This article, keyed to The Age of Innocence, takes as its point of departure the resistance from students that many teachers encounter when they assign the novels that Edith Wharton centered in wealthy, privileged New York society. There is indeed, in each of these novels, a central story that dominates and occupies nearly all the surface, dealing with the personal and familial problems of rich people. But there is a second story, about servants and workers and providers of the comforts that the wealthy deem essential. It is important to respond to and understand the first story through a keen awareness of the second, which can be done by reading The Age of Innocence “from below.” When teaching this novel and others like it in subject and setting, it is thus helpful and illuminating to bring the second story forward. Reading from below enables readers to appreciate Wharton’s style and vision more deeply and makes her work more accessible to and rewarding for students.

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