Edith Wharton, was fifty-eight years-old at publication; she lived in that world, and saw it change dramatically by the end of World War I, when she reminisced about a bygone age of innocence.
More from the Wikipedia entry:
The Age of Innocence (1920) is a novel by Edith Wharton, which won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize. The story occurs among New York City's upper class in the 1870s, before electricity, telephone, and automobiles; when there was a small cluster of old, "aristocratic" Revolutionary War-stock families who ruled New York's social life; when being was better than doing; when occupation and abilities were secondary to blood connections (heredity and family); when reputation and appearances excluded every thing and every one not of one's caste; and when Fifth Avenue was so deserted by nightfall that it was possible to follow Society's comings and goings, by spying who went to what house.
I enjoyed the book, and I was eager to finally watch Martin Scorsese's 1993 film version. It can be a bit dull in places, but it is still a beautiful piece of cinematic art and faithful to the novel. With Scorsese's history of making films set in New York City (Mean Streets, Gangs of New York, Taxi Driver, etc.), it makes perfect sense he would direct it. Here are some screencaps, featuring the gas lamp-lit, horse and buggy filled streets of 1870s New York City:
These last two screencaps are from a couple of breathtaking (to me) shots in the film, featuring great use of CGI (as opposed to the use of it as an excuse to make three prequels to the classic Star Wars movies):