Dutiful Newland Archer, an eligible young man from New York high society, is about to announce his engagement to May Welland, a suitable match from a good family, when May’s cousin, the beautiful and exotic Countess Ellen Olenska, is introduced into their circle. The Countess brings with her an aura of European sophistication and a hint of perceived scandal, having left her husband and claimed her independence. Her worldliness, disregard for society’s rules, and air of unapproachability attract the sensitive Newland, despite his enthusiasm about a marriage to May and the societal advantages it would bring. Almost against their will, Newland and Ellen develop a passionate bond, and a classic love triangle takes shape as the three young people find themselves drawn into a poignant and bitter conflict between love and duty. Written in 1920, Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a time and place long gone by—1870s New York City—beautifully captures the complexities of passion, independence, and fulfillment, and how painfully hard it can be for individuals to truly see one another and their place in the world.
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