Edith Wharton's twelfth novel, "The Age of Innocence", won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921. Set in the high society circles of late nineteenth century New York, Wharton beautifully contrasts the intensity of true passion against the complacency of a loveless but proper marriage; delicately questioning the expected behavior of the upper social class. Through Wharton's exquisite, detailed portrayal of the affluent class, she invites the reader to experience the charmed life of the "Golden Age"... a life that would change dramatically by the end of World War I.
Somewhere in this book, Wharton observes that clever liars always come up with good stories to back up their fabrications, but that really clever liars don't bother to explain anything at all. This is the kind of insight that makes The Age of Innocence so indispensable. Wharton's story of the upper classes of Old New York, and Newland Archer's impossible love for the disgraced Countess Olenska, is a perfectly wrought book about an era when upper-class culture in this country was still a mixture of American and European extracts, and when "society" had rules as rigid as any in history.