Edith Wharton's novel The Age of Innocence tells of a young attorney named Newland Archer. He's a product of New York high society in the 1870s. Every day he sends flowers, in a box, to his fiancée.
Then there's Countess Ellen Olenska.
She's left her husband. Society would not approve, yet she and Newland are drawn together…
"Ellen! What madness! Why are you crying? Nothing's done that can't be undone. I'm still free, and you're going to be. He had her in his arms, her face like a wet flower at his lips, and all their vain terrors shriveling up like ghosts at sunrise. The one thing that astonished him now was that he should have stood for five minutes arguing with her across the width of the room, when just touching her made everything so simple.
"She gave him back all his kiss, but after a moment he felt her stiffening in his arms, and she put him aside and stood up.
"Ah, my poor Newland -- I suppose this had to be. But it doesn't in the least alter things."
Actor Alfred Molina, reading from Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence.
This Literary Moment was created by the National Endowment for the Arts.
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