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Trivia quiz on Edith Wharton, “The Age of Innocence”

Trivia Quiz for The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920; winner 1921 Pulitzer Prize)

(with answers below)

For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 4/24/22

1. Husband, Wife, Stranger?  May Archer (née Welland) and her husband Newland Archer seem to understand and love each other in their own way. But they also find fault and misunderstand each other. What one trait does May not have, according to her husband?

a. she takes care of herself     

b. she lets her imagination run wild  

c. she is loyal and gallant       

d. she prefers to ignore unpleasantness         

e. she is a true New Yorker and knows how to act

2-5. Social Portraits. Familial, societal, and marital obligations loom large over the characters in The Age of Innocence; those characters who are unmarried or estranged from their families are seen as lonely outcasts. Yet even the most privileged seem pitiable. Match quote to the character. Characters include:  a. M. Rivière; b. Newland Archer; c. Countess Ellen Olenska; d. May Welland


2. “’Sameness—sameness!’ he muttered, the word running through his head like a persecuting tune…”

3. “I want to cast off all my old life, to become just like everybody else here. …  If you knew how I hate to be different!”

4. “You musn’t think that a girl knows as little as her parents imagine.”       

5. “Ah, good conversation—there’s nothing like it, is there? The air of ideas is the only air worth breathing.”

6.  New York, circa 1870: A Uniquely Historic Urban Setting. There are many famous and familiar places named in The Age of Innocence, where the action mostly stays in New York city. Which one of the following places is not named?

a. Grace Church                     

b. Washington Square            

c. Metropolitan Museum of Art

d. a home on West 23rd Street            

e. the Academy of Music       

f. Central Park

g. the Empire State Building             

h. Wall Street 

7. Intimacy and nostalgia. Some of the most poignant passages endeavor to describe times past, longing, and how people who are otherwise intimate perceive life so differently. Which one of the following is not in the novel?

a. “You never did ask each other anything, did you? And you never told each other anything. You just sat and watched each other, and guessed at what was going on underneath.”

b. “Odd, he thought, how the thought of childhood keeps coming back to me—the result of seeing Clarissa, perhaps; for women live much more in the past than we do, he thought.”

c. “She was frank, poor darling, because she had nothing to conceal, assured because she knew of nothing to be on her guard against.”

d. “My good father abhorred hurry. But now we live in a constant rush.”

8. Style and technique. With her mixture of omniscience and interior monologue, Wharton’s narrative provides readers with a feeling of listening to the characters’ most secret and changeable thoughts. Which one of the following thoughts occurs to the hero, Newland Archer?

a. “Don’t let us be like all the others!”                      

b. “Women ought to be as free as we are—”

c. “We can’t behave like people in novels, though, can we?”          

d. “It’s worth everything isn’t it, to keep one’s intellectual liberty; not to enslave one’s powers of appreciation, one’s critical independence?”

9. Keywords and thoughts recur in Wharton’s description of upper-class New York society. Which one of the following quotes is not drawn from Wharton’s book?

a. “keep out the ‘new people’”          

b. “rather bad form”               

c. “morbidly sensitive”

d. “low-toned comments”      

e. “a naïve, generous country”           

f. “it’s confoundedly dull”

g. “ritual was precise and inflexible”            

h. “the occasion was a solemn one”

10-11. Maxims or life lessons. Similar to many of her contemporaries, Wharton peppers her novel with pithy bits of wisdom. Which two of the following are from The Age of Innocence?

a. “Living’s too much trouble unless one can get something big out of it.”

b. “The worst of doing one’s duty was that it apparently unfitted one for doing anything else.”

c. “It seems stupid to have discovered America only to make it into a copy of another country.”

d. “The children you don’t especially need, you have always with you, like the poor. But the bright ones get away from you.”

12. High tech and futurist scenarios. Which one of the following modern ideas and inventions is not in the Age of Innocence?

a. long-distance telephoning              

b. 5-day Atlantic ship crossings, from the US to Europe

c. women’s suffrage                                      

d. electric lighting      

e. Debussy’s music

13. Age = wisdom? At the beginning, Newland Archer seems to be in his early twenties. How old is he at the end of the book? 

a. 57 years old            

b. 42               

c. 78               

d. 85   


1. b.

2. b.

3. c.

4. d.

5. a.                

6. g.

7. b.  (That quote is from Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway.)

8. b.

9. e. (That quote is from Willa Cather, My Ántonia.)

10.-11.  b. and c.

12. c.

13. a.

A special thanks to Carl and Daniel for the violets from their garden, featured in the nosegay seen above: a symbol of Wharton’s lost world and the nostalgia we all feel for long-lost times, places, and loves…

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day 9, on “killing” time. Please don’t!

Good morning!

