Lesson Plan - Get It!
On what grounds should a person get a divorce, according to Edith Wharton's novel, The Age of Innocence? At this point, do you believe her position is defensible?
Although Edith Wharton was born into New York's upper classes, she lived life on her own terms, not always following the conventions of her society.
For instance, she broke off her first engagement and later divorced her husband, Edward Robbins Wharton, and even embarked on an affair with the journalist Morton Fullerton in her mid-forties. Wharton, as you learned in the previous Related Lesson (right-hand sidebar), drew on her own experience and her social circle for inspiration for the plots, settings, and characters in her novels, including The Age of Innocence.
A divorce was both difficult to obtain and uncommon in nineteenth-century America due to the laws regulating divorces. Women's wealth typically remained with the husband after a divorce, and until the latter half of the nineteenth century, custody of children was granted to the husband. Divorce was also seen as scandalous due to the reasons women had to prove if they were seeking a divorce, and often resulted in the loss of social status for a divorced woman.
To learn more about divorce laws in nineteenth-century America, examine the following Prezi. Take notes on any divorce laws that would have affected Countess Ellen Olenska's case in the novel in the notebook or journal you have been keeping for this series. Check out Divorce in 19th century america, by Katherine Skornia (Prezi Inc.).
- Did any laws surprise you?
- Why do you think so few women pursued divorce cases in the nineteenth century?
- What factors do you think might keep a woman in an unhappy marriage in the nineteenth century?
- How do you think divorce affected men when their wives sought a divorce?
Reflect on these questions in your journal or notebook. Then, read Chapters Twenty-One through Twenty-Seven in The Age of Innocence. Use the same copy of the novel that you read for previous lessons. You can use a print copy or read the online version of The Age of Innocence, from Project Gutenberg. As you read, take notes on how Ellen's desire for a divorce and refusal to return to her husband, Count Olenski, affect her and how her family and New York society react to her decision.
When you've finished reading and taking notes, move on to the Got It? section to explore the details of these chapters more closely.