Edith Wharton's novel "The Age of Innocence" takes the reader into a love triangle in late nineteenth-century New York high society.

Newland Archer and May Welland each come from wealthy families of New York's social elite. Their engagement made complete sense. The two are happy in their traditional roles until Newland meets and falls in love with May's cousin, Ellen Olenska, the estranged wife of a European Count. Ellen is everything May is not. While May embraces the constraints and expectations of society and her role in it, Ellen is honest and bohemian and worries very little about what others think.

Wharton takes us through years in the lives of our protagonists, struggling to do the right thing and stay true to themselves. Newland, May, and Ellen want to be honorable. They each have a different perspective on life, and "honor" is often defined by the world in which they live - a world that is frequently hypocritical. Wharton's wit shines when describing the pretentiousness of the wealthy elite, as in the following passage about an opera:

"She sang, of course, 'M'ama!' and not 'he loves me,' since an unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences."

or the conformity that society imposes on them, as in the following:

"In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs."

The author builds three fascinating characters who each deal with their lot differently.

Archer is weak and conflicted, never knowing whether he desires the stability of May or the excitement of Ellen.

May was innocent and understanding prior to her marriage but manipulative afterward. She knows her husband's weaknesses but also recognizes his sacrifices.

Ellen lives her life as she sees fit but confirms when she recognizes that rebellion would hurt those around her. "I can't love you unless I give you up," she tells Archer.

The final chapter moves ahead a generation and highlights the changes in society's expectations as the nineteenth century moves into the twentieth.

"The Age of Innocence" is a story of societal structure, patterns, and expectations and how they often conflict with our desires. It articulates the emotion and frustration of trying to serve two masters.