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Age of Innocence By the time the bloody chaos of the First World War finally came to an end on November 11 1918 the American novelist Edith Wharton had already been living as an expatriate in Paris for five years During that time she had essentially ceased to write fiction and had turned her energies instead to the Allied effort by providing war relief for soldiers and refugees Her devotion and enthusiasm for her work was in fact enough to win her the French Legion of Honor By the end of the war however Wharton found herself disturbed by what she saw as the profound social disruptions that had been brought on by the war In the months after the armistice she again picked up her pen to write what many critics consider to be her war novel One would be hard pressed however to find any elements within The Age of Innocence that even remotely address the disruption and the bloodshed of the First World War Set in 1870s New York Whartons novel depicts a society that is in many ways the antithesis of war-devastated Europe Old New York Whartons term to describe this wealthy and elite class at the top of the developing citys social hierarchy was a society utterly intent on maintaining its own rigid stability To Wharton Old New York imposed on its members set rules and expectations for practically everything manners fashions behaviors and even conversations Those who breached the social code were punished with exquisite politeness by the other members The differences between the fractured society following the First World War and the Old New York of The Age of Innocence are without a doubt dramatic However there is more of a connection between them than may first appear Edith Wharton herself was born into the claustrophobic world of Old New York When she began at the age of fifty-seven to write what would become her Pulitzer-prize winning novel
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