly at public libraries and a best seller in the bookstores." In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Age of Innocence 58th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. In 2011, New York Magazine critic Sam Anderson named it "the single greatest New York novel."
The Age of Innocence centers on an upper-class couple's impending marriage, and the introduction of a woman plagued by scandal whose presence threatens their happiness. Though the novel questions the assumptions and morals of 1870s' New York society, it never devolves into an outright condemnation of the institution. In fact, Wharton considered this novel an "apology" for her earlier, more brutal and critical novel, The House of Mirth. Not to be overlooked is Wharton's attention to detailing the charms and customs of the upper caste. The novel is lauded for its accurate portrayal of how the 19th-century East Coast American upper class lived, and this, combined with the social tragedy, earned Wharton a Pulitzer Prize — the first Pulitzer awarded to a woman. Edith Wharton was 58 years old at publication; she lived in that world, and saw it change dramatically by the end of World War I. The title is an ironic comment on the polished outward manners of New York society, when compared to its inward machinations.
Edith Wharton, born Edith Newbold Jones (January 24, 1862 – August 11, 1937), was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, short story writer, and designer.
Wharton was born to George Frederic Jones and Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander in New York City. She had two brothers, Frederic Rhinelander and Henry Edward. The saying "Keeping up with the Joneses" is said to refer to her father's family. She shared a lifelong friendship with her Rhinelander niece, landscape architect Beatrix Farrand of Reef Point in Bar Harbor, Maine, and often traveled with Henry James in Europe. Wharton combined her insider's view of America's privileged classes with a brilliant, natural wit to write humorous, incisive novels and short stories of social and psychological insight. She was well acquainted with many of her era's other literary and public figures, including Henry James and Theodore Roosevelt.
In 1885, at 23 years of age, she married Edward (Teddy) Robbins Wharton, who was 12 years her senior. From a well-established Boston family, he was a sportsman and a gentleman of her social class and shared her love of travel, although they had little in common intellectually From the late 1880s until 1902, he suffered acute depression, and the couple ceased their extensive travel. At that time his depression manifested as a more serious disorder, after which they lived almost exclusively at The Mount, their estate designed by Edith Wharton. In 1908 her husband's mental state was determined to be incurable and she divorced him in 1913. In 1908 she began an affair with Morton Fullerton, a journalist for The Times, in whom she found an intellectual partner.
In addition to novels, Wharton wrote at least 85 short stories. She was also a garden designer, interior designer and taste-maker of her time. She wrote several design books, including her first published work, The Decoration of Houses of 1897, co-authored by Ogden Codman. Another is the generously illustrated Italian Villas and Their Gardens of 1904.
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