Литература народов стран зарубежья | Филологический аспект №01 (93) Январь 2023

УДК 821.111

Дата публикации 31.01.2023

Невинность и опыт в романе Эдит Уортон «Век невинности»

Тимошенко Ирина Николаевна
Кандидат филологических наук, доцент Кафедры английского языка в сфере наук о Земле, Факультет иностранных языков, Санкт-Петербургский государственный университет, РФ, г. Санкт-Петербург, timoshenkoirina7@mail.ru

Аннотация: Статья посвящена исследованию понятия «невинность» в романе Эдит Уортон «Век невинности». Целью данной работы является определение и выявление особенностей невинности, как одной из основных черт, которая, по мнению писательницы, характеризовала высший свет Нью-Йорка в конце девятнадцатого века. Проведенный сравнительный анализ образов двух главных персонажей романа, представляющих опыт и невинность, позволяет сделать вывод о том, что невинность фешенебельного общества Нью-Йорка является искусственной, поскольку основными составляющими этой невинности являются стойкое нежелание видеть «неприятные» стороны жизни, избегание скандалов любой ценой и намеренный отказ от приобретения опыта из-за страха любых перемен.
Ключевые слова: Эдит Уортон, «старый Нью-Йорк», опыт, невинность

Innocence and Experience in Edith Wharton’s novel “The Age of Innocence”

Timoshenko Irina Nickolaevna
PhD in Philology, Associate Professor of The Department of English Language in the sphere of Earth sciences, Faculty of Foreign Languages, Saint Petersburg State University, Russia, Saint Petersburg

Abstract: The article is devoted to the study of concept “innocence” in Edith Wharton’s novel “The Age of Innocence”. The aim of the work is to find out and research the peculiarities of innocence as one of the main characteristic features of New York fashionable society at the end of the nineteenth century. The conducted comparative analysis of two main characters that represent experience and innocence allows us to conclude that innocence of New York high society is artificial as its main constituents are persistent unwillingness to see anything “unpleasant”, avoidance of scandals at all cost and conscious rejection of gaining any experience because of the fear of inevitable and vital encounter with rapidly changing world.
Keywords: Edith Wharton, Old New York, experience, innocence

Правильная ссылка на статью
Тимошенко И.Н. Innocence and Experience in Edith Wharton’s novel “The Age of Innocence” // Филологический аспект: международный научно-практический журнал. 2023. № 01 (93). Режим доступа: https://scipress.ru/philology/articles/nevinnost-i-opyt-v-romane-edit-uorton-vek-nevinnosti.html (Дата обращения: 31.01.2023)

The novel «The Age of Innocence» written by the American writer Edith Wharton in 1920 is devoted to the description and study of New York fashionable society, its culture and traditions at the end of the nineteenth century. This society, also known as Old New York had ceased to exist by the end of the First World War. Edith Wharton who was a member of Old New York by birthright knew this society from the inside. Examining the weaknesses and strengths of New York high society, she created a portrait of Old New York.

It is a respectable and at first sight kind-hearted bourgeois who tries his best to look like aristocracy. Its snobbery, arrogance and pomposity are unlimited. Any scandals are equivalent to death and it has no equals in hypocrisy. Life in this small closed world is ruled by social conventions which consisted of impersonal rituals and dogmas. It is scared of everything new and avoids any changes. Absolutely sure of its own moral purity and by refusing to gain any experience, Old New York believes itself to be innocent and pure.

The aim of the article is to find out and research the peculiarities of innocence as one of the main characteristic features of New York fashionable society at the end of the nineteenth century. The researched topic is supposed to be relevant as recently in the Russian literary criticism there have been only a few studies, dealing with Edith Wharton’s work. M. Kizima discusses reflections on the phenomena of cultural memory in the novel «The Age of Innocence» [1]. T. Selitrina studies the psychological prose of Edith Wharton [2]. O. Vainshtein analyzes the function of fashionable dress in construction social identity [6]. So, this article is expected to define the specifics of Old New York’s “innocence” as a key element of this society culture.

The characteristic features of the fashionable society are particularly evident when confronting something that doesn’t fit into approved standards or breaks social rules and conventions. Such confrontation is the meeting of two main characters of the novel. One of them is Newland Archer, a young gentleman who is a typical representative of Old New York. The second one is his fiancée’s cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, who returns to America after many years of living in Europe.

The analysis of these two characters that represent innocence and experience allows us to determine and study innocence as one of the main characteristic features of Old New York.

When Ellen Olenska appears in New York society, she is treated with distrust and dissatisfaction as she is rumored to have left her husband and «bolted with his secretary» [7, P. 1027]. Although it is not a secret that Mr. Olensky, «a blackguard Polish noble» is «an awful brute», everybody in New York high society doesn’t approve the behavior of a woman whose reputation can’t be considered irreproachable any more [7, P. 1049, 1027].

At first Newland Archer shares the opinion of compatriots on his fiancée’s cousin. Even Mrs. Olenska’s dress insults his subtle and refined taste. «The way her dress (which had no tucker) sloped away from her thin shoulders shocked and troubled him» [7, P. 1026]. In Mr. Archer’s opinion, his fiancée’s relationship with a lady who is «so careless of the dictates of Taste» compromises divine purity of his future wife [7, P. 1026].

Archer’s attitude to Countess Olenska begins to change when he has to deal with her divorce proceedings. Getting to know this young woman, Newland Archer not only admires her mind and adores purity of her soul, but also changes his attitude to the society, he lives in. So, what are the main qualities of the lady that differ her from all the members of Old New York and make Mr. Archer «reverse his values in the curious way» [7, P. 1098].

