This was the first post 1900 classic I had ever read for pleasure. This book takes place during the 1890’s I believe. So it’s right before the U.S. went crazy after WWI. The story opens with Newland Archer, the scion of Old New York’s elite, set to marry another New York elite, May Welland. Newland is quite content with his life, until he meets May’s cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska who is separated from her husband. Ellen was raised by one of May’s more eccentric relations. As a result, Ellen tends to flout the rules of “good” society. For the first time, Newland realizes how silly so much of the elites’ actions are.
Newland eventually confesses his love to Ellen; but she will not agree to a relationship thinking of how it will affect her cousin. Ellen leaves New York. Newland and May do marry but it is a loveless match on his part anyway. Their paths cross again; this time Newland is able to convince Ellen to be his mistress; however before they begin their affair, Ellen flees to Europe. Newland decides to follow her, but he is stopped by May who tells him she is pregnant. He learns that May told Ellen, and this is what prompted her to flee. Newland does the honorable thing and stays in his marriage.
Twenty-five years later, May has passed away. Newland and his son are in Paris, when his son suggests that they visit Ellen. Newland decides not to see her preferring his memory of her to actual life.
I did like it. I was surprised. one of the things I don’t like about post-1900 literature is that it seems so empty sometimes. America suffered a psychic shock as a result of WWI. Futility of life plays a large part of works written during the early 1900’s. This book still had the character development and vitality of earlier written books.