Well, after an hour or so spent poring over the New York Times, and yesterday’s Seattle Times (which is silently delivered to our doorstep by a neighbor for recycling), I feel quite lucky and rather guilty for having the luxury to stay home instead of going to work at a hospital, grocery store, or Amazon warehouse. I’d readily volunteer to go out there and help in some way, but then again, the Governor wants us to stay home. Round and round we go….

Nevertheless, I am not the only “lucky” one who is stuck at home with time, lots and lots of “free time,” to fill. So, with a hearty “THANK YOU” to all the service workers, medical personnel, and other essential people who are going to work, we non-essential folks turn to the elephant in our rooms: how to pass all this time?  And why do we speak of “killing” such an intangible, fleeting entity?  For answers, I turn first  to the dictionary and then to a great novel.

A. The dictionary.    Kill, verb. (Prob. from Germanic word rel. to QUELL verb).*

Definitions nos. 1-3 pertain to ME [Middle English], so I’ll skip directly to more modern meanings. Confused about transitive & intransitive verbs? see below **

4. verb trans. Deprive (an organism, a substance, a process, etc.) of vitality, activity, effect, etc. Now also, destroy, break, or ruin (a thing).

5. verb trans.  a. Cause severe pain or suffering to; overexert (esp. oneself, doing). b. Overwhelm (a person) by a strong impression, as of admiration, anger, delight, grief, etc.; impress, thrill; convulse with laughter, refl laugh heartily.

6. verb trans.  Prevent the passing of (a bill) in Parliament.

7. verb trans. Spend (time) engaged in some activity, esp. while waiting for a specific event.

8. verb trans. Consume; eat or drink; spec. consume the entire contents of (a bottle of liquor). colloq.

9. verb trans. Cancel or delete (text etc.) from a book, journal, etc. before publication, or from a computer file. In Journalism, suppress or deny (a story etc.)

10. verb trans. Extinguish, turn off (a light, an engine, etc.), put out (a cigarette etc.) colloq.

From these definitions, one gathers the following analogies: killing is involved in depriving, destroying, preventing progress, waiting for an unspecified event, consuming (too much of something), cancelling, suppressing, or extinguishing things. It is altogether a bad bunch of thoughts.  So why do we persist in wanting to kill something as precious as time, that is, our already short lives?

Interesting, in French, they speak not of killing time but of losing time (perdre le temps): this points to all kinds of fascinating cultural differences…  Can you imagine a book called In Search of Killed Time?!  Haha, couldn’t resist  🙂

B. The Novel.  Since I have no answer to those questions, I offer a funny passage  instead. From Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence: the passage concerns the rather dull, yet respectable Welland family, whose daughter May has just married the hero, Newland Archer. Much to his chagrin, he is now realizing not only what a bore she is, but that his whole life is turning into a yawn:

“It was a principle in the Welland family that people’s days and hours should be what Mrs. Welland called ‘provided for.’ The melancholy possibility of having to ‘kill time’ (especially for those who did not care for whist or solitaire) was a vision that haunted her …

It was a cause of constant distress to Mrs. Welland that her son-in-law showed so little foresight in planning his days. Often already, during the fortnight that he had passed under her roof, when she inquired how he meant to spend his afternoon, he had answered paradoxically: ‘Oh, I think for a change I’ll just save it instead of spending it—‘ and once, when she and May had had to go on a long-postponed round of afternoon calls, he had confessed to having lain all the afternoon under a rock on the beach below the house.

‘Newland never seems to look ahead,’ Mrs. Welland once ventured to complain to her daughter; and May answered serenely: ‘No; but you see it doesn’t matter, because when there’s nothing particular to do he reads a book.’

‘Ah, yes–like his father!’ Mrs. Welland agreed, as if allowing for an inherited oddity; and after that the question of Newland’s unemployment was tacitly dropped.”***


The conclusion:  Stop the kill! Back to pleasure!  Embrace your oddities!  No ideas? See post no. 6, on the many ways to spend and even enjoy rather than kill your precious days.

Bye for now. I’ll be back tomorrow.


*The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 5th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), Vol. 1, p. 1495.

** What is the difference between a transitive verb and an intransitive verb?
A transitive verb (verb trans.) is a verb that requires a direct object, which is a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that follows the verb and completes the sentence’s meaning by indicating the person or thing that receives the action of the verb. The direct object typically answers the question what? or whom?  as in “The kids like pickles.”

An intransitive verb is not used with a direct object. If something comes after an intransitive verb, that is, in the position usually inhabited by the direct object, it doesn’t answer what? or whom?; instead it answers a question like where?, when?, how?, or how long?, as in “Her car died suddenly last week.”

With thanks to

*** Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence, 1st ed. 1920, ed. Maureen Howard (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2004), pp. 188-189.