Ellen Olenska as a Mythological Muse in The Age of Innocence

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Ellen Olenska as a Mythological Muse in The Age of Innocence
     Long ago in ancient Greece, mythology was used to explain our world, our lives, and most importantly, our interpersonal relationships. Still today Greek mythology is infused into the literature of almost every influential and lasting author, one of the more effective authors being Edith Wharton, author of The Age of Innocence. The relationship between Newland Archer and Madame Ellen Olenska, two protagonists in Wharton’s novel, is an example of the classic relationship between a muse and an inspired man. Wharton was obviously well learned in the art of mythology as seen in her stories, The Lamp of Psyche and The Muse’s Tragedy, and used this
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Tracy Marks explains that muses from Greek mythology are typically represented as young women with red lips, blue eyes, and a melodious voice, who usually wore long flowing robes and a reflective or smiling expression. Already Wharton’s vivid picture painted with words comes to mind, but Marks continues on to describe a Muse as “far from virgin goddesses, rather one who induces sensuality” (Marks 36). Archer parallels this perception as he views Ellen as one “who does not seal the mind against imagination, nor the heart against experience” (Nevius 186) and who “entreats a little wildness, a dark place or two in the soul” (Mansfield 316).
     Whether it was Ellen’s disposition or her aura, which first enticed Archer, it was her affect on him which led her to become a legend in the mind of both this fictional character, Newland Archer, and the audience of this novel. What sparks the interest of a muse is the possibility of greatness, an ability to live in a world larger than what now exists, and who will use the knowledge and inspiration she gives (Marks 34), Newland was a perfect example of this. Ellen describes the reason for confiding in Archer more perfectly here:
“The very good people didn’t convince me; I felt they’d never been tempted. But you knew; you understood; you had felt the world tugging at one with all its golden hands – and yet you hated the things it asked of one; you hated happiness brought by disloyalty and cruelty and
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