I finished this book last week for an online book club, and I’ve been trying to decide what exactly are my feelings about it now that I’m done. The novel covers the life of Newland Archer, a wealthy member of Old New York during its Golden Age. At a time where scandal was feared above all, Newland is torn between his fiancee and eventual society wife, May Welland, and her mysterious and unconventional cousin, Countess Olenska, who makes him question the mores and conventions of the society life in which he was raised.
I’ll admit that the book does not end the way I hoped or believed it would end. What has me torn is trying to determine whether the true ending is more or less romantic than my hopes. In addition, Newland struggles throughout the entire novel about his place in society and whether that society is wrong in its opinions and expectations of others. However, he struggles to a point and then fails to continue to fight those expectations. I feel let down by Newland as he eventually succumbs to the same society he was questioning. I’m trying to discover the character development that occurs, and I fear that there just wasn’t any. The way things were going, I believed that several characters were going to have epiphanies that would change their lives forever. However, nothing major changes and the same society continues.
I enjoyed the novel and found it an easy read. However, in my heart of hearts, I am disappointed with the ending. I had high hopes for Newland, that he would grow and evolve into so much more than society wanted him to be, and yet he doesn’t. On the plus side, I found Wharton’s descriptions of Old New York society to be absolutely luscious. I felt like I was sitting at the dinner table at times because the scenes were so clear and detailed. And while it would be nice to have the money, I’m not certain that era was for me. It’s great to be able speak my mind and not have to worry about being cut out of the family! In all, I would recommend it to others, if only because of the learning experience it brings about upper crust New York society in the 1870s. Wharton’s satire is fabulous and definitely worth the read.