'The Age of Innocence' Quotes

Edith Wharton's Famous Novel

The Age of Innocence is one of the most famous novels by Edith Wharton. Published in 1920, the book became a bestseller and was awarded the National Book Award in 1921. The novel centers around the lives of Newland Archer, May Welland, and Ellen Mingott, the Countess Olenska. What does society expect? How does the individual function in the community? Read these quotes from The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton.
  • "The persons of their world lived in an atmosphere of faint implications and pale delicacies, and the fact that he and she understood each other without a word seemed to the young man to bring them nearer than any explanation would have done."
    - Book 1, Chapter 2, The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

  • "'Women ought to be free - as free as we are,' he declared, making a discovery of which he was too irritated to measure the terrific consequences."
    - Book 1, Chapter 5, The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

  • "That terrifying product of the social system he belonged to and believed in, the young girl who knew nothing and expected everything, looked back at him like a stranger through May Welland's familiar features; and once more it was borne in on him that marriage was not the safe anchorage he had been taught to think, but a voyage on uncharted seas."
    - Book One, Chapter 6, The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

  • "In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs; as when Mrs Welland, who knew exactly why Archer had pressed her to announced her daughter's engagement at the Beaufort ball (and had indeed expected him to do no less), yet felt obliged to simulate reluctance, and the air of having her hand forced, quite as, in the books on Primitive Man that people of advanced culture were beginning to read, the savage bride is dragged with shrieks from her parents' tent."
    - Book One, Chapter 6, The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

  • "Being here is like--like--being taken on a holiday when one has been a good little girl and done all one's lessons."
    - Book One, Chapter 9, The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

  • "It would presently be his task to take the bandage from this young woman's eyes, and bid her look forth on the world. But how many generations of the women who had gone to her making had descended bandaged to the family vault? He shivered a little, remembering some of the new ideas in his scientific books, and the much-cited instance of the Kentucky cave-fish, which had ceased to develop eyes because they had no use for them. What if, when he had bidden May Welland to open hers, they could only look out blankly at blankness?"
    - Book One, Chapter 10, The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

  • "The affair, in short, had been of the kind that most of the young men of his age had been through, and emerged from with calm consciences and an undisturbed belief in the abysmal distinction between the woman one loved and respected and those one enjoyed--and pitied. In this view they were sedulously abetted by their mothers, aunts and other elderly female relatives, who all shared Mrs Archer's belief that when 'such things happened' it was undoubtedly foolish of the man, but somehow always criminal of the woman."
    - Book 1, Chapter 11, The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

  • "His whole future seemed suddenly to be unrolled before him; and passing down its endless emptiness he saw the dwindling figure of a man to whom nothing was ever to happen."
    - Book 1, Chapter 22, The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

  • "It seems stupid to have discovered America only to make it into a copy of another country."
    - Book 2, Chapter 24, The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

  • "Oh, my dear - where is that country? Have you ever been there?"
    - Book 2, Chapter 29, The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

  • "In the rotation of crops there was a recognised season for wild oats; but they were not to be sown more than once."
    - Book 2, Chapter 31, The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

  • "There were certain things that had to be done, and if done at all, done handsomely and thoroughly; and one of these in the old New York code, was the tribal rally around a kinswoman about to be eliminated from the tribe."
    - Book 2, Chapter 33, The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton