Rating: 4 out of 5
I was pleased with Francesca Segal’s The Innocents, her modern adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Wharton’s novel is one of my favorites, and you can read my review here.
To sum up the original story, it follows the forbidden romance between Newland Archer, engaged to the simple-minded May Welland, and Ellen Olenska, May’s scandalous cousin. It’s a quintessential battle between love and societal obligation.
Segal’s version is basically the same plot, but swaps the New York elite of the 1870s for the Jewish community in today’s London. Adam Newman is also a lawyer, and the object of his desire Ellie Schneider faces similar judgment for her provocative behavior.
But even if you’ve read The Age of Innocence, Segal provides an engaging adaptation with plenty of unique aspects. No one can compete with Wharton’s prose, but Segal’s writing is insightful, offering cultural commentary on what it’s like to be part of a Jewish family.
The characters were also multidimensional: You feel angry with Adam’s quickness to commit adultery, but at the same time, you understand his frustration from passively submitting to his high school sweetheart-fiance instead of experiencing more of the world.
The Innocents is an apt reminder that lovers not only enter into a relationship with each other, but also with one another’s friends and family. It’s so important to know who you are and what you want, because although you should respect those closest to you, you should not let them dictate how to live your life.
I won’t spoil the ending, but Wharton fans won’t be surprised. Adam soon realizes what’s at stake when a whirlwind of lust threatens his solidifying future, and I enjoyed his emotional journey as he decides whether to take the risk. Wharton will always be queen of her story, but Segal certainly makes the royal court.