Professor Manheim at Centre introduced me to Wharton with The House of Mirth. I remember thinking she was the writer Jane Austen would have been if she were an American born 100 years later who hated happy endings. Three years later, I read The Age of Innocence and was absolutely blown away by the ending. It was one of those where I had to just put the book down and stare into space for a while, coping with how radically my expectations had been reversed, and yet how true the sadness of the conclusion was. It’s the kind of ending that makes you rethink your expectations not only of literature, but of life.
Here’s a quote that gives a hint of the emotional weight of that ending, which I can’t bear to spoil: “His whole future seemed suddenly to be unrolled before him; and passing down its endless emptiness he saw the dwindling figure of a man to whom nothing was ever to happen.”
And a couple quotes that just show how wise and real Ms. W was:
“If only we’d stop trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time.”
“Ah, good conversation – there’s nothing like it, is there? The air of ideas is the only air worth breathing.”