This beautifully-written classic tells the story of people trapped in the "eternal triangle of love". Edith Wharton skillfully details the lifestyle, customs and manners of upper-class New York society in the 1870s, in which every family seems to be related one way or another.
Newland Archer, who is engaged to the innocent, conservative May Welland, falls in love with her exotic Europeanized cousin Ellen Olenska. He is torn between following his impulse to be with Ellen, whose marriage is on the rocks, or fulfilling what is considered to be his 'duty' and settle down with May like everyone expects him to.
What I like about this novel is that the story and descriptions flow smoothly and the language is not too difficult for a classic. However, the plot moves rather slowly because I felt Newland keeps going back and forth in his dilemma between the two women.
I actually watched the Martin Scorsese movie a few years before I read this, and while I felt no sympathy to any character in the film in particular, when reading the book I tend to sympathize with both Ellen and May, and dislike Newland. I think his love for Ellen is only based on her "mysterious and outlandish background" and wouldn't have been as strong if not for his own feelings of confinement. I admire Ellen for her principles and integrity – not so much like Newland's sense of 'duty' but a reluctance to hurt other people's feelings. May, on the other hand, is highly underestimated by Newland, who thinks she "knew nothing and expected everything". The reader will later find that he was very, very wrong.
Overall, the book was not fantastic but I liked it nonetheless. Perhaps if I hadn't watch the movie earlier my opinion would've been different. I'm still interested in reading Wharton's other works, though. Oh, and I love the cover of the Wordsworth edition that I read. A fitting picture, so graceful and classic.