The return of the beautiful Countess Olenska into the rigidly conventional society of New York sends reverberations throughout the upper reaches of society. Newland Archer, an eligible young man of the establishment is about to announce his engagement to May Welland, a pretty ingenue, when May's cousin, Countess Olenska, is introduced into their circle. The Countess brings with her an aura of European sophistication and a hint of scandal, having left her husband and claimed her independence. Her sorrowful eyes, her tragic worldliness and her air of unapproachability attract the sensitive Newland and, almost against their will, a passionate bond develops between them. But Archer's life has no place for passion and, with society on the side of May and all she stands for, he finds himself drawn into a bitter conflict between love and duty.
The Vintage paperback of Hermione Lee's celebrated biography of Edith Wharton is published to tie-in with the publication of the Vintage Classics edition of The Age of Innocence
"America's greatest woman novelist" Sunday Times "I love virtually all of Edith Wharton, but this one's my favourite... I admire her prose style, which is lucid, intelligent, and artful rather than arty; she is eloquent but never fussy, and always clear. She never seems to be writing well to show off. As for The Age of Innocence, it's a poignant story that, typically for Wharton, illustrates the bind women found themselves in when trapped hazily between a demeaning if relaxing servitude and real if frightening independence, and that both sexes find themselves in when trapped between the demands of morality and the demands of the heart. The novel is romantic but not sentimental, and I'm a sucker for unhappy endings" -- Lionel Shriver "There is no woman in American literature as fascinating as the doomed Madame Olenska... Traditionally, Henry James has always been placed slightly higher up the slope of Parnassus than Edith Wharton. But now that the prejudice against the female writer is on the wane, they look to be exactly what they are: giants, equals, the tutelary and benign gods of our American literature" -- Gore Vidal "Will writers ever recover that peculiar blend of security and alertness which characterizes Mrs. Wharton and her tradition?" -- E. M. Forster "Wharton's dazzling skills as a stylist, creator of character, ironical observer and unveiler of passionate, thwarted emotions have earned her a devoted following" -- Hermione Lee Sunday Times
Edith Wharton was born on 24 January 1862 in New York. She was educated in both America and Europe. In 1885 she married Edward Robbins Wharton. In 1899 she published her first work, a collection of stories called The Greater Inclination. In 1900 she published her first novel, The Touchstone. She wrote many other works including travel writing, home decoration manuals, short stories and her famous novels The House of Mirth (1905), Ethan Frome (1911), The Custom of the Country (1913) and The Age of Innocence (1920). She lived in France from 1907. She was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1916 for her work helping refugees there during the war. Edith Wharton died on 11 August 1937.