Edith Wharton’s novel, The Age of Innocence, has an ironic twist to the plot of the story. The official definition of irony is: the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect. Many famous novels have an ironic twist to the plot of the story. Such novels, Pride and Prejudice, Lord of the Flies, and The Great Gatsby. “The Age of Innocence takes place during the last breath of New York high society, although its members did not sense the dramatic changes coming to their world” (Hadley11).1 Wharton, uses irony typically for a humorous effect. Irony is also used as an autobiographical effect. The role of irony in The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton is a major theme in Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel.
Wharton uses the novel The Age of Innocence as a source of ironic twists that tie into her autobiographical effects. Edward R. (Teddy) Wharton, Edith Wharton’s past husband, is diagnosed with manic depression. Mr. Wharton also has many affairs during his marriage with Edith Wharton. “By the time Wharton wrote this book, she had survived an unhappy 25 year marriage” (Cliffnotes).2 She ignored her husband’s affair and business just like May Welland in The Age of Innocence. “What is most striking in the two volumes, other than the similarity of tone discernible in all the tales, is Edith Wharton’s preoccupation with the irony of things, especially in the connection with man’s failures” (Plante 421).3 “Wharton shares significantly with Archer is neither character nor biography but rather a particular situation: that of outliving that had formed her” (Evron 1).4
Wharton uses Newland Archer as a major role of irony in her novel, The Age of Innocence. “Wharton also uses irony to make her main character Newland Archer, especially tragic” (Hadley 9).5 Newland Archer has an affair with his fiancé’s cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska. Newland Archer is sent by May Welland to persuade Countess Ellen Olenska, to not divorce her former husband. Newland Archer falls in love with Countess Ellen Olenska and has countless affairs with her during his marriage with May Welland. Newland Archer and Countess Ellen Olenska’s affair is an autobiographical reference to Edward R. (Teddy) Wharton and Edith Wharton’s affair also. “Edith Wharton’s spirit of fun was in reality too subtle or whether readers needed time to orient themselves to a writer whose humor was anything but obvious” (Plante 421).6 “Wharton’s style once at its charm… is just a trifle inhuman…” (Sholl 413).7 Newland Archer is used as an ironic twist to the climax of the novel.
May Welland and Countess Ellen Olenska’s relationship to Newland Archer is ironic. Although May Welland and Countess Ellen Olenska are close cousins, Countess Ellen Olenska hides her affair with Newland Archer from May Welland. In the beginning of the novel, May Welland begs Newland Archer to persuade Countess Ellen Olenska to stay married to her former...