Or rather, May Welland.
Today’s Summer Lovin’ Readathon prompt is to talk about our favorite female character. Now, I hate picking favorites. How is it even possible? Back in April of last year I wrote about some of my favorite characters, many of which are some kick-ass ladies. You should go check some of them out, too.
Today, though, I want to sing the praises of May Welland, from Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.
Age of Innocence is arguably Newland Archer’s story, following him around as he figure out what he wants from life – the expected and the predicted, or the unknown. His fiancee, May, represents the former, while her cousin, the Countess Olenska, represents the latter.
As I said in my review of the book:
“Enough about [Archer]. I want to talk about May. She is pretty badass. I mean, everyone kinda shuffles her aside and doesn’t pay her much attention, but she is using her time off stage to pull some major strings. She knows the dangers to a young woman in her position – the scandal it would cause should she be jilted. The only way for her to keep her place in society is to marry well. She’s not going down without a fight.”
Some have pointed out that Archer was also a victim of his time. While that is certainly true, I think that Wharton recognized that within this vastly flawed society, which harmed both men and women, men still had significant relative advantage. Should May have been jilted, she’d be seen as damaged goods, and would have likely had a much more difficult time securing a subsequent match. Certainly she was conniving and manipulative, because that was what society required. She had to use approved means (ie, invisible means) to keep Archer. If she lost her position, she might literally not survive, suffering a similar fate to Lily Bart (the main character of Edith Wharton’s brilliant House of Mirth). So while yes, both genders are suffering, the risks to the women are far greater.
Here’s to May!