CliffsNotes Wharton's The Age of Innocence

CliffsNotes Wharton's The Age of Innocence

CliffsNotes Wharton's The Age of Innocence

CliffsNotes Wharton's The Age of Innocence


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Inside you'll find valuable insights on Wharton's The Age of Innocence, including:

  • Brief overall synopsis
  • Chapter-by-chapter summaries
  • Clear explanations and analysis
  • Character map–who's who at a glance
  • Character analysis (Newland Archer, May Welland Archer, Countess Ellen Olenska, Mrs. Manson Mingott)
  • Concise discussion of major themes
  • Special essay on the book's themes, including personal freedom, values, and social codes
  • Review Q&As and quote IDs
  • Essay questions and practice projects
  • Glossaries of key words and terms


It is a January evening in the early 1870s at New York City’s fashionable Academy of Music—where the conservative, old rich families come to see and be seen. Faust is the opera and the theatregoers are watching the stage, but they are also observing the delicious dramas in the exclusive boxes of old New York’s First Families.

Newland Archer, young lawyer and man about town, arrives stylishly late and, like his friends, observes the box of old Mrs. Manson Mingott where Newland’s soon-to-be fiancée, May Welland, is sitting with family members. Newland considers with warmth and approval the virginal white of May’s dress, gloves, and flowers. His mind leaps to the intimacies of the honeymoon and he thoughtfully considers his role as husband in initiating her into the sexual pleasures of married life.

Newland is sitting with two other gentlemen of New York society: Lawrence Lefferts and Sillerton Jackson. Lefferts is an expert on social etiquette, while Jackson is the acknowledged source of information on family connections, characteristics, and scandals. Both gentlemen are staring in amazement at the Mingott box where an unknown woman has just entered and seated herself near Newland’s girlfriend. Her entrance causes Jackson to question the Mingott’s decision to allow her presence here among the elite of New York society.


Wharton’s first chapter sets the tone of irony and hypocrisy that delineates the fabric of her old New York, the 1870s setting of The Age of Innocence. In her first, richly detailed chapter, she introduces old New York’s social order, its code of conduct and superficial values, and the main characters that will interact within its boundaries.

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