This essay reads Edith Wharton's novel The Age of Innocence (1920) not as an escapist response to the First World War but, in its exploration of modern scientific and philosophical conceptions of time and memory as articulated by Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson, an exploration of the emotional trauma wrought by the war and a proposal for how the modern world might recover and move forward. Cannily manipulating time within the accessible form of the historical novel, Wharton makes readable a version of modern consciousness in which behavior and emotion, public time and private time, tradition and change coexist. For most readers, the novel's genre, style, setting, and author preclude it from being considered a modernist text; however, this essay argues that Wharton's subtle manipulation of historical detail along with her engagement with the philosophy of memory and the physics of time make The Age of Innocence her most successful literary experiment and position it as a major modern literary response to the First World War.
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Betsy Klimasmith; Salvaging History: Modern Philosophies of Memory and Time in The Age of Innocence. American Literature 1 September 2008; 80 (3): 555–581. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2008-022
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