Newland Archer saw little to envy in the marriages of his friends, yet he prided himself that in May Welland he had found the companion of his needs. Enter Countess Olenska, a woman of quick wit sharpened by experience, and not afraid to flout convention. Against his judgment, Newland is drawn to the socially ostracized Ellen Olenska. He knows that in sweet-tempered May, he can expect stability and duty. But what new worlds could he discover with Ellen?
Let's set the scene...
It's Rory's first birthday party... the fancy one at the Gilmore estate, with all her Chilton nemesus (nemesi? nemesises?) in attendance.
(Doorbell rings. Lorelai and Rory come in.)
Lorelai: Jeez, Mom. Leave some servants for the rest of the neighborhood.
Emily: There she is -- the birthday girl.
Rory: Hi Grandma.
Lorelai: Wow, you really went all out, huh?
Emily: Well I wanted everything to be perfect. What do you think?
Lorelai: I think Edith Wharton would have been proud, and busy taking notes.
The main character in this book (Newland Archer) flouts convention in a time where convention was the only thing to cling to. He understands the vapid, shallow and cruel traditions of the society of which he is one of the heads.. and realizes how unfair it all is. He is appalled by how women are treated in society, and how they are forced to remain dependent on the men in their lives. He finally finds a woman who doesn't subscribe to the rules of this time... and quickly falls in love with her ability to see past society's trappings. She believes that she has every right to leave a toxic marriage and to continue her life on her own... and he does everything in his power to make sure she gets her wish. In the end, it is Archer that is trapped by the conventions of Manhattan society and by a person who belongs to the sex he so desperately wishes to free. I loved that the biggest feminist in this story (aside from Countess Olenska) was a privileged man. In The Age of Innocence, Archer loses his. He finally wakes up and his delusion about the world he lives in and the people he associates with is shattered forever.
Who do I see reading this in the Stars Hollow gazebo?
Like Archer, Lorelai is constantly struggling to fight against the traditions of the community she was born into. As a child, she watched the ways of her parent's world, and realized she did not belong. Lorelai's yearning for freedom, independence and individuality is what is also so prevalent in Edith Wharton's protagonist.