“Untimely Love” reassesses the aesthetic choices and political implications of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence (1920), first by highlighting a surprising overlap between Wharton and the anarcho-feminist Emma Goldman. Wharton's novelistic critique of New York society's marriage rituals, spurred by an unconsummated affair between Newland Archer and his wife's cousin Ellen Olenska, follows Goldman in positing an antagonism between the hierarchies of marriage and the equalizing nature of love. For Wharton, however, this antagonism will not be resolved with free love one day triumphing. To explain her position, the article turns to Jacques Rancière's unresolvable antagonism between “politics” and “the police,” which has an aesthetic analogue in the clash between the formally anarchic modern novel and premodern hierarchies of genre. Wharton unearths 1870s New York like an archeologist to expose how its patriarchal logic polices women's sexuality within and outside marriage, making expressions of love quite rare. Wharton unleashes the disruptive power of love through formal experimentation, temporarily subverting her own historical realism, when she has Ellen and Archer visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Central Park, which did not yet exist in the novel's timeframe. The Met's impossible location and its uncataloged holdings open to public viewing upset New York's social and aesthetic hierarchies. It is in this anachronistic and democratic context that Archer first sees “love visible” in the world, rearranging his entire worldview. Wharton, in a related political gesture of aesthetic dissensus, aligns her untimely lovers with the museum's suddenly visible ghosts of history.

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