Edith Wharton creates a portrait of a lady with «the mysterious authority of beauty and conscious power» [7, P. 1064]. Having spent the most of her life in Europe, Ellen Olenska has been through a lot and in this way she gained the experience that even elder members of New York society don’t have. So, at van der Luyden’s dinner Newland Archer «scanned the smooth plump elderly faces» and the «they struck him as curiously immature», compared with the face of Countess Olenska who is the only young woman at the table [7, P. 1065].

Education and upbringing, received by Ellen Olenska in childhood, contributed to the formation of views and ideas that dramatically differ from conventions of Old New York. Being an orphan and raised by her weird and extravagant aunt, she received «expensive but incoherent education which included “drawing from the model”, a thing never dreamed of before, and playing the piano in quintets with professional musicians» [7, P. 1063].

Beautiful, artistic and well-educated Countess Olenska with her «mysterious and outlandish background» attracts attention of each and every member of the small closed circle [7, P. 1067]. Being a person who has simple unaffected manners, complete neglect of social conventions and independence of mind Ellen Olenska stands out sharply against the background of Old New York.

Arriving in New-York, the Countess hires a house in an unfashionable street and moreover, in a bohemian quarter and it surprises the members of her clan unpleasantly. Newland Archer feels sincere bewilderment when he stands in front of a peeling house. But once a gentleman enters, he is fascinated by the «faded shadowy charm of a room unlike any room he had known» [7, P. 1071]. Individuality of Ellen Olenska is evident in interior features of her temporary home, in her ability «by a turn of the hand to transform a shabby hired house into something intimate, “foreign”, subtly suggestive of old romantic scenes and sentiments» [7, P. 1072].

Depicting the interior decoration of Ellen’s house, Edith Wharton mentions Italian-looking pictures in old frames, a delicate little Greek bronze and books scattered about her drawing room. All these things, in author’s opinion, show sincere interest of Countess Olenska to art and literature.

But not only the house interior and passion for art differ Ellen from any member of New York fashionable society. Countess Olenska’s behavior also contrasts sharply with accepted rules of Old New York. Having lived in Europe for a long time, Ellen Olenska hardly knows the conventions that determine social life in America. For example, at van der Luyden’s dinner she allows herself to choose interlocutors herself and move freely from one gentleman to another. The only excuse for Ellen’s inconceivable action is her ignorance of etiquette rules. «Etiquette required that a lady should wait, immovable as an idol, while the men who wished to converse with her succeeded each other at her side» [7, P. 1065]. The Countess tries to act like everyone else but her breadth of view and desire for freedom from public opinion and prejudices prevent the execution of this intention.

Newland Archer, captivated by the charm of this amazing lady, reconsiders his views on the society he lives in. Ellen’s influence on the gentleman is so great that he manages to look at his native city without any prejudice. He unexpectedly sees falseness and hypocrisy of the Old New York, its fear of any changes and unwillingness to take responsibility for anything. It seems clear for Archer that they live according to old-fashioned and ridiculous rules. He understands that pharisaism is elevated to the rank of virtue which is a must for everyone. «Archer remembered what Ellen had told him of Mrs. Welland’s request to be spared whatever was “unpleasant” in her history and winced at the thought that it was perhaps this attitude of mind which kept the New York air so pure. “Are we only Pharisees after all?” he wondered» [7, P. 1092].

More and more thinking of peculiarities and characteristic features of the society he belongs to, Archer concludes that purity and innocence of Old New York are no more than the desire to be isolated from the whole world and its own spiritual nature. Simple-minded and naïve New York remains innocent not because it lacks temptation or opportunity to gain experience. The thing that makes this society keep its innocence is its fear of any changes. It tries to avoid everything new, unknown and unexplored by all available means. And Archer realizes that purity and innocence in his world are «only artificial products» [7, P. 1051].

In the novel «The Age of Innocence» Edith Wharton reveals the essence of Old New York innocence, which seems to be artificial as the society tries to keep it only because of the fear of any changes. It does its best not to see any “unpleasant” things and tries to avoid scandals. Old New York lives according to its old-fashioned rules and considers itself to be innocent and pure. Opposing experience and innocence, Wharton concludes that gaining experience is necessary for evolution of any person or society. It can be positive or negative, and is usually gained through trials and suffering but it is inevitable and vital stage of growing up and development. Old New York is likely to be unable to change and this inability can be considered as one of the reasons that lead to its disappearance.

Список литературы

1. Кизима М.П. Культурная память как предмет размышления в романе Эдит Уортон «Век невинности» // Парадигмы культурной памяти и константы национальной идентичности. Коллективная монография. Нижний Новгород: Национальный исследовательский Нижегородский государственный университет им. Лобачевского, 2020. – С. 440-449
2. Селитрина Т.Л. Психологическая проза Генри Джеймса и Эдит Уортон // Филологический класс – 2021 – №1 (26) – С. 242-252
3. McGee D.E. Writing the Meal: Dinner in the Fiction of Early Twentieth Century Women Writers. Toronto: University of Toronto press, 2002. – 221 p.
4. Nevius B. Edith Wharton: A Study of her Fiction. Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1961. — 271 p.
5. Preston C. Edith Wharton’s Social Legislator. N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000. – 225 p.
6. Vainshtein O. “We are expected to be pretty and well dressed till we drop”: Fashion and “Passing” in the novels of Edith Wharton. // Fashion Theory – 2020 – №4 (24) – C. 499 – 544
Список источников:
7. Wharton E.N. The Age of Innocence // Wharton E.N. Novels. N.Y.: Library of America, 1985. – P. 1015-1032